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A Classic Merriam’s Hunt

Posted by Jim Schlender, Editor
kh box call sd.JPGI had heard countless stories about cooperative, loud-mouthed, hard-charging Merriam’s turkeys but had never gone after one. So I was thrilled at the chance to share a turkey camp with several writers and industry friends near Interior, S.D., last week. Interior sits about an hour east of Rapid City. The area is mostly flat cattle country punctuated by spectacular views of rock formations that make up the badlands. BadlandsNational Park sits right on the edge of Interior and the views it presents would make the trip worthwhile even if you weren’t turkey hunting.
With a few hours of daylight left after arriving, stowing our gear and patterning our shotguns, my friend and Knight & Hale representative Gary Sefton and I were eager to stretch our legs. We started our hunt on some private ranch ground that was bisected by a creek. Glassing from high ground, we had spotted several turkeys on the other side of the waterway and planned to drop into the bottom, cross the creek and try to make something happen. 
We followed a cowpath down to the bottom. When we got there we found our “creek,” which appeared benign from up high, was actually a pretty swift-moving small river. This was no doubt due to runoff from the massive snowstorm that had hit the area just days earlier. There was no way to cross, so we had little choice but to retrace our steps back up toward the top. While following the edge of a small pasture where we had bumped a hen on the way in, Sefton suggested we just wait out the evening right where we were. After all, because we were unable to cross the creek we didn’t have a lot of room to roam.  
Sefton alternately ran a mouth call and K&H Silver Hammer friction call. Within minutes two hens popped out of a canyon across the pasture. They came within about 40 yards and milled around before finally wandering off.
“Hit that box once,” Sefton said.
I stroked out a few yelps on K&H’s new Wet Willy box call he had given me just a couple hours earlier. Powwwww! A gobble came from deep in the canyon, barely audible. I hit the box again and the bird gobbled, this time closer. This tom was following the script. Less than 10 minutes later he appeared at the same place the hens had come from. The deal got even sweeter when the bird’s buddy appeared right behind him.
The turkeys alternately strutted and gobbled each time Sefton coaxed them closer with his mouth call. Suddenly it occurred to me we might have a very real chance at a double. I was able to shift my gun into position after setting down the box call, but Sefton still needed to do a bit of creative slow-motion pivoting to draw a bead on the birds as they quickly cut the distance from 150 to 50 yards. By the time they got to almost 30 I was wondering if they would run us over. Finally, Sefton gave the signal he was ready. My shot was immediately followed by his, and moments later we were tagging a pair of 3-year-olds.
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“We ran ’em hard and didn’t give ’em any water, didn’t we?” Sefton joked as we shook hands and admired our trophies.
I like a long duel with a crafty longbeard as much as any other hunter, but I have to admit it’s kind of neat to bust a tom that plays by the rules every now and then. This was a classic Merriam’s hunt: They traveled a long way to get to us and they liked lots of loud calling. The hunt was especially meaningful to me because this was the third subspecies my friend and I had killed together. And because I’m quite often the last guy in camp with an unpunched tag, I didn’t mind closing the deal early. Besides, I still had one tag left and three more days to fill it.
I’ll save the rest of my South Dakota story for my next blog entry.



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