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Bowhunter gets good look at turkeys he pursues

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — John Braun has practice with field selfies. Just study his photo gallery, which shows him posing with each of the 29 turkeys he took over the past 12 years.

Braun uses the timer on his camera, allowing him to scurry into the field of focus. Each photo has a time stamp, a way for Braun to reminisce about days of glory in the turkey woods of Missouri and Kansas.

"I used to hunt them with a gun," said Braun, 81, of Kansas City. "But I pinched a nerve in my shoulder, and it just became too painful to shoot, so I started using my bow.

"Now I wouldn't go back to my shotgun even if I could. When you hunt them with a bow, you get them in so close that you can see them blink an eye.

"It's fascinating the things I've seen hunting turkeys. I've had them in so close that they'll actually come up and look into the blind where I'm sitting."

Braun is looking for one of those up-close encounters as Missouri's turkey season opened Monday. He joins thousands of others across the state, hoping to fool a lovesick gobbler into thinking a hen is waiting in the brush.

For some firearms hunters, it's an accomplishment to lure a turkey within 20 to 30 yards. Braun has to get them even closer.

"Most of the shots I take, the turkey will be within 8 to 12 yards," he said.

Braun's record is impressive, considering the challenge of hunting the wariest of woodland creatures with a bow. A turkey has outstanding eyesight and can pick up the slightest movement from far away. Despite its size, it can run and fly quickly and be gone before a hunter knows what went wrong.

Braun counteracts some of that by hunting out of a pop-up blind, so his movements won't be as easily detected. He also arranges three decoys in front of him to catch the turkey's eye.

"I'll put out a jake (young turkey) decoy, a hen and a breeding hen," Braun said. "The big gobblers almost always come to that jake first, posturing to show it who's the boss.

"I've seen adult gobblers flog that decoy with its wings, try to fight, everything. When they're preoccupied, it's easier to get off a shot."

But there are challenges. Already this spring, Braun has watched as one of his arrows hit a turkey's wings and bounced off.

"You have to hit them in the right spot with an arrow," he said. "Their wings are like armor. You can hit them there, and they'll fly off."

But more often than not, Braun has another bird for the dinner table. He is humble about his accomplishments and considers them almost matter-of-factly.

"Make sure you tell your readers that I wasn't seeking publicity," he said. "I don't want them to think that I came to you."

Braun hunts in northcentral Missouri and northeast Kansas, where he gets out often. He loads his blind and gear into a small plastic boat, then hauls it to the spot where he will set up. He hunts often.

He starts off calling aggressively when the birds are at a distance, but he tones it down or is quiet when the turkeys are getting near.

"I learned a long time ago that you can over-call," he said. "Once they're committed, you don't have to a lot of talking."

Braun uses a bow with 70-pound pull and practices often. In fact, he shoots almost every day when the weather permits.

By the time turkey season begins, he is ready to carry on a tradition that began when modern turkey hunting was in its infancy in Missouri.

"I started turkey hunting shortly after the Department of Conservation opened the first season," Braun said. "I still remember my first hunt. I went with a friend who knew how to call them.

"We were sitting on a ridge, and he got one to come in. I shot, but the bird was too far away and I missed. That guy got upset with me. He said, 'You have to let them get a lot closer.' "

Braun got a mouth call and began practicing. And soon, he was going out on his own. He remembers his first turkey as if were yesterday.

"It was a foggy morning, and I couldn't see very far," Braun said. "I looked up and all of a sudden, there was a turkey, just 30 or 40 yards out.

"I worked that bird closer, and I was able to hit it."

That fascination with hunting turkeys has never faded. Braun still dreams of spring mornings when the woods awaken, the booming gobbles of toms fill the air, and birds put on a display as they strut in.

"Everything is intensified when you hunt with a bow and let them come in close," he said. "You can see little things that most hunters never get to experience."


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