Big flakes of snow drifted peacefully through the slate-gray sky, creating a Christmas-card-like scene.
It was the day of Christmas Eve, and that light snow promised a white Christmas. But it meant much more than that to Phil Taunton. That peaceful snow also set the stage for a memorable hunt.
“The women were busy preparing the Christmas dinner, and I think they were getting tired of having us guys underfoot,” Taunton said with a laugh. “So, they were glad to send us out of the house for a while.
“My son-in-law and I decided to head to some public land I had hunted for years and spend the day out there.”
So, they loaded Taunton’s pointers into the truck and headed out on the backroads. It wasn’t long before the pointers were coursing back and forth, following the scent of birds.
Quail? No turkeys. That’s what Taunton and his son-in-law Mark Anderson were chasing this winter day.
“A lot of people didn’t even know that you could hunt turkeys with pointing dogs in Kansas,” said Taunton, who lives in Emporia. “But I’ve done it for years.
“I remember when Peach, a pointer I had years ago, went on point and I readied myself for the explosive flush of a covey of quail. You can imagine how surprised I was when the grass parted and this big turkey exploded into the sky.
“Peach and I were both startled. I thought Peach had met her maker.”
That’s when Taunton discovered that turkeys could indeed be hunted with pointing dogs. He started by taking what he described as “mixed-bag” hunts, searching for both quail and turkeys. But that entailed carrying different shotgun shells, depending on which bird he expected to flush. So he decided to turn his hunts into separate missions, most of them for quail, but some for turkeys.
He had big gobblers on his mind when he set out on that memorable Christmas Eve. Blue and Sassy bounded through the CRP grass, following fresh scent.
Blue finally locked on point and Mark kicked at the grass in front of the dog. A big black bird rattled the grass as it burst into the air and tried to escape.
One shot from Mark’s shotgun cut that flight short and the turkey tumbled into the grass. That’s when the chase began.
Turns out, the shot had only broken a wing on the bird and it was able to run away, with Blue hot in pursuit.
As the chaser and the prey disappeared into the distance, Taunton had to use the signal given off by the beeper collar on Blue. When they caught up to the dog, they witnessed a sight Taunton will never forget.
“Blue was sitting on top of that turkey, which was still alive,” Taunton said. “She wasn’t going to let that bird get away.”
The hunters didn’t let the turkey escape. Later, they cleaned the bird and found that its crop was full of whole acorns.
“I always thought turkeys cracked the shell open and pecked out the meat,” Taunton said. “But this one swallowed them whole.”
Taunton’s daughters took a few of those acorns home and planted them in their yards. They now have several white oak trees growing there, a reminder of a Christmas Eve hunt.
Taunton and other family members hoped to turn that into a family holiday tradition. But when Taunton’s wife Myrna was diagnosed with cancer and later died, things got sidetracked.
Taunton still hunts for winter turkeys on occasion, though. He was out Dec. 12, hunting the same place as he had on that Christmas Eve hunt, when his pointer Lil’ Mern locked up.
He was startled by the first bird to get up and didn’t even get a shot off. But he hit another turkey that flushed and he had another winter bird.