WAUSEON — It could be said that Wauseon native Dick Kinney is a turkey whisperer.
In his later years, Kinney has mastered the craft of bagging the wily birds all around the country, and even in Mexico.
The 76-year-old has been more than a master of just turkey hunting, however. Evidenced by his treasure trove of trophy mounts in his home east of Wauseon.
“Age is but an attitude,” says Kinney while adding. “It’s not the length of life, but depth of life.”
When it comes to the outdoors, Kinney is a foremost expert over his seven decades as an outdoorsman.
His hunting career started by carrying around a kerosene lantern and five-cell flashlight raccoon hunting with his dad and grandfather in the early 1950s.
While the raccoon population has taken off, it wasn’t always that way. Kinney recalls stories from his dad and grandfather when they were lucky to take 15 raccoons for an entire hunting season.
Kinney remembers the great pheasant hunting in this part of the state in the 60s before farming practices changed and the pheasant population dwindled to nothing.
Quail hunting was always superb for Kinney but the blizzard of 1978 wiped out the birds and they have never returned.
Kinney’s lifetime has also witnessed the deer population grow from nothing to the big numbers of today.
“When I was in high school, I never saw a deer track or a deer,” said Kinney, who graduated from Wauseon High School when he was 16.
He was a second-team all-NWOAL linebacker for the Indians and later served in the Navy. It was when he returned from his tour of duty that he saw his first whitetail.
“Starting in the 60s, a group of fox hunters started deer hunting by using deer drives,” explained Kinney. “At that time, you could sit in the woods for days and never see a deer. Sometimes the group would go all day and never jump a deer. If they jumped four or five deer, and someone shot a buck, it was cause for much celebration.”
Kinney bagged his first buck in Wyoming in 1974 and his first Buckeye State buck in 1978. Overall, Kinney has taken 66 bucks in numerous states. He still hunts just bucks with a bow and shotgun.
While pheasant, partridge and quail numbers have dwindled to nearly nothing in this region, the turkey population is booming and Kinney has taken advantage.
Chasing gobblers is now Kinney’s top passion.
A friend coaxed Kinney into a Georgia turkey hunting venture in 1998. His first three years hunting in the Peach State resulted in unsuccessful trips.
Kinney finally scored a gobbler in 2001 during a hunt in North Carolina. That was also the first year he bagged an Ohio gobbler. He killed two toms in the spring of 2001 in Fulton County, a year after the Ohio turkey season was opened in the county. Kinney killed two of the 23 birds taken overall that spring in Fulton County.
By then, Kinney was hooked on turkey hunting. He started turkey hunting in Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, which all have healthy populations of eastern turkeys. Every state east of the Mississippi River has populations of eastern turkeys, with the exception of Florida, which has Osceola.
Once he hunted easterns for many years, Kinney traveled further west and started hunting in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming to hunt Merriams.
“Prime motivation is hearing the gobble,” said Kinney. “I think the main thing is the gobble.
“My favorite bird to hunt because of location and it’s strictly running and gunning is the Merriams out in Wyoming and Montana,” added Kinney. “What I enjoy out there is that you just take off. You try to roost one at night and get set up on him the next day. Then you just run-and-gun until you find one that will answer. You sit down and hopefully work him in and kill him. They’re the prettiest of the four. They have that white band on their tail feathers.”
Texas was his next stop, where he took two Rio Grande toms. Two years ago, he added Florida to his hunting area. Kinney harvested three Osceola to add the final sub-species in the United States, which completed what is known as the Grand Slam.
Kinney has also traveled to Mexico and hunted in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Central Mexico and took two Gould turkeys.
“I did enjoy the first Mexican hunt,” said Kinney. “That’s semi-mountainous and airy. It was running-and-gunning.”
Earlier this year in the spring, Kinney hit Southern Mexico near the Guatemalan border and added ocellated turkeys to his harvest, giving him the World Slam.
Overall, Kinney has been involved with the harvest of 84 turkeys between ones he has shot and called in for others.
“I will limit by turkey hunting closer to home,” explained Kinney. “Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and maybe Pennsylvania.”
“The two hardest to hunt are easterns and merriams,” added Kinney.
His least favorite hunt was for the ocellated, which Kinney calls the hunts “bushwacking,” because locals bust through the brush to push the birds out.
“They don’t gobble and are pretty uneventful,” said Kinney.
Besides the different land structure in Florida, all the birds are about the same to hunt says Kinney.
“The Osceola is different terrain but pretty much the same,” he said. “The merriams seem like they’re on a mission. When they fly down they’re on the move. They move and travel much more than an eastern or Osceola.”
“Merriams gobble most at night and carry on in morning,” added Kinney. “Goulds are also vocal.
Kinney says he does not have a lot of advice for new turkey hunters, except to keep at it.
“I don’t have a lot of advice,” said Kinney. “I learned the hard way. I hunted three whole years and I just love hunting. It’s tough running-and-gunning getting them in those 40 yards.”
A couple hunts stick out for Kinney. During the second or third season in this area, Kinney recalls chasing a tom near Harrison Lake that was following a creek.
“I got a gobble on the other side of the creek and looked for a place to sit down,” explained Kinney. “I got set up. I called and he called right back. I waited six or seven minutes and called again.
“He stayed just back in the timber enough on the other side of the creek,” continued Kinney. “This went on well over an hour but he wouldn’t fly across it. You hear about them hanging up on a fence or river or whatever. That creek is not that wide. So finally I just said heck with it and I shut up. I shut up for probably 10 minutes and started scratching leaves and I heard him fly over. I didn’t see him but I heard his wings flying over the creek. I knew he was on my side and I was ready for him.”
But a patch of may apples kept the bird mostly invisible to Kinney.
“All I could see was the top of his head and back,” said Kinney. “I dumped him and he ended up being a jake (young male). That was a pretty memorable hunt.”
A Wyoming hunt when he worked a gobbler for an hour and a half is another memorable hunt for Kinney.
“You only go around once time in life ... so live it well,” says Kinney. “Prosperity is living easily and happy in the real world — whether you have money or not.”
Kinney puts his list of priorities in this order: God, family, health, friends, job and/or money.
Another saying Kinney lives by is: “I never heard a person on their death bed say: I wish I would have spent more time at work.”