If you want to surround yourself with great times and great people while going after Kansas turkey, there's no better place than the Hooray Ranch.
"Good things happen to good people." If I took one thing away from my first ever media trip, it would be that old saying. Yeah, of course I'd heard it before, but it took on a whole new meaning after visiting the Hooray Ranch.
Eric Dunn, owner of the Hooray Ranch, showed us that there are key ingredients to a successful turkey hunt, and it begins and ends with good people.
This was my first media hunt. I had been a writer for Wide Open Spaces for just over a year when I received the phone call. It was from my now good friend, Chase Rohlfsen, owner of Rubline Marketing.
"Did you get my email?" Chase asked. "Nope," I replied. "Let me take a look."
That's when I first saw it. The email from Chase asked me to join him and eight other writers for a spring turkey hunt in Kansas, about an hour west of Wichita. It read the second week of May at the Hooray Ranch. That's when I lost it. I mean really, I was ecstatic. I even texted my dad, almost immediately, to let him know. Shortly after I sent word to my wife, too, and the excitement kept growing.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking to yourself, "So you got invited on a guided turkey hunt in Kansas, what's the big deal?" Well, for me, it was a big deal.
I've lived my entire life as a small town country boy from the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Someone who enjoys every minute in the outdoors but has hunted tough public land nearly his whole life. A boy who was taught growing up to share, work hard and earn everything you have. Don't take shortcuts or eventually you will be cut short. I worked hard for this "simple spring turkey hunt," and I was excited to go.
Most people would probably prep for this trip differently than I did. They would probably look into the terrain of the land, and study how Rio turkeys behave differently from Easterns. Maybe they'd learn everything about hunting turkeys in Kansas that would make this trip successful. For me, I took an alternate path.
First off, I mentally prepared to not even shoot a turkey. I told myself that although this is a great opportunity, this is also an opportunity for other people as well. If there are more hunters than there are guides, I was going to let others go first. (Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Each of us all were assigned a guide the night of our arrival).
So, my next step was a reminder that this was a business trip. We were being flown out to the ranch at the expense of three great companies: Scent Crusher, Cherokee Sports and Rubline Marketing. I needed to ensure I knew everything I could about these companies and went in prepared with questions, especially ones that could relate directly to our readers.
Why was this my preparation, instead of learning how to use a mouth call or the habits of a Rio turkey? I've always been the one to put work first, and I wanted to ensure that I was doing myself and the readers justice by not abusing this opportunity. If there was a question a reader might have, I wanted to make sure I asked it.
I respect the hunting industry more than any other industry I've been involved in. I figured as long as I'm holding true to the readers, I can't go wrong.
Before I left, I also vowed to learn a thing or two about the Hooray Ranch. Little did I know, but the Ranch's origin is an amazing story, and serve as the heart that beats the positivity and good vibes through the veins of its guests and staff.
When the day came and I departed, saying I was "excited" barely scratches the surface. We arrived at the Hooray Ranch in the afternoon, and we were greeted by several smiling faces. At first, it was almost like arriving at Disney Land.
The excitement from the staff, and even the dogs, surrounding our arrival was so welcoming. We were greeted with a special Moonshine Martini, instantly proving this wasn't going to be an ordinary business trip.
As Chad Pore welcomed us, he started to give us the tour right away. I was half listening, but the first in-person glimpses I finally got of the Ranch left me in awe.
When I replay that moment back in my mind, all I can picture now is Dale Doback giving Brennan Huff a tour of his house in the movie Step Brothers. "This house was built in 1925 by General Custer..."
Of course, that's not how it went. Every bit of the tour was professional, informational, and friendly, plus you just knew you were surrounded by good people. I really was flat out flabbergasted, and couldn't focus on much of what was said. Good thing I'd read ahead on the Hooray Ranch website, but the photos did not do the place justice, not one bit.
My room door had my name written on it (and for the first time in a long time, it was spelled correctly!), and the rooms were more accommodating than a 5-star hotel. That included everything, especially the food, which I get to in a bit.
Let's just say my first impressions were great, and things would only get better.
My First Night at the Hooray
As the hors d'oeuvres (which were smoked pheasant, homemade cheese and honey), were being set out, I saw an opportunity to shoot my bow. I really wanted to check my entire bow setup after the flight, and since there was a 3D archery range on the ranch not far from where folks were eventually gathering, I saw my chance.
The Hooray's range made it very convenient for me to double-check things. While the cell phone service was spotty, it was there that I received a text message from my father.
