Turkey Hunting with Tony Knight & Family
Tony is likely just breathing a sigh of relief that I was able to hit what I was shooting at.
I've known and appreciated Tony Knight for several years. In fact, for a bit more information on Tony you might wish to peruse two previous interviews. They are "A Visit with Tony Knight, the Father of Modern Muzzleloading" from four years ago and "Another Visit with Tony Knight: The Future of Muzzleloading"from last year. Where I come up with these riveting, extremely clever titles is beyond me. It is something that needs work, I suppose.
Tony Knight has developed and nurtured the sport of muzzleloading hunting like no other individual. On a recent list of the "Best Guns Ever Made,"only one muzzleloader made it. It is Tony Knight's MK-85, the gun that created a new industry and spawned a new sport for millions of hunters. It also made American Hunter's list of the "Top Ten Hunting Rifles of All Time." It has sold a lot of game tags and made a goodly sum of green for Fish and Game departments around the country. The MK-85 did a lot of things to make muzzleloading a better place for the sportsman and his game alike, making "handloading in the field" a fun yet challenging sport. Unlike many sidelocks that have no safety at all, or no reliable safety, the MK-85 introduced Tony's patented secondary safety, allowing the muzzleloading hunter to be as safe as he cares to be. It is easily scoped, which is the best safety device you can put on any rifle. Hunter safety has invariably increased when scoped rifles are used and, as they say, “Safety is no accident.”
Part of what makes a sportsman a sportsman is not carrying about only himself, but caring about his game. Reliable, accurate and using faster twist rate barrels and saboted projectiles, the Knight MK-85 and its offspring offered the ability for precise shot placement of bullets with adequate sectional density to quickly and humanely drop game like never before. The rest is history. There is a pond in front of Tony's house. Across that pond is a target frame, 187 yards away. Every year, MK-85's bark across that pond forming one-inch groups in that target. That's what you tend to get when serious hunters are involved in product development. You might think that Tony Knight's pond in Iowa is a long way from the subject of turkey hunting. Well, not really. You could hear the turkeys gobbling their heads off the evening we arrived, standing near that pond.
According to the Iowa DNR, around 53,000 hunters head to the woods for turkey hunting each spring. Hunter success in Iowa averages around 30%, far higher than most turkey hunting areas in the United States. The turkey population is considered down 10-15% this year, in part due to overly wet nesting conditions. Bobcat populations are on the rise in Iowa and are now designated as common in the southern one third of the state, which may be a larger factor than is currently recognized. I would say that we hunted Iowa opening day, but that wouldn't be strictly true. Iowa has a special three day youth hunt that begins the Friday before the first week of the season. A legal turkey hunting shotgun is 20 gauge or larger in Iowa.
One thing that you can never count on is the weather. In times past, Tony Knight and friends have had the pleasure of trying to call in gobblers in the snow, which wouldn't be ideal. We lucked out in the weather department, with clear blue skies, calm winds and sunny days hitting the mid to upper seventies from the time we left until we returned. It couldn't have been more gorgeous weather.
I'm not sure whether I look slow, fast, or (most likely) half-fast, but you really don't have to worry about getting to the blind in time when Tony Knight is around. He's happy to get you going at four A.M. Even I can get the camo and the boots on in a few hours. The morning of the hunt, Billy Knight (Tony's son) took off with my Dad, while I shared a blind with Tony. Dad was the first to get some action.
Dad and Billy had only been in their blind fifteen minutes or so, when Billy called in a 25 pound tom directly from his roost, landing in front of the decoys, staring straight at Dad and Billy just nine or ten yards away. “We can't shoot that one,” whispered Billy. I guess my Dad wondered why the heck not, with a massive gobbler right in front of them. I've never given a turkey a vision test, but they can catch you blinking your eyes inside of your blind. They are good runners, having been clocked at over 25 mph and can also fly past 55 mph. The problem is attempting to sneak the muzzle of your gun out of the blind with a turkey that close. Chances are you're busted and you will quickly run out of shooting window from inside the blind. Billy can tell you, from experience, that you aren't going to race a turkey from inside a blind and win; he's tried, more than once. The turkey meandered on its merry way.
Quickly, noise filled the blind. It was a combination of an old Briggs & Stratton lawnmower clattering along with the sound of a Cox “Thimble-Drome” model aircraft engine trying to start with a bad Hobby Lobby glow plug. Yes, as Billy discovered, my Dad can produce some fascinatingly loud mechanical noises when he's excited, thanks to a mechanical valve he's had sewn into his heart for a couple of decades. As I mentioned to Billy, it is when that thing doesn't make any noise we should really start to worry.
The tom went along and picked up a buddy, a smaller tom, and Billy called him back. The turkey made its way back to within fifteen yards, but took its sweet time stopping, hesitating and pausing along the way. It took only five minutes or so, but seemed like an eternity to Dad. It must have seemed like an eternity to Billy as well, as this was the first model aircraft and lawnmower race he'd ever attended before, all inside a blind.
