Turkey Grand Slam Quest Runs to the Hills

Merriam's.2

The Black Hills are a wild, sometimes challenging place to kill a turkey but success can be had and is highly appreciated by any hunter.

 

Editor’s Note: This is the third of four parts of one turkey hunter’s quest for the Grand Slam, a journey that takes him throughout the country to vastly different terrain as he seeks to fulfill his longtime dream of hunting and killing the four U.S. turkey subspecies: Rio, Merriam’s, Eastern and Osceola.
Read Part 1 Here
Read Part 2 Here

By Gordy J. Krahn

Slammed! Part Three

Timeframe: April 21-25, 2014
Subspecies: Merriam’s Historically isolated to regions of the Rocky Mountain range, the Merriam’s subspecies of wild turkey has been successfully transplanted in California, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington state, and other areas.
Location: The Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota encompasses more than 6,000 square miles of turkey-rich habitat, much of it open to public hunting. Any hunter willing to burn a little shoe leather has a decent chance of tying a tag to a prized Merriam’s.
Sidetracked:
No trip to the Black Hills is complete without a stop off in Deadwood, and no layover in this historical Western town is complete without a trip downstairs to the Tobacco and Cigar Bar for a cool smoke and some smoky blues.

I can’t think of another hunt I greet with as much anticipation as the Krahn brothers’ annual turkey trek to the Black Hills. It’s been more than two decades since our first trip to this national treasure, and it’s gotten into our blood. But for me the icing on the cake was when, seven years ago, my son, Josey, joined us there for his first turkey hunt. He hasn’t missed one since.

And so it was that father and son were creeping like thieves in the night down a shallow draw where we’d put a tom to bed the previous evening. Stopping short of where the bird was roosted, I reached over and tapped Josey on the shoulder, motioning for him to ease down to the bottom of the hill while I set up on its crest. That way we would have both high and low roads covered should the tom try to circle us.

By the time the sun nudged the timbered horizon, at least four scattered toms had been gobbling their fool heads off for nearly a half hour—a couple no more than 300 yards away—but not a peep from down in the draw where we were set up. As each minute ticked by toward fly down, I was losing confidence that our bird had stayed put during the night. Weighing the options, I was about to retrieve Josey and try to close ground on the closest of the vocal birds when I heard a tentative gobble about 80 yards away. Shy bird, but game on! And, apparently, that single comment was all the tom had in him, but it gave us the motivation to sit tight, even though there were clearly more receptive birds we could go after.

The glorious colors of a gobbler's feathers never cease to amaze and stir the passions any hunter of any age.

The glorious colors of a gobbler’s feathers never cease to amaze and stir the passions any hunter of any age.

Tick tock, tick tock. The minutes dragged on and it became increasingly difficult to fight the urge to abandon shy boy and go after the vocal toms. But I knew that if we got up and moved the advantage would quickly switch to the turkeys. Commando-style hunting is fun, but sitting tight is usually more productive.

Tick tock, tick tock. At first I wasn’t even sure I’d heard it—the subtle low-pitched vibrations of a drumming turkey over my left shoulder. The sly dog had sneaked in without a peep and now had me pinned down. Slowly, I panned my head to the left and saw the arc of the tom’s fanned tail cresting the hill. I quickly shifted positions and lined up for the shot only seconds before the tom’s head cleared the hill. The bird walked into my sights at 20 yards and just like that, my Slam was three-quarters complete!

Josey’s bird came five hours later, after a 3-mile game of cat and mouse with a pair of henned-up toms. Two birds in one morning! It’s what keeps us coming back to the Black Hills. And what could be better than sharing the experience with family?

Next stop: Minnesota. It seemed fitting to finish the Slam attempt in my home state, but I was well aware that turkey hunting can be challenging this late in the season.

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