A Missouri gold rush never happened, but the greatest treasures found in the Ozarks currently, are its abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, including the best turkey hunting in the United States.
Early prospectors traveling through the Midwest discovered gold near the present location of Fredericktown, in the southeastern quarter of Missouri. In 1717 European Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac discovered lead and consequently named the La Motte mine and community after himself. He later became the Governor-General of Louisiana.
La Mothe spent considerable time mining for gold as well, before attracting the attention of the French, who were intent on finding sliver. He found several veins of gold in Trace Valley along the banks of Captain Creek. Despite his eloquent writings to attract miners to the region, a Missouri gold rush never happened. Lead became the mineral of Missouri miners and is still mined in the region today.
History lessons aside, the greatest treasures found in the Ozarks currently, are its abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, including the best turkey hunting in the United States.
Missourians endured a penchant for mining and in the process acquired a taste for conservation and outdoor recreation. Consequently, they voted in 1936 to establish a politically free department of conservation, which is now regarded as the model of conservation in the U.S. and around the world.
The return of the wild turkey to Missouri is one of the greatest conservation stories ever told. From a remnant population of birds deep in the Ozarks, professional biologists brought the wild turkey from the brink of extinction to a population of 600,000. Hunters now harvest 45-50,000 birds each spring and can reasonably expect to do so into the foreseeable future.
“Turkey hunting has become a spring tradition in the Ozarks,” said Joe Hollingshad, owner of Devil’s Backbone Outfitters in McDonald County. “I killed my first wild turkey when I was eleven 11 years old and I’ve been in love with them ever since.”
Ray Eye, of Dittmer, Missouri has made a life-long profession of hunting, filming and presenting seminars about wild turkeys. His lively, entertaining seminars have been a key drawing card for hunters at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s annual convention in Nashville for well over two decades.
“I can’t imagine my life without wild turkeys,” said Eye. “I have logged thousands of hours filming turkeys every month of the year, written books about them, aired radio and tv shows about turkey hunts and have hunted them in almost all of the 49 states that holds seasons.”
The average Missouri hunter has access to what many call the best turkey hunting in the nation. All 114 counties are open during the spring season. “Hunters have a reasonable chance to bag a gobbler, particularly if they pay attention to the success rates in the various counties,” said Jason Isabelle, the wild turkey program leader in Missouri.
Southern and southwest Missouri, the heart of the Ozarks, have seen growing turkey populations in recent years. And, there is no shortage of places to hunt. The U.S. Forest Service owns 1.5 millions acres in the Ozarks, while the Missouri Department of Conservation owns close to another million acres and manages another half million, scattered across the state. The National Park Service administers 80,000 acres along the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, while the nearby LAD Foundation owns another 160,000 acres on the headwaters of the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers, most of which are open to hunting. Additionally, the Corps of Engineers owns tens of thousands of acres surrounding Corps lake project in the Ozarks. In total, Missourians have access to over 3 million public acres, most of which is in the Ozarks.
Turkey hunting camps have become a part of the turkey hunting scene each spring in the Missouri Ozarks. Ray Eye has held annual media turkey hunting camps for decades. Others pop up annually. Brandon Butler, the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, began his own turkey hunting camp during the 2017 spring season. “I was fortunate enough to acquire a piece of land on Sinking Creek in Shannon County,” he said. “It is a beautiful piece of ground and is surrounded by thousands of acres of public lands.”
I enjoyed sitting around the evening campfire with Brandon and the other hunters. Four a.m. came early as usual. Strong coffee stoked our fires. Good luck omens passed through our hunting party as we headed to our chosen turkey hunting havens.
My cameraman, Greg Long, and I called two Ozark Mountain gobblers to within 35 yards. Greg took one of them with a single shot. We were on the score board. Our camp buddies told tales of close encounters with the ghosts of the forest.
I had already enjoyed youth turkey season with my 12-year-old granddaughter, Jaydin and the first weekend of regular season with my wife, Dian. We made memories that will be told in our family circles for decades to come.
Ray Eye held his 2017 media turkey hunting camp on the North Fork of the White River at Joe Hollingshad’s Devil’s Backbone Outfitters. We hunted 1,700 acres of rough, rugged, well managed turkey hunting country. Record rains and floods raged, but we caught a break in the weather and took three toms on a sun shiny day. Two of them sported triple beards.
Eye acquires new products hitting the market for media members to test while turkey hunting. Mossberg supplied a selection of new shotguns, which performed flawlessly. Winchester provided their new Long Beard XR turkey loads. Their Shot Lok pellet packing and guarantee of twice the pellets in a 10-inch circle at 60 yards proved to be dead on. The triple bearded gobbler I shot at 40 yards never knew what hit him. No doubt, the lead for those shells came from Missouri mines.
The people, the places, the experiences we all enjoyed throughout the Missouri 2017 spring turkey season became the real treasures of hunting wild turkeys in the Ozarks. Hunting wild turkeys in the Ozarks is pure gold.