Hunting fine from 37 years ago won’t be forgotten
It was a crisp New Year’s Day, about 20 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, a gentle breeze and fresh snow on the ground.
It was a picture-perfect day for hunting; it just made sense to load up Chad, my 6-year-old German shorthaired pointer and pick up Byron on the way out of town.
Byron is the son of Paul and Betty Lange. He was a sophomore and the fullback on the high school football team I was coaching at the time.
Paul was the president of the school board who gave me my first teaching and coaching job in Hillsboro, Kan.
Byron and I followed Chad to a near limit before noon on that Jan. 1. We were one pheasant and a few quail shy of a bag limit for the two of us.
Enter good friend and Marion County game warden Charlie Schmidtburger. Charlie seemed to show up on my most successful days in the field. He had a knack for knowing where to be and, although he had seen my license several times during the season, took great pleasure in having me fumble through my gear for it again.
No problem as I produced my brand-new combination hunting/fishing license for the “New Year.”
Byron was not as fortunate as he had forgotten about the New Year and needing a new license to participate in our most favorite outdoor activities.
The result was a ticket and fine for the young man and to this day, 37 years later, Byron’s mom, Betty, has never forgiven me.
Fast-forward 37 years to 2010. Although we laugh about it today, I think Betty wants me to refund that fine.
Byron and I remain constant companions afield along with our sons, Jim and Matt.
Byron and my son, Jim, were huddled in a tent blind on Byron’s ranch in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas waiting for a big tom turkey to walk up to their hen decoys.
It was Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago and they had seen several turkeys during the past couple of days – none interested in getting within shotgun range.
Late that afternoon, three hens decided to join their two hen decoys. Hens are not legal game during the spring turkey season, but they sure do a good job of attracting those big tom turkeys.
Now we had five decoys, though two of them appeared to be somewhat less lively than the others.
Two toms appeared east of the tent blind about 150 yards down the tree line.
They weren’t convinced yet that these five girls were the right five girls for them. In spite of some coaxing with a diaphragm call, they just hung out at that 150-yard range. The effective range of a 12-gauge shotgun with nitro magnum, 3-inch turkey loads is about 50 yards.
A really good-sized tom (male) appeared from the woods west of the tent blind. He was more interested in the girl group and also may have been a little jealous.
He liked what he heard from the diaphragm hen call and raced to within 50 yards of the girl group. This was an old boy with what appeared to be a beard somewhere in the 10-inch range. Jim poked the barrel of his Benelli shotgun out the window of the tent blind and gently squeezed the trigger.
Nothing happened. I thought this to be poetic justice for unloading my shotgun on a pheasant hunt a few years ago. For some reason, the bolt on his shotgun had not gone completely closed.
That tom never flinched, he remained all fanned out, strutting, trying his best to impress those five girls.
Jim did some field-doctoring to his Benelli very quietly and poked that barrel out of the blind one more time. This time when he squeezed that trigger it was with much more productive results. That tom’s beard measured 10 inches and he weighed in at nearly 22 pounds.
We like our wild turkeys slowly cooked on the grill or deep fried in peanut oil in our turkey fryer.
I’ve got to relate to you that the best thing about this hunt was not the resulting table fare. It would have to be the fact that I’ve known Byron for almost 40 years and my son Jim is 29 and they are the best of friends too.
We all have the love of the outdoors in common and we share that bond as often as we can.
Betty is still waiting for that refund.
Jim Vanek is a longtime hunter who lives in Greeley with his family.