While the turkey made his way back, Dad readied his Browning Gold 20 gauge up to his shoulder, safety off, ready to give Tom the whammy with very little movement. Of course, we had patterned our guns prior to hunting, so Dad knew that the 1-1/2 oz. payload of Federal #7 shot was going to hit high out of his Trulock turkey-choked Gold 20. Dad held at the bottom of the turkey's neck and let her go.
The turkey didn't have much of a chance, which is the general idea. This one went straight down with not a single kick or wing flap, just DOA. Dad's hold was on the money, as only a portion of the turkey's skull remained. Tony and I heard the shot. As it turned out, Dad and Billy had been relentlessly turkey hunting for a grand total of about thirty-six minutes. A fat, healthy, two and a half year old bird, Dad's trophy weighed in at 25 pounds on the nose.
While this was going on, Tony and I had been enjoying listening to the wild turkey orgy echoing up from the gully several hundred yards away. Tony had been using his box call mastery to make explicitly sexual overtones to any turkey that cared to carry on a conversation with Tony. If Tony Knight starts talking to you in sexy turkey language, it might be a very good time to either duck or get the heck out of Dodge. If you want to have turkey phone-sex with Tony, he's not likely to send flowers. Though perhaps a hopeless romantic in other ways, Tony's shameless flirtations with wild turkeys most often spell impending doom.
After a long conversation with a screechy old hen, Tony said, “That's it. I'm tired of talking to that old biddy. They all know where we're at, so if they want some, they can come and get some.” Tony's box call fell silent for quite a while. I'm wondering if Tony used the same “play hard to get” strategy to lure in his bride of many years, Rose, but somehow I doubt it. If we all did that, more of us would be enjoying a slice of cold shoulder for dinner than anything else.
Tony's technique worked like a charm, though. The dulcet tones of Tony's special kind of forest turkey love resumed a while later and in to the area of the decoys came an attractive hen. Not particularly attractive to me, but apparently quite a potential catch for the 24 pound gobbler that came in as well, all set to impress the lovely lady with his color-changing, patriotic head, his puffs, struts, fantail, and turkey dance maneuvers. This tom was on the far side of the decoys, up a slight slope, pirouetting at 37 yards. It sure looked like a beautiful bird to me, but I waited for an indication of approval from Tony. Tony half-yawned as his whispered, “Sure, take him whenever you want.” I had a feeling that Tony has done this once or twice before. It was effortless to get the 24 inch, rifle-sighted, Ithaca M37 Turkeyslayer on the bird. There wasn't any guesswork, as I had five hundred or so warm-up shots at the patterning board over the last year to figure it out. Mr. Tom vanished to the ground and Tony's girlfriend hen hit the air instantly in objection to the report of the shot. Tony yawned again and asked if I'd like to go look at him. I didn't think he would expect a “No, maybe later” response. The radio crackled a little bit later with Bill's voice and the report of a nice gobbler he had glassed. Tony half-yawned again, commenting “No thanks; we are tagged out over here.” Somehow, I have to figure out how to get Tony Knight to relax more, unwind, and enjoy the woods. However, I don't think that's possible. Tony Knight is the first fellow I've met that is even more relaxed than I am right before a trigger pull. That was the conclusion of a wonderful morning turkey hunt, with a couple of folks in Tony and Billy that there are just no better people to hunt with. It was a privilege.
Tony must have suspected that our hunt wasn't going to take all that long, for we had plans shortly thereafter at the Centerville, Iowa grade school. Tony's grandson, Anthony, is already becoming quite a shot with rifles and pistols. Anthony is in the third grade and in addition to that, he's also a magician and magic fan. Anthony hasn't invited me to join his magic club yet, but one day that might happen. Although I've performed throughout Europe, Japan, Australia and the USA, I haven't performed for anyone other than adults for a very long while. That changed the same day of the turkey hunt with a half hour performance for the kids in Anthony's class at school. It was a lot of fun and they were really good kids. One thing I noticed is that, although I started working on a nice, large table, that table shrunk and shrunk with each passing magic effect, being obscured by small arms and hands that seemed to continually grow and grow every few minutes. The teacher, Mrs. Heffron, has a lot of fine students of whom to be proud.
Along the way, you learn a few things. I had known that Tony's MK-85 muzzleloader was named for his daughter, Michelle, but I didn't know that the Modern Muzzleloading logo of the helmeted knight was patterned after the profile of Tony's son, Billy. I checked Billy's profile, but I didn't have any plate armor for Billy to don, so I didn't get the full effect. Billy has some of Tony's inventor inclination in him, as evidenced by the unique deer call he has designed. Like anything associated with a real Knight, you can bet it works based on results in the field, not just theories. It was a memorable little trip. The warm hospitality of Tony and Rose Knight and family really can't be overstated. They are a spectacularly good group of people and we should all be grateful that we have folks like these that have contributed so much to the betterment of the hunting and shooting sports and wildlife conservation. Thank you Tony, Billy, Rose and families for the great memories. What a tremendous family. It was a terrific hunt.
Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.