For the last 6 years Sally and I have headed west to kick off our spring.. Our trip started with one state than two states and now three.. It is the most looked forward to thing in our lives.. There are many places we could head, but the beauty of the west keeps drawing us back.. Every year we are excited for this trip, but I believe this year we had the most anticipation we have ever had for this trip.. We ended up hunting 7 full days and had 12 kills and 3 misses as well as a few blown gimmies.. South Dakota
The first leg of our trip brought us to a place we are very familiar with and a turkey hunting home away from home for the past 6 years, the prairie of South Dakota.. Merriams are always rumored to be easy, but after hunting Merriams in the Black hills of SD and Wy as well as the prairie of MT, I must say these are the toughest Merriams I have hunted. Whether its the terrain, the time we go, predators or the eastern blood that is spreading throughout these bottoms, these are not your typical Merriams.. These merriams gobble less than alot of Easterns, will not come long distances and are extremely stubborn.. Our knowledge of the land and turkey tendencies are vital to our success in this river bottom..
I was hoping all the internet chatter about an early spring and breeding was correct, as we may hit these birds when they are right... The first afternoon we hit the bottom at 4:30pm.. Within 30 minutes a gobbler was yelped up to the fringe of gun range and Sal rushed the shot, obviously excited to get the trip started off right resulting in a miss.. Maybe all the internet chatter was correct..
After that we parted ways as she went to hunt a large flock of birds for the evening and I went to explore some areas of the river that we rarely hunt.. On my "scouting mission" I ran into turkeys in the new stretch of bottom towards evening.. With them being in the area they roost I did not want to push it and watched as 40 or so turkeys flew up into the trees.. That evening I picked Sal up and the revealing bulge in the back of her vest showed she had scored.. The bottom she hunted is where the river makes a ninety.. On the corner there is no trees and success is contingent on getting to the back.. Luckily the field had washed out there and Sal got in the wash out and was able to walk to the middle of the field where the large flock of turkeys were.. Sal ignored the large flock and worked on a gobbler and hen broken away from the flock coaxing them into gun range.. She said the experience was horrible as she layed on a dead cow in the wash out while she yelped for 20 minutes.
The next morning found us hunting seperate again as she took after the large flock and I the ones I roosted.. We arrived plenty early, yet I am convinced merriams do not sleep and spit and drum the whole evening.. I knew I had to be on the river side of the turkeys, but even in darkness I heard the familiar sound of spitting and drumming for the first time of the year and knew they were awake.. Having birds spread out for a good distance I did not want to bump them and sat on the opposite side of where I needed to be.. Upon fly down dialouge between I and the hens and gobblers took place, but the draw of the river was more enticing than my calling... 30 Minutes after flydown knowing I was still tight to the birds as I crept along, all went silent.. Upon meeting Sal she too revealed that her birds had gone silent.. The remainder of the day was much like it had been for the last 6 years, complete silence the entire day with the ocassional shock gobble to break up the boredom.. Maybe the internet chatter is not right..
That evening we both went our seperate ways to the spots from earlier.. Setting in one spot for long periods of time is something neither of us like to do, but when the birds are quiet you have to do what you have to do.. Into my sit I was in awe at the number of Red tailed Hawks and how they were constantly screeching.. About 2 hours later I looked up and saw I was setting against the tree their nest was in LOL.. Well a couple hours into my sit with nothing I finally heard a gobble across the river.. I than saw two gobblers walking the river bank looking to cross moving left to right.. So I proceeded to yelp with the occasional stationary gobble. As I set facing that direction I caught red out of the corner of my eye and beared down on the stock.. The birds came up a small rise and instead of two gobblers I was greeted with two hens and a jake.. For the next 30 minutes these 3 birds and I conversed as they walked in ten yard loops around me..