"Enjoy your time at the ranch. Listen and learn all you can. Hope you have the time of your life. Wish I was there with you. Love you and proud to call you my son." -Dad
He knew how much this trip meant to me, and how for years, all I ever wanted to be was a professional hunter. Growing up, I used to say I wanted to be just like the guys on television.
Now, of course, things have changed, but at 30 years old, a text like that is still very heartfelt. I think it describes my relationship with my father very well.
Although my television star goals have changed, what he instilled in me remains the same. Always work hard as it will pay off in the end. If you treat everyone as though they are your neighbor, the treatment will be reciprocated.
This attitude is contagious. Not only was it an attitude I arrived at the ranch with, it seemed as though every single person at the ranch also shared that same attitude.
So with that text and good thoughts in my mind, I headed back to the Refuge. I then shared dinner with the other writers and staff of the Hooray. Ah yes, dinner...
The cook at Hooray Ranch was simply known as "Chef" (I learned this was due to the fact that there was more than one staff member named Eric), and boy does he earn the moniker. I hadn't eaten this well, in consecutive nights, for a really, really long time (maybe even ever!).
Our first night, on the menu was filet mignon with wild morel mushrooms and a homemade gravy. Our second night we had chicken parmigiana with a sauce that was said to have taken nearly 12 hours to cook.
The last night though, that took the crown. A seafood, low country boil extravaganza is the only way I could describe it, and I'm still not doing it any justice. It was by far the best seafood I've ever had, and yes, it was eaten smack dab in the middle of Kansas.
Don't let anyone tell you to avoid seafood so far from the coast, because if someone does it half as good as "Chef" at the Hooray Ranch, you'll be plenty satisfied.
Later that evening, I called home to my wife, who's carrying our first child. It's amazing how wholeheartedly she supports me in my endeavors, and I'm very thankful to have her. She could tell I was already impressed, and already having a good time.
After we spoke, I went down to the Quack Shack for a cigar and a drink. There, I sat by the fire, listened to the acoustic guitar, and got to meet my guide, Breck Cherry.
Our friendly introductions and conversation would set the stage for the main event, kicking off first thing in the morning.
Time to Hunt
The morning of our first hunt, Breck and I were right on schedule. We showed up to our first set up with a pop up blind, and saw a great deal of hens and jakes.
We watched a flock of roughly twelve jakes struggled their way over a fence and eventually made it to us. A quick shot with the bow, aimed for the jake's head, came with a missed opportunity, but not without an enjoyable memory.
Breck and I would look for a Tom the next two days, filming our hunt on my DSLR and Tactacam, gathering what most would think was an outdoor comedy show rather than a turkey hunting episode. I don't think I have ever laughed so hard in a turkey blind like I did with Breck.
It was sheer enjoyment and by day two, I knew I had surrounded myself, yet again, with another good person along this trip.
On the second to last night at the Hooray Ranch, I was still birdless. Other writers had tagged out and some had one turkey down. Along with a couple other writers, I was still empty-handed.
That was until I was introduced to Todd Bigbee, a friend of Eric Dunn's, the owner of Hooray Ranch.
Todd is a real estate agent for Whitetail Properties, and he's harvested some of the largest whitetail deer I have ever seen. He was a real humble guy who, when I was initially introducing myself, offered to take me to his personal property roughly two hours from the ranch.
Completely caught off guard and excited, I didn't know this was all set up prior to the conversation, and Dan Drake, owner of Scent Crusher was going to join us both for the hunt. Getting a prime opportunity to hunt Kansas Rios with some of the smartest and most accomplished guys in the group...? Was I dreaming?
The Gobble Wobble
The next morning we woke up a little later than I was used to for turkey hunting, but I knew I was in good hands. Myself, Dan, and Todd all met at the Refuge, packed up, and took off.
Our road trip was filled with discussions of everything from hometown stories, to how I proposed to my wife. You know, the stuff you talk about with good friends.
We then were also interrupted by a phone call from Mark Drury. Dan had accidentally pocket-dialed Mark earlier that morning. Mark wished us all good luck and reminded Dan and I we were in good hands with Todd. That was a worthy testament to the folks I was with in my book.
I was quite excited to be just spending the day with these two guys. Talking hunting and getting ready to (unknown to me at the time) harvest my first Rio turkey.
We first set up in the blind on Todd's property, but a growing headache, lack of activity, and an eagerness to get a bird caused a team decision: We would drop the bow, grab the shotgun, and go after some birds.
