These are good days, but strange ones nonetheless as North Texas Outfitters’ guide Dakota Stowers prepares for an upcoming spring turkey season unlike any he’s ever experienced before.
Stowers, as you might remember, is a Denison young man who has carved out a successful guiding business over the last several years in the Red River Valley area out near Waurika, Okla.
From ample success in the field to a list of repeat clients who keep coming back to various appearances on outdoor television shows filling the airwaves at Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel, Stowers is a quiet young man who is usually smiling and coming up with a game plan about what to do next.
Mentored by the late J.J. Kent, Stowers got his start with Kent Outdoors several years ago, learning the ins and outs of guiding hunters seeking ducks, deer, turkeys, and hogs at the end of the Southern Great Plains.
When Kent’s untimely death took place a few years ago after complications from heart surgery, Stowers was forced to learn more than just how to call in a limit of quackers circling over a duck blind. He was also forced to learn the business end of the guiding trade, creating a new outfitting service almost from scratch.
Now a few years down the road, life and business are both good as NTO keeps rolling down the road, quite literally I might add. So much so that Stowers has put more than 40,000 miles of scouting time on a new pickup truck that isn’t even a year old just yet.
But all of that was before the COVID-19 crisis unleashed itself upon the U.S. in mid-March, turning the world into what existed before the coronavirus pandemic began and what exists now.
With rules about which businesses can operate, a limit to group sizes, and social distancing of more than 6-feet being required by health officials, suddenly the world is a different place than it was less than a month ago.
And for Stowers, that has meant that what appeared to be a successful turkey hunting season in late February is suddenly very much in doubt as the month of March has bled away from the calendar.
“Our books were full and then all of a sudden, all of this hit, and we were like ‘Oh crap, what are we going to do?’” said Stowers. “We pretty quickly had three different corporate groups cancel on us as the regulations about group sizes and social distancing started rolling out.”
When all of that happened, Stowers did what he does best – he rolled up his sleeves and went to work, trying to find the best path forward and a chance to turn lemons into lemonade.
“I got on social media, started communicating with some of the duck hunters, deer hunters, and hog hunters who have hunted with us over the past few years, and started trying to fill holes in the calendar,” he said. “We were very fortunate that we were able to rebook the season again, all less than a month out.
The ability to do that, of course, is because officials in Texas and Oklahoma have made it clear in recent days that for now, the outdoors is still open if anglers and hunters keep playing by the rules. And since turkey hunting is an endeavor involving only a guide, a hunter, and a lovesick longbeard, the ability to stay safe and far enough apart is still possible.
Stowers says that while his group is having to adjust to the new rules and make changes as necessary, social distancing isn’t much of a problem…until a turkey gets too close that is.
And if a gobbler won’t play by the rules and waltzes in too close, the outcome is simple – the turkey gets tagged and heads to the freezer, providing fresh protein in an era where supplies aren’t always a sure thing at the local grocery store.
Thanks to a good crop of wild turkeys on the landscape this spring, he expects plenty of fresh turkey meat heading for the table.
“We haven’t had a really good crop of birds in the last year or two” he said. “We even shut things down early last year because there just weren’t a lot of birds out there. But this year, there are plenty of jakes and a fair number of older gobblers doing their thing.
“In fact, those old wise guys are gobbling and strutting like crazy right now,” he added. “I hope they keep it up because right now, it’s a little earlier than I would typically like to see.”
After such a mild winter, Stowers expects the turkey gobbling and breeding effort to peak out a little earlier than normal this year. That should get the “henned up” bird situation resolved earlier than usual as hens go to the nest and longbeards roam the countryside looking for love.
With a little luck—and the law continuing to allow the turkey season to roll on—that should lead to gobblers eagerly responding to the call as the season takes place.
Speaking of calls, Stowers is anxiously awaiting one that will forever change his life. He and his wife Summer are expecting their first son, Levi, any day now.
“We’re within 10 days of (him) being born, so that’s going to add to the challenge of turkey hunting this year,’ said Stowers. “I’ll be able to be in the hospital with Summer up in Ada when the time comes for the birth, but I haven’t been able to go with her to the last few appointments since all of this started.”
Until that happy day happens for his growing family, like everyone else, Stowers is trying to figure all of this out as he goes along.
But as long as Oklahoma and Texas allow hunting and fishing to continue in their states, he knows where he plans to be as the pandemic plays itself out across the landscape.
And that’s safe and sound in the Creator’s grand outdoors world, a place where the wind blows, the sun shines, and the spring turkeys still call out. Along with Stowers wife Summer calling him one day soon and telling him that it’s time to go.
Until he gets that call, Stowers hopes to continue practicing what he knows best.
“There’s no better way to social distance than being out in nature,” he said.
In these uncertain times, there has rarely been a truer statement made.