As the sun was starting to set I began to hear gobbling directly across the river.. I poured it on and noticed that one gobbler had taken a interest in my mouth call.. He would not gobble to a tube, pot, trumpet only the mouth call.. He gobbled at every yelp and I could tell he was making his way to the riverbank.. I made him gobble and knew now he had flown the river.. All at once he appeared 60 yards strutting.. The two hens and the jake now seen him and proceeded to walk to him.. If they made the decision to go to the river I was gonna make like a bobcat.. The gobbler ignored the hens and jake and was insistent on finding the little horny hen he had heard.. I threw a few yelps off my back shoulder and he made the necessary ground to make the kill.. It is very difficult to call a merriams gobbler away from the area they intend to roost.. He sported good hooks for a western bird as well. Sal also worked a gobbler that night and killed him that was not part of the "clique".. Sal went on to explain to me that evening in her stretch of river bottom, one hen was running the show.. This hen yelped continously and seemed to have mystical powers over 8-10 longbeards that trailed her and her only.. Sal also was furious that night as she had a gobbler earlier at 25 yards but failed to load her gun.. After the hunt considering she cannot use a mouth call I asked how she stops the gobbler, she proceeded to tell me she uses a "Road Runner" High Pitch "Beep Beep" I laughed so hard I dang near pissed my pants..She said dont laugh it works..
The next morning we failed to get where we needed to be.. Once again hunted all day to no avail.. The birds would simply not gobble between 30 min after flydown until evening.. That evening once again I was greeted by Sal and she plucked another gobbler from her stretch of river bottom.. However arriving at the vehicle that evening she had no gobbler and was fuming mad.. After dropping her off she killed a gobbler in the first ten minutes.. She heard another gobbler and laid hers in a brush pile.. Upon returning to her gobbler, all she found was a pile of feathers and something had drug off her turkey..
So on our final morning in SD we both went our seperate ways.. I went down stream with no birds roosted.. In the dark I owl hooted and a flock erupted 300 yards downstream.. I busted through the bottom and when I reached one hundred yards, the binoculars revealed 6 gobblers and 10 hens.. I knew in order to kill I had to creep close.. I used the available cedar bushes in that stretch of river to get within 50 yards of the roost..These birds had a predictable gobbling pattern. A bird would gobble downstream followed by a gobble from the biggest bird roosted in his own tree, than the other five gobblers would sound, and than the largest would double gobble.. At daylight the first gobbler pitched down to 35 yards, one cluck raised his head and his story ended.. He too sported good hooks and had more eastern than Merriam too him..
Sal went in after a gobbler 3 miles up stream from me.. She too snuck in tight and only heard spitting and drumming.. Her gobbler pitched 100 yards away and he closed the distance silently and she dispatched him.. He never gobbled one time and only could be due to other gobblers in the area.. Sal had two other gobblers come in gun range while waiting for me but lacked a tag.. Wyoming Part 1
Quite possibly the most beautiful place in the U.S.A
So after a good bit of success in South Dakota, Thursday afternoon we pointed the truck west for Wyoming.. Three years ago we hunted Wyoming and it was one of the most memorable experiences a turkey hunter could ever have, yelping up 4 pairs of long beards and having four of us killing one each out of the pairs in 20 minutes... Three years ago we had 2 private ranches via a friend, this year we figured as we could get it done on public land considering the number of birds.. Having to drive through both ranches to reach the public ground it left us wondering, "where are the birds". The evening before season 3 years ago both drives through the ranches revealed 500-700 turkeys, this year we were lucky to see one or two small flocks.. I contemplated whether the birds were that far down as rumored or whether the mild winter had let birds winter higher or already have trickled back up.. After being there a few days I would guess there population is 75 percent lower than it was just three years ago.. The old boy rancher said we could hunt, but had no turkeys. Thursday evening we found a gobbler on the public land by hitting him with a tube call.
Friday morning we woke up very early to beautiful weather and headed to the forest.. We stopped at various points that provided some sort of edge and I yelped on a tube.. This technique located four different flocks a long distance apart... Each time we yelped both hens and gobblers hammered back and even had to jump in the truck at different occasions as these birds were ready and coming.. On this day I developed a large blister on my lip from my tube call which split a few days later and bled for the whole trip..
That evening we roosted the gobbler from Thursday evening.. The way he was gobbling and the lack of hen talk led me to believe he was alone.. Saturday morning found us creeping in tight on him, much like hunting easterns.. I yelped at him in the tree various times and he hammered back, should be a done deal.. Flydown time revealed we had sat right under his hens whom undoubtedly saw us and pitched far in the other direction dragging gobble in toe.. Quickly the weather changed.. A huge front moved in bringing a 15 degree temp drop, high winds rain sleet and snow in the higher elevations. We tried our hardest to raise a gobble in the areas we located birds, but the weather had them shut down.. Having freedom of schedule, we pointed the truck north the next morning to more favorable weather in Montana. Montana
Welcome to Big Sky Country
Having never been to Montana we had no clue what to expect.. We found a small town that had a shop to sell licenses.. We made the decision to only purchase one apiece as we had no clue as to bird numbers.. We than proceeded down a bumpy dirt road for the next 50 miles to our ranch of destination.. Upon arriving in Town we realized we lost our directions.. Sal and I are from the sticks, but this place is truly the sticks, makes back home feel like Chicago..
