TAOS, Mo. -- Sitting in a blind on opening day of the Missouri turkey season, Soda Popp smiled as the scream of a bird carried through the woods.
His turkey finder -- a peacock that roams his property -- was reporting early for duty. And that was a good sign.
"Several years ago, that peacock just showed up here," Popp said as he pulled a camouflage headnet over his face. "He's probably somebody's pet that got loose.
"Anyway, he's just stayed here and become a wild bird. He thinks he's a turkey. He hangs out with the dominant gobblers.
"You find him, and you find the turkeys."
Popp found him. Every time the peacock screamed, several toms gobbled in rapid succession.
"He doesn't sound like he's that far away," Popp whispered.
But the hunter kept studying his field along the Osage River and there was nothing. Oh, he saw a hen in the distance, picking at the ground along the timber line. But still none of the gobblers he was so accustomed to seeing.
"I don't get it," he said. "They're always in this field.
"This is where I take my birds every year."
After about an hour of waiting, Popp decided to go to Plan B and relocate to another field. Only then did he get a good idea of why the turkeys weren't showing up.
When he started to walk along the edge of the timber, a bald eagle that was nesting in a tree above left its spot and began circling, almost as if to protect its territory. It chased several crows away, then circled Popp as he drew closer.
"I'll bet that's why," he said. "I'll bet that eagle is chasing those turkeys out of this field.
"When they're nesting, they can get pretty protective."
Welcome to the wild, unpredictable world of Soda Popp.
From the moment he came into this world and was given an unusual name ("My mom wanted me to have a name that no one would forget," he said) until this day, life is never boring for the outgoing central Missouri resident.
A retired school teacher, he now spends most of his time in the outdoors, which is just outside his back door.
He lives on a house on stilts in a peninsula between the Osage and Missouri rivers. He just has to go steps to get to his boat, which is docked on the Osage. He spends summer days running trotlines, trying to catch bragging-sized catfish.
In the spring, he often is preoccupied with finding morels and hunting turkeys.
He has already found loads of big morels, which he savors eating. The turkeys? Well, he's still working on that.
But that's OK with him. There's nowhere he would rather be on a beautiful spring morning than in the turkey woods.
He has sculpted the 270 acres he owns to look like a paradise for the big birds. He has opened lanes and clearings in the thick timber, he has planted crops and food plots, and he has provided water.
Once spring rolls around, he often reaps the benefits.
"I've gotten to the point where I enjoy somebody else taking a turkey as much as I do shooting one myself," he said. "I've gotten a lot of friends into their first bird.
"I just like watching them work."
That was the case last opening day, when Popp went into the woods without a gun.
"Some friends of mine had cleaned my house for me while I was gone, and I got up opening day and I couldn't find my shells," he said. "I looked everywhere, but I couldn't find them.
"Finally, I just went into the woods and tried to call one in without my gun. I had one strut in on me and it really got my heart beating."
It's been a frustrating week for Popp this year. He'd been back in the woods almost every day since the season opened Monday, but still hasn't come close to the turkeys.
But Popp isn't concerned. He knows his luck will change. It always does on the land he has owned for almost 30 years.
"There are a lot of turkeys here," he said. "I just have to figure out what they're doing.
"Once I do, they're in trouble."