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Rare Company in Kentucky

John Higley,

ou went where to do what? I’ve been asked that question more than once through the years as my addiction to turkey hunting took me to several states around the country in search of new experiences. Last week was no exception. I was invited to participate in a media hunt for eastern turkeys in southern Kentucky, and I couldn’t turn the opportunity down.

The editor of Turkey Country Magazine tossed my name in the hat because he couldn’t break away on the dates in question. And so there I was, airline ticket in hand, boarding a fight to Nashville, Tennessee on April 22. Once there, I would be met by John Skrabo of Adventure 2 Outdoors, and he would drive us a hundred miles or so to the Kentucky farm where the hunt would take place.

rustic-modern lodge on the river's edge, photo by John Higley
The rustic-modern lodge we stayed in left little to be desired.

Here’s where things get interesting. Skrabo is from the West.

Formerly a magazine editor and writer, he moved to Alabama years ago from a small city in northern California -- Redding to be exact. Heck, I’ve known him for 25 years. We actually fished together several times on the Sacramento River. Small world and all of that. Anyway, today he runs his own public relations agency and, among other things, arranges media hunts for the likes of Pradco Outdoor Brands, a group that owns several well known outdoor companies. One of them is Knight and Hale Game Calls, a company started in 1972 by Harold Knight and his business partner David Hale. One of the country’s major call makers, Knight and Hale is still going strong after being bought out by Pradco a decade ago. David and Harold are still active in their role as figureheads of the company they started.

John Higley (l) chats with Knight & Hale founder Harold Knight.
Here I chat with Knight & Hale founder Harold Knight who came to camp to spend a few hours.

Others in camp, actually a modern but rustic looking lodge overlooking a 20 acre lake on the farm, included Knight and Hale brand manager Chris Parrish and Mark Prudhomme a Knight and Hale pro staffer. Together these guys have won at least 25 national turkey calling championships.

Obviously, they are in a class by themselves when it comes to calling expertise, and since I’ve interviewed Parrish in the past, I figured this hunt was the ideal venue for getting better acquainted.

John Higley (l), talks with David Hale in the comfort of the rustic lodge.
I have a few words with David Hale the other half of the Knight & Hale team.

The others in camp were Mike Schoby, editor of Petersen’s Hunting Magazine and Jon Draper, associate editor of The American Hunter Magazine.

So how did the hunting go? Despite the abilities of Prudhomme and Parrish, only one turkey was killed and it was by Jon Draper. I hunted mostly with Prudhomme, and it was a treat to hear him call and try to learn something from it, even when the fickle turkeys didn’t play fair.

The American Hunter associate editor Jon Draper poses with his eastern turkey and ace caller Mark Prudhomme.
The American Hunter associate editor Jon Draper poses with his eastern turkey and ace caller Mark Prudhomme.

Actually, all the toms were with hens and there wasn’t much gobbling going on. Hmmm, maybe that’s why they call it hunting and not killing. The best thing that happened on this hunt was the appearance of Harold Knight and David Hale themselves. Hale currently has some health issues, but he is active in the business and he still hunts turkeys, though he doesn’t cover much ground in the process. During their brief stay they gave me a couple of interviews I never expected to get. I was struck by the down home attitude of these two legends in the outdoor field.

David Hale and Harold Knight holding John Higley's book,
The turkey hunting legends seemed pleased to get copies of my books.

Dressed in Mossy Oak camo, they do not appear to be polished businessmen -- but they are. Their innovative call designs for all callable game including turkeys (where it all started), deer, waterfowl, elk and predators have kept them on top of the heap of call makers for more than 40 years. When they left the lodge with a call us anytime good-by I felt like a friend of the two and not just an outdoor writer with deadlines to meet. That they each took a copy of my book Successful Turkey Hunting made me feel as if even I have accomplished something among the turkey hunting clan.

 Hunters dressed in camo, left is Mark Prudhomme, on the right is Chris Parrish, John Higley in the middle.
I can’t believe I’m flanked by two of the winningest competition turkey callers in the country. These guys are serious. On the left is Mark Prudhomme, on the right is Chris Parrish. That’s me in the middle.

So, how does turkey hunting in Kentucky compare with California? The main differences are the subspecies of turkeys found in each state and the habitat characteristics. Kentucky turkeys are the eastern variety, which were always present to some degree historically. In California the turkeys we hunt (mostly Rio Grandes) are the end result of introductions made decades ago.

As for the habitat from there to here, the western landscape is much harsher with constant ups and downs and mountainous forests of oak and pine trees. We have private ranches and large tracts of public land (BLM, Forest Service, timber company etc.). They have some wildlife areas and farms with always green pastures and shelter belts of hickory, white oak and beech trees with a generous portion of poison ivy. Back there, before the tom turkeys gobble at daybreak, the whip-poor-wills and cardinals have their say. Out here, the birds that stand out to me are robins and valley quail.

It would have been nice if I bagged a turkey in Kentucky, but there are no sure things in actual hunting situations and, when you think about it, that’s how it should be. There are plenty of turkeys back there in the Bluegrass State, but sometimes, as is the case everywhere, they will not cooperate. As they say in fishing, you should have been here yesterday -- or you should come back tomorrow.

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro. His articles have appeared in outdoor magazines hundreds of times and his columns appear regularly at Higley has written four books the latest of which “Successful Turkey Hunting” was published in May, 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing in New York. This hard cover, full color book is being sold at Barnes and Noble Book Stores and on Amazon. Autographed copies are available direct from John Higley, P.O. Box 120, Palo Cedro, CA 96073. Cost is $28.95 postage paid.

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