Here is a picture of Town, yes this is town..
Sal thought she knew the way and it was only 8 miles from "town".. After having drove 15 miles we realized we were lost with no cellphone coverage for the last 45 miles.. We found a home with a nice lady whom let us use her phone and get directions and we were on our way..
Upon arriving at the Ranch and getting settled in, the rancher told us to get dressed and he would show us around.. I was immediately taken back by the difference in the ranch here and the ranch in South Dakota.. The cottonwood bottoms in MT were wide open with very little cover and a tree every 20 yards.. After a short ride we found 4 long beards along the river and were dropped off..
We picked our way from tree to tree and on hands and knees to get within calling range which was tight due to the high winds.. I instantly noticed all four gobblers had drab red heads and looked as if they had no interest in breeding or had been whooped on.. I looked to the left of our position over a small sandhill and saw 30 or so birds a mix of jakes and hens with two gobblers in toe.. Having no ability to move with birds on both sides we layed motionless and I proceeded to yelp to the lone gobblers.. After yelping for some time we were both taken back as a hen yelped not 20 yards away over the lip of the sandhill.. What took place is something I have never experienced in 18 years of turkey hunting..
The hens came over the sandhill and literally walked through our bodies as our faces were buried in the dirt.. Sal and I had hens and jakes walk between us and we were only three feet apart.. We were essentially surrounded by 20 turkeys at 10 yards and in when we heard Pffft Vroooom.. As I lay with my gun on the ground both gobblers broke over the hill within 3 feet of me.. I have never been so close to a gobbler before, I could literally see the bird blink and his snood twitching.. My first thought was to pull up and shoot him in the chest but something I do not have actually surfaced, Patience.. As I watched the flock and gobblers out of the corner of my eye I noticed the gobblers were headed to two big cottonwoods.. I knew this was my moment.. Even if I spooked the hens I figured the gobblers would come out of strut and raise there heads before moving.. When they got behind the cottonwoods I sat up and swung and killed a gobbler as they stepped from behind the cottonwood..
Later that evening we got within 40 yards of a gobbler but I made Sal hold her shot as a 35 mph crosswing is not good news at 40 yards.. The next morning found us with high winds and clouds.. The vast openess of the cottonwoods as well as the birds being quiet found us much too far from the action.. The rest of the morning found us flanking turkeys on the river bottoms to no avail..
Long about noon the clouds cleared and the winds died.. It was now time to see how well these Montana gobblers respond to calling.. We quickly found that glassing was the most important element of hunting these wide open bottoms.. After a half hour of glassing and moving we spotted a strutter 200 yards in along the river bank.. What proceeded was something that looked like a scene from the old cartoons as we crept cottonwood to cottonwood until we hit the river.. Once we hit the river we used its bank to close the distance to 100 yards.. Sal crept a few yards further to a large tree and proceeded to yelp and cutt.. The hunt took quite some time as the bird with two hens was reluctant to leave the small meadow in the sun that bordered the river.. Finally he broke and Sal was able to connect on her first MT Merriam
Now we regretted buying one tag apiece as we had a 2+hr drive round trip to purchase our tags.. So after a quick lunch and the 2+ hour drive we arrived back at the bottom and decided to hit another piece of ground.. Driving down a raised road through the ranch we spotted a small flock of four hens and one gobbler on one side of the road and a gobbler on the other whos crossing with his flock was disrupted by the truck.. We spooked the lone gobbler back on purpose and parked the truck and crept down the raised road.. We watched him at a distance and gave him time to get comfortable again before calling.. I lightly yelped on a couple different calls to sound like his departed flock.. After some time his urge to re group over came him as he came straight to the source of calling allowing Sally to kill him just over the lip of the road..
With one tag to fill we drove and glassed the bottoms for some time until a flock of 8-10 birds was spotted back along the river 400 yards in.. Once again we looked like cartoon characters as we crept tree to tree to get in comfortable calling range.. Once we hit the 200 yard mark we set up and had a small sandhill to our left.. After a couple minutes of excited yelping the two gobblers from the flock were slowly making their way silently when a gobble 100 yards over the sandhill revealed the presence of another gobbler.. Another call and the distance was cut in half... Than I heard loud spitting and drumming as I sat with my back to Sals shoulder in an effort to turn in that direction.. He crested the small hill at 20 yards and I killed him.. The rancher was so impressed as he watched from a distance through 15x leicas.. He said not only was the gobbler I killed coming but the other two and another silent one behind the gobbler I killed.. He remarked that folks out there only stalk turkeys.
