Editor’s Note: This is the first of four parts of one turkey hunter’s quest for the Grand Slam, a journey that takes him throughout the country as he seeks to fulfill his dream of hunting and killing the four U.S. turkey subspecies: Rio, Merriam’s, Eastern and Osceola.
Slammed! Part One
I was a relative latecomer to the wild turkey game. Growing up in northern Minnesota, I was much more interested in the forest-dwelling ruffed grouse that lived in relative abundance wherever pockets of gnarly sub-boreal habitat suited their needs. Hunting turkeys was something you did “down South,” and was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I recall being a little miffed during the early 1970s, when the DNR traded some of my treasured birds—along with walleyes, prairie chickens and Hungarian partridge—to the folks in Missouri for a handful of wild turkeys, hoping to repopulate their historical range in the southeastern corner of the state. Despite my indifference, that restoration took hold, and in 1978 many Minnesotans enjoyed their first wild turkey hunt.
By Gordy J. Krahn
But it was more than a decade after that inaugural hunt when I finally caught the bug, and began hunting turkeys in Minnesota and then elsewhere—taking occasional road trips to neighboring states as well as an annual trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. But I soon discovered that the more I hunted this regal bird, the more I wanted to hunt it some more.
And as the wild turkey—via the considerable restoration efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation—expanded and flourished across its reclaimed range, I stretched my reach, hunting them wherever I could, eventually tying a toe tag to all four contiguous subspecies and even traveling to Old Mexico to claim my Gould’s.
But shooting a true Grand Slam—Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Osceola—during a single season wasn’t even on my radar. Even though it’s considered one of turkey hunting’s milestones, I’d never given it much thought. Guess I’ve never been much of a bucket list guy … until this spring, when Linda Powell at Mossberg Firearms invited me on an Osceola hunt in Florida. I’d already planned to hunt turkeys in Texas, South Dakota, Wisconsin and my home state, so the stars were aligned to hunt all four subspecies during a single spring.
And so Spring Break 2014 began with a quest to add one more turkey feather to my well-worn camoed cap—to complete my first-ever wild turkey Grand Slam. That journey began in South Texas.
Timeframe: March 14-17, 2014
Subspecies: Rio Grande/Gregarious and boisterous by nature, the Rio Grand subspecies was named for the river that borders the arid scrub brush country of the Great Plains, Texas and Mexico.
Location: Double T Outfitters is tucked in the folds of South Texas’ brush country near Del Rio, with nearly 30,000 private acres for run-and-gun turkey hunting at its best. (DoubleHunting.com)
Sidetracked: No trip through San Antonio is complete without a night on its famed River Walk, and our timing was impeccable—St. Paddy’s Day. Did you know they dump 110 pounds of environmentally friendly green dye into the San Antonio River to celebrate the event?
I had a sinking feeling we were in for a long, frustrating morning as our guide, Hunter Plott, eased his pickup along a dim ranch road in the pre-dawn gloom. It had been blowing like a banshee all night and the westerly wind seemed to be gaining intensity as morning approached. Hunter pulled the truck over and killed the engine. “Let’s walk up the road a bit and see if we can hear anything,” he said with a Southern drawl that betrayed the fact that he wasn’t a Texan, either.
I was with veteran hunting buddy Jonathan Harling and newbie, Laci Warden, both PR reps for Winchester Ammo. While I’d hunted with Jonathan on several occasions, this was my first time in the field with Laci—and it was her first turkey hunt! I’d killed a decent Rio tom the previous afternoon and as thrilled as I was that I’d completed the first leg of my slam, I was equally excited about the prospect of witnessing Laci’s first kill.
Incredibly, we didn’t have to wait long. Between wind gusts we heard faint gobbles from down in a dry wash behind us, and it was off to the races. Thankfully, we were somewhat shielded from the wind as we worked along the shallow depression where we immediately got a stronger gobble—there was no doubt the tom was on its way.
Jonathan and Laci quickly set up, cradled in a stringy copse of scrub oaks, while I hung back and fished my slate call from my vest. Lying on my side, I couldn’t see what was going on down the wash as I worked the call, but a couple more gobbles confirmed the game was still on—that is until the bird shut up. I was just beginning to wonder if the gig was up, when I heard Laci thumb her safety and realized the tom had walked silently into our ambush. Laci’s 20 gauge barked, sending a flying swarm of Winchester Xtended Range No. 5s downrange. I sat up to deliver a well-earned high-five and was immediately confused by the sight of an equally confused, and very much alive, tom turkey standing with its long neck stretched toward the sky. I remember thinking, Oh, oh, this is going to go south in a hurry.
No worries, Laci was on top of it. Her follow-up shot planted the big tom before it could think better of its decision to stick around. We were all smiles as we walked down to look at her prize, a mature tom with 1-inch spurs and a double beard!
Next stop: Florida and my attempt to close the deal on an Osceola swamp bird.
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“What better way to gear up for the spring wild turkey season than with an information-packed issue of Turkey & Turkey Hunting magazine?” says Gordy Krahn, T&TH Editor. “Inside you’ll get top-notch instruction on how to improve your hunting skills as well as the latest dope on all of the new gobbler gear. Everything from the latest and greatest turkey calls to how to get the most out of hunting public land – it’s all here in this special spring issue.”