The View

On The Shoulders Of Giants With Andrew Curtis

Andrew Curtis | June 14, 2024

GON writer Donald Devereaux Jarrett with a Merriam’s gobbler taken in South Dakota at a spot with an incredible view of the Missouri River.

Gazing down at the massive Missouri River that coursed through the valleyed South Dakota spring landscape, I suddenly understood why I did not kill a turkey at that location. I heard Donald Devereaux Jarrett’s voice behind me carry quietly in the cooling breeze.

“We were meant to come here this afternoon. I don’t understand it all, but God wanted us here, at this spot, at this view.”

I turned around to look at him, nodding to show my agreement. DJ looked past the cedar tree we had just sat under, and said, “That was one of the best church services I have been a part of.”

Two days before, I had arrived in Fairfax, South Dakota to chase Merriam’s turkeys for the first time. I quickly realized that my experience was not about the kill. On Day 1, my guide and well-known GON writer, Donald Devereaux Jarrett (DJ), took me on a trek up the slippery, steep valley slopes of a rainy, cold, South Dakota spring day. As we sat tucked up inside a dense cedar tree in an attempt to not get thoroughly soaked, our conversation shifted from general introduction topics to outdoor writing, and then to our Christian faith. The wet, 38-degree air gradually became a bit more bearable the deeper and richer our talk progressed. We did not have much of a chance to kill a turkey that day, but that was not the purpose anyway. I saw the experience for what it was meant to be… fellowship with another Christian. God planned that day for us long ago. Turkeys were simply the means to lead us to the location. Why else would two grown men voluntarily traipse the rugged South Dakota land’s biting rain, mud and winds? God knows the language to speak to folks like DJ and me.

The next morning, Day 2, we were greeted with an atmospheric gift as the sun shone over the hills to cast an orange glow on the grassy, cedar-dotted slopes. The gobbling was great, but the hens were better at thwarting our efforts to get our sights on a longbeard. By mid-morning though, I was holding my first South Dakota turkey, which was also my first multi-bearded bird. Though that hunt was symbolically deep in many ways, it’s not part of this story here.

After lunch on the second day, I found myself following DJ as we meandered our way to the high, flat ground. The sun shone brightly and warmed my cold bones from the past day and a half.

Pointing to a field in the distance on the high plateau, DJ said, “There are some turkeys.” He lifted his binoculars and confirmed with a nod, “Four longbeards. They are going to be tough to get to, but we have to try.”

And try we did, clawing our way on the steep drop-off ledge in an effort to stay concealed. After 60 hard minutes of stealthy movements on the slope, we suddenly saw a periscopic turkey head not more than 40 yards from us. I froze. We lowered our heads slowly, and I could see that there were two hens that appeared unspooked. The four gobblers were 200 yards on the other side of the hens in the field. Because of the terrain’s obstacles, the hens had an effective blockade on our intended interception point. DJ, determined as ever, was not going to give up easily. We dropped lower into the gorge, sliding our way in the muddy brush, and fought to gain ground on the longbeards who happily produced courtesy gobbles to DJ’s calls but never made any serious effort to investigate. They were on a mission to exit the high flat field on the other end, heading toward the Missouri River bottom.

After a few hours of hiking, climbing, stalking and stumbling our way toward our four targets, I watched hopelessly as the gobblers descended out of sight on the backside of the high field. Our seemingly last chance presented itself as a grassy knoll with a cedar tree overlooking the drop. If we could get there, we might have a chance.

The hens had disappeared from sight and so had the four gobblers, but their occasional gobbling betrayed their location down the hill. Following DJ over an old, crooked barbed wire fence, I looked down at the breathtaking view and paused to absorb the moment; DJ did too. Then, nodding toward the cedar tree on the knoll, DJ directed me to sit in the shadows where a refreshing breeze cooled my sweaty body. With each call DJ made, the gobbling quartet announced their retreat, evidenced by the fading echoes of their calls.

Although our hopes of leaving that knoll with a turkey over a shoulder decreased with each passing minute, our conversation grew richer and more meaningful. Some experiences defy description, and what happened next, I cannot adequately articulate. What I can say is that God’s presence descended upon us both and infused our souls with a peace and calm that only the Holy Spirit can offer.

Way down below in the valleys, the shadows lengthened as the sun reached farther in the western sky. I knew that I had to leave the view, despite my longing to remain, and it wasn’t until we were nearly back to the UTV far away that I realized I had not taken a picture of the special spot we had left behind. I closed my eyes and could see it so well.

The next day, I tagged out with my first banded turkey, a gorgeous mature strutter, and though that hunt story was incredible (and will be told at another time), I could not get the previous day’s amazing view and feeling out of my head.

Four days later with my feet back on Georgia ground, I opened a text message from DJ. Immediately, I felt God’s touch on my soul once more. I did not need to read his text to know where the picture was taken. With a beautiful Merriam’s turkey draped over his knee, Donald Devereaux Jarrett knelt on the very grassy knoll overlooking the Missouri River… where one of my best church services took place.

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