After a couple failed attempts at sneaking up on a few sets of Toms, we finally got our eyes set on a big gobbler. We waited for the bird to make his way into a small five-acre woodlot and we snuck around to cut him off.
Once on the other side of the woodlot, Todd worked his magic. With a turkey fan and some light calls on the slate, the Tom couldn't resist. He grew impatient and made his way to us.
When the Tom was at 25 yards, Todd gave me the go-ahead and I pulled up and shot. The bird fell back and did what I call the Gobble Wobble, then took flight! Yes, he started to fly away!
That was when Todd yelled, "Get him again!" And it was at that point that I realized this turkey hunt was full of many firsts, as I shot my first Rio turkey out of the sky.
Todd and I started to run toward the bird, looking back at Dan, who was generously filming the entire thing. We gave Dan a thumbs up and did a little celebrating, which consisted of some big high fives and yells of 'Heck yeah!'
It was such an exciting moment. Again, you might think it was just a simple turkey hunt out in Kansas, but my experience was easily one that's going to be burned in my memory.
Good Things, Good People
Dan, Todd, and I made our way back to the Hooray Ranch, where we would link up with the other writers and more people who made their way into the lodge. We hung up our birds and talked about the experience, focusing on the amazing products from Cherokee Sports and Scent Crusher.
We even went live on social media, and two of the female writers described their hunts to hundreds of viewers.
As the stories came to an end, Dan, Chase, and Allie Butler, who represented Cherokee Sports in the absence of Brett Fulcher, decided to give away thousands of dollars worth of cool gear. They held a contest and the prizes would go to the person who could most closely guess the total length of the girls' four birds together.
The package included an entire set up from Scent Crusher, all the newest decoys and calls from Cherokee Sports, plus a YETI Cooler and the new Rage Turkey Broadheads as well.
These people had done so much for us, and yet, all they wanted to do through the end was give. They had all these amazing products, and nothing seemed to make them happier than to give it away to someone else.
These good things were being given to good people, and I was surrounded by that all week.
The Key Ingredient
That night we celebrated in old hunting camp fashion. There were Moonshine Margaritas, Red Stag and Cokes, Coors originals, and people, lots of good people.
With the tune of the guitar in the background, I went up and shook the hand of the owner of the Hooray Ranch, Eric Dunn, who I mentioned briefly earlier. I told him how amazing his place is, and how he should be really proud of it. But something told me he didn't need to be reminded of that.
You see, all week long, Eric talked to us like we were old friends, not customers. He remembered my name each time, and made me feel like I belonged there. I was just a guy from a small town, with barely more than one year in the industry, who was given a great opportunity. He really had a way of making everyone feel as comfortable as can be.
Eric spoke about those who worked at the Hooray, never those who worked "for him." He went out of his way to recognize Hooray's newest employees. We applauded and cheered them, all of whom you would have thought had been doing this job for years. Hospitality was matched by no other while out at the Hooray, but the people, the people are what make it successful.
That's why a small, insignificant moment at the end of the trip is going to stick with me so strongly. I wanted to show Eric my favorite cigar that evening, a Nub Connecticut. He asked if I had another, and when I checked, I realized I was on my last one, and nearly finished.
Eric didn't hesitate to shrug it off, no big deal, and say thanks anyway. I'm sure it didn't mean much to him at all, but to me, I wished so badly I had brought three cigars instead of only two! It was a small moment, but one that really solidified my main takeaway from the trip to Hooray Ranch.
He had given so much to myself and the people I was surrounded with and for those few days, I felt as though I was welcomed. Officially welcomed into the industry, graciously welcomed into the Hooray Ranch, and legitimately welcomed into a whole knew family.
As I watched Eric and everyone enjoying themselves that last night, I was reminded about the first thing I prepared for, and was happy to realize I was right.
It really didn't matter if I harvested a turkey. That's not what this trip needed to be successful.
Success wasn't measured in inches that week at the Hooray, it was measured by the names and faces I won't soon forget, the clean plates after every amazing meal, the photos and footage of laughter, kinship, and most importantly, the great memories we all took home.
I can't thank Chase, Dan, Todd, Brett, Breck, Eric and the rest of the staff at the Hooray Ranch enough. I know that the next time I go, I'll have a whole box of Nub Connecticuts, ready to start paying them back in my own small town way.
Good people are the key ingredients to success for anything. The key ingredient to a successful turkey hunt in Kansas is what Eric told us all week, "Good things happen to good people." And with that, I'm pretty sure I was successful.