Can’t beat breakfast in Hagarville

By: Bryan Hendricks
Published: Sunday, May 11, 2014

The gentleman sat down for breakfast with Allan Griffin and me Friday at Hagarville Grocery.

I don’t know his name. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t ask for ours. Griffin and I were dressed in our turkey hunting clothes, and he’s a turkey hunter, so he pulled up a chair.

It’s common for strangers to share a table at little places like this because there are only a couple, and this one offered the best view of the big-screen TV. Besides, why sit alone when you can share breakfast with a couple of kindred spirits?

The grocery is the locus for culture and entertainment in the hamlet of Hagarville, located in northern Johnson County at the edge of the Ozark National Forest. Sit there long enough, and you can gain a rudimentary knowledge of the community and its inhabitants — like the barber who complains of being broke but whose shop never seems to be open. “I’m open on Sunday by necessity,” said the proprietor, who makes one of the best bacon, egg and cheese toasters this side of Little Rock. “The only day I close is Christmas.” On this day, repairmen were working on a malfunctioning gasoline pump. It looked to be an easy fix. The brass gears were out of lubricant. “You gonna get you one of them digital pumps?” asked a customer. The proprietor scoffed. “You know how much one of those things costs?” he asked. “At a nickel a gallon, it’ll take the rest of my life to pay for one.” The customer’s laugh echoed through the wooden building.

Our new friend lamented the dearth of turkeys in this part of the world. Griffin and I commiserated. In two days of hard hunting, we had not heard a bird gobble. We had not seen a single turkey track nor any turkey droppings. We had walked many miles through the Piney Creeks Wildlife Management Area, and all we had to show for our effort was some severe sinus congestion for Griffin and some wide blisters on my heels.

“I think predators have as much to do with it as anything,” our friend said. He hissed contemptuously and said, “The Game and Fish … they’ve told me that 80 percent of the hatch is going to be lost anyway, no matter what.

“Turkeys can absorb that if you have a hundred broods because you’ll still have 20 percent survival. But when you get down to five broods, you’ve still got the same number of predators. They’re gonna get every damn one of them. It’s a case of diminishing returns.”

Case in point, he said, was a hen he’d watched on his property.

“She started out with nine poults,” he said. “A few days later she was down to seven. Then she was down to five. Eventually she was down to one, and then she didn’t have any. No way you can tell me turkeys have a chance around here with all the things that are out there eating them.”

On the other hand, hunters killed 63 adult gobblers in Piney Creeks WMA. They probably killed most of them early in the season on the accessible southern end where Griffin and I hunted. Had I planned this outing better, and had I worn more comfortable boots, we would have ventured much deeper into the interior, far from the roads.

“The thing I love most about turkey hunting is that nothing you learned from the last hunt applies to the next hunt,” I said.

Our friend nodded.

“Anytime you hear somebody say, ‘Turkeys always …,’ you know that person isn’t a turkey hunter because turkeys don’t ‘always’ anything,” he said.

That melted away the last of our friend’s cautious reserve.

“A turkey is nothing more than a highly sophisticated motion detector system with zero curiosity,” he said. “A deer is a highly sophisticated motion detector system with a lot of curiosity. They’ll come to you to see what you are. Not a turkey. If it sees movement, it’s gone. No curiosity at all.”

He said he is most amazed at a turkey’s ability to pinpoint the source of sound.

“They can hear a long way off, and they’ll fly a long way off the roost to get to a call,” he said. “I had one come in to me. I had no idea where that bird roosted. I was alone, and just like that, there he was right beside me. It was a panic attack both ways.”

I think he would have been happy to chat all day, but Griffin and I had to get back to our spot for the magic 11-2 window.

The hunting was lousy, but the food and company were outstanding.