Montana was a great experience, met a new friend and got to fill our tags. Montana in no way has the birds that South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska do, but the open cottonwood bottoms made it easy to find the birds that resided there. ]Wyoming Part 2
So with our quick fortune in Montana we had time for one more state.. We had an invite to hunt the Sandhills of Nebraska and the thought of higher bird populations and multiple tags was intriguing, but the thought of leaving two tags unfilled in WY was making me sick and would haunt my future sleeps.. I also wanted to confirm my beliefs that the weather difference between Fri and Sat was the culprit and was not some other factor in the turkey world.. So the truck was than pointed back to WY.. As the weather cleared and the temp rose we raced the back roads until the low tire light came on.. Actually we had two one un repairable.. So we were held up in MT for a few hours..
We made it to WY and at our first stop we hiked over the first hill and I hit the crow call and an instant gobble one hill over cut me off.. Not likely that we could move closer we backed 25 yards off the edge of the hill and I proceeded to yelp and cutt getting cutt off each time.. A moment of silence and footsteps could be heard in the pine needles over the lip of the hill.. Seconds later a head was revealed in a small patch of knee high grass.. I urged Sal to shoot but it was later revealed she could not see a beard and neither could I, but I was lucky enough to see a full fan from my angle.. As the bird gave us ample time to make the shot he became leary and started moving to Sals right in a head bobbing fashion.. Not until then had a beard been seen and Sal took a shot resulting in a running long beard.. We found a few feathers and made a loop to ensure he was not dead, at this time I found a large rock with a hole in it, you could walk through.. I told Sal that I would have my picture taken by this rock with a gobbler before we left.
We now hit a low as we both felt as if we were snake bit in WY.. The feeling was quickly over taken by a sense of extreme confidence as if I felt if we struck a gobbler we could yelp him up as these were the first birds we hunted that were right.. The rest of the day was uneventful as we walked hill after hill really showing the lack of birds.. That evening we met some good folks from WI whom were hunting 6 thousand acres of private ground that held only 3 gobblers, one of which they had killed in 5 days..
The next morning found us on the same hill for an owl hooting session.. The session revealed birds in two directions and we elected to chase the closest.. He gobbled well on the roost but upon hitting the ground instantly became quiet.. We than decided to make a huge loop around the property... After getting 3/4 of a mile from our starting point a bird gobbled in that direction.. The race was on as we climbed hill and rock cliff after hill and rock cliff.. When we found him, he was at the base of the hill below us.. So I went to work on the call pouring on the excited yelping and cutting as I only let up to let the bird breath from gobbling.. He crested the hill at 60 yards and made up another 10-15 yards.. What transpired I cannot explain, whether it was excitement, pressure from the prior days in WY or whatever I absolutely rushed the shot... The bird would have easily made another 10 steps, but instead my nerves took over and upon the shot the bird flew over the cliff.. Strike 2.. At this time emotions really flowed.. I threw my gun in a 10 yr old temper tantrum, kicked a few trees and cursed at the top of my lungs.. Upon picking up my gun barrel down in the dirt the choke was clogged.. So I pushed a stick through and when she cleared my thumb hit the choke resulting in a deep cut in which I should have had stitches.. Guess I learned a lesson..
Around Noon Sal and I went to another area where she dropped me off.. For the first time feeling totally exhausted and totally defeated I walked 100 yards off the road and sat down to regroup.. At the time in which she was supposed to pick me up she did not return, 20 minutes later, no return.. Finally a half hour later Sal returned.. I figured she had shot one and looked in the back of the Hummer and saw no bird.. She than told me her story.. In the piece of ground we saw the bird Thur before opener she saw a longbeard from the truck.. She moved in to 200 yards and yelped him right up, gobbling the whole way and killed him..
Upon walking down the road with the gobbler over her back and old man pulled up and was so excited for her.. He went on to tell her how he used to kill turkeys in these hills but his legs would not allow anymore.. He also went on to tell her how much he loved wild turkey and missed eating it.. At that time Sal offered him the turkey and after him asking her 10 times if she was sure he reluctantly took the bird besides the beard..
