According to writer and outdoorsman Larry Case, there are all types of cornbread out there, but one thing is for sure, you don’t put sugar in it. As he reflects, Larry sits on a tree log, puffing a victory cigar after a long morning of turkey hunting. “I want it plain, kinda thin. You gotta use Martha White mix, bacon grease, and a cast iron skillet,” he says in a distinct Appalachian accent. The annual hunt in Northwestern Missouri is a tradition between Larry, his friend, and fellow hunter Dave Miller. The two revel in their early spring success with two toms beside them. They muse on about the storytelling and traditions that make hunting not merely a hobby but a distinct culture.
Dave and Larry settle down in their location of choice for the second year in a row. Last spring, the pair crossed a snow-covered ground and frosty pond in the early morning hours. “It’s better to get out there fifteen minutes early than five minutes late,” says Larry. The early dawn provides the best chances of success and allows the pair to share stories of adventures in the field from the past. Reflecting on the season before, Larry releases cigar smoke into the air, recalling how he and Dave got their spring birds.
Amidst snow-topped decoys, Larry and Dave spotted a turkey strutting in the distance. For hours the tom hovered near the decoys, coming close but remaining just far enough to be out of reach. Patience paid off, however, when the bird came just close enough for Larry to get him within range of his CZ Reaper Magnum.
This year was warmer than the spring before. Larry and Dave arrived at their premium spot only to be welcomed by a downpour. The air was cool, their boots were mud-caked, and the grass and trees were fluorescent green, then, from the swampy grass emerged a hen, followed by a tom in pursuit. Dave crawled along the ground, his reaping fan spread out in front of him. He inched closer and closer to the birds. And then, finally, a celebratory cheer followed the crack of a shotgun.
With Dave now the victor, Larry was next. The two were walking through the spring rain when they heard the echoes of a late-morning gobble. The turkey was not far from the swamp and a nearby barn. Larry waited, refusing to be aggressive. He was going to let the tom come as close as possible, focusing more on method than bagging a bird. Finally, Larry lined up his ideal shot, pulled the crisp trigger, and rejoiced in tying with Dave.
The friends soaked up the moment as the smoke of the cigars evaporated in the misty air. Laughter and stories continued, along with plans to pass these stories to future generations of hunters. “Hunters are the definition of traditionalists,” said Larry. “Our hunting culture is very important to us,” with that, the duo began to pack out; shotguns and turkeys draped over their shoulders, they walked out of the rain and onto the next adventure.