The old man took this picture before taking the bird and obviously had his thumb over the lens..
So that afternoon I was convinced I could kill a turkey if I could find one.. I went to the spot of two misses and worked a huge loop revealing not one gobble or yelp.. We than headed for town for evening of rest knowing they would not be far in the morning.. The next morning we awoke to another beautiful day in WY.. We hooted from our regular spot and heard nothing in the front but heard birds at what we thought was 1/4 mile west.. Whether it is the thin air or the hills our 1/4 mile turned into 3/4 of a mile.. Up and down the rock bluffs at a hurried pace I contemplated donating my Under Armour Cold Gear and Hoodie to the forest.. I was also very excited to find I had forgot water..
With throbbing legs and sweat dripping in our eyes we made our way up the final draw to find the birds on the ground, one closer and a flock back further.. I crept within 80 yards of the bird and excited calling, contented calling, silence, gobbling on my part ensued for the next 45 minutes.. Finally as I made a move to just go kill the gobbler he made his move gobbling along the way.. Sal and I went against a rule we learned long ago, unless you are half stupid and half billy goat, never try to trail a merriam in the hills, they walk this stuff at your sprint... This bird took us for a couple miles over rock ledges, down draws, through creeks all the while stopping just enough and gobbling to make you think you actually had a chance.. Finally we came to a private land fence and I could not be more happy or I am quite sure he would have taken me to Idaho.. As we made our way back to the truck with our tounges so dry they were splitting he gobbled twice more, I raised my middle finger up and proceeded to tell him where to go..
On the way back to the truck we heard a gobble by the truck.. We hustled as best we could and set on the same hill as Sals miss.. He and I went back and forth for a few minutes and when I finally had him turned inside out and coming he shut up.. We sat for 15 minutes utilizing everything we had from mouth call, to pot, box, tube, crow to make him gobble once more to no avail.. Being 100 yards from the truck we figured he must have seen it.. We decided to go to the truck grab something to drink and strip some clothes.. As I am standing there stripping my Under Armour, he gobbles in the same place.. I receive orders, go kill that dam turkey.. I get my clothes on hustle back up the hill where he is now visible with a hen.. My calling earlier making him gobble, made him gobble up a hen.. I call and am instantly responded too by both yelping and gobbling.. This goes on for a few minutes but there is no making them cross the 200 yard opening, I must move.. I loop well around and get on the same hill they are at the base of.. At this time they begin heading for a draw about 300 yards away.. When they move out of site I run over the ridge and sprint down the ridge.. Neither one will now respond to any call and I am feeling that maybe I bumped um.. I come down the hill to a flat green spot with one more flat spot below that I cannot see before the landscape falls in a canyon.. Desperately needing a gobble before plotting my next move I realize my crow call has fallen off my lanyard.. I do not want to hen yelp so I gobbled on my tube and luckily he gobbled back.. I than slithered down the flat to where I could see the final flat.. As I popped my head up I saw a fan 50 yards away.. I thank slid my gun forward and the hen I did not see saw my gun move and started walking away.. I quickly let out a light set of yelps and in an instant the gobbler did a running strut for 10 yards down my gun barrel and I pulled the trigger.. The gobbler flopped into the canyon down below.. Finally we were done.. As I Admired my prize I could not believe Sal had not arrived.. Sitting in the truck she never heard the gun shot and revealed a big smile as I walked down the trail to the truck with my prize.
Here is the rock that I vowed to have my picture taken with a gobbler.
So with all 12 tags filled it was time to leave.. After a trip such as this, its always tough to leave, but having to leave the beautiful landscape of the Black Hills of Wyoming makes it much tougher.. It truly is the most picturesque place to kill a turkey.. It almost inspires you to climb the next hill to see what scenery the top may reveal.. It is a place I hope to visit many more times and maybe even one day call home.
Its amazing how grueling two weeks on the road can be.. When we were not hunting we got up early to scout, when we were not hunting or scouting we were traveling.. We walked 10+ miles a day, we learned to live with exhaustation.. We take no breaks pack a lunch and pack a coleman stove for on the spot suppers.. I must say I am so proud of girl I met 12 years ago and took on her first turkey hunt.. She has turned into a bonafide turkey killer and proved she has the abilities to get it done on her own on a daily basis. We had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but perserverance paid off throughout the entire trip..
My little turkey killer on her way through Iowa..