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Classic Merriam’s Hunting, Part 2

Posted by Jim Schlender

Last week I wrote about a short yet classic Merriam’s hunt in South Dakota. The next morning was more of the same … sort of.

Eddie Stevenson and I had followed the directions of outfitter James Woodley, parallelling a riverbank in the dark while looking for a “big clump of cottonwoods.” We found the trees, but after walking a half-mile or so we weren’t sure if we had yet reached the area Woodley suggested or whether we had walked right past it. With the first hint of light, the turkeys gave us the answer. It sounded as if at least four gobblers were roosted across the river in the trees that ringed a large hayfield.

The closest birds were only 150 yards away, but with the river between us and them, I wasn’t sure how the morning would play out. Then I remembered Woodley telling us that the birds fly back and forth across the river routinely. I hoped he was right.

sd 08 river.jpg

Stevenson and I set up about 15 yards apart against a couple of big trees. When some squawky hens joined in with the gobbling, we went ahead and threw a little bit of everything at them – the Wet Willy box that had worked so well the day before, a K&H Glass Hammer pot call and various mouth diaphragms all got a workout. With so many hens roosted near the gobblers and that darn river in between us, we figured we had nothing to lose.

Eventually we heard birds flying down. I even caught glimpses of a few of them as they pitched down toward the distant hayfield. (Sigh.) One of those mornings, I figured. The gobbling became sporadic and then ended altogether. (Louder sigh.)

We kept calling and got an occasional answer. Then, about 45 minutes after the first gobble, I caught movement in the tall grass across the river. It was a hen, and as soon as she hit the open edge she hopped up and flapped across. She was followed moments later by another hen. A third bird followed, and it looked much bigger … gobbler!

The hens had already skirted us and run off, and we were afraid the tom would follow, so we hit him with some more calling. The tom alternately strutted and gobbled, looking our way and then looking at the rapidly departing hens. The hens had appeared so suddenly I hadn’t been able to get my gun up. Now the tom was drawing closer and I wasn’t ready to shoot. He started to fade away, and then went behind a tree. I turned 20 degrees and aimed at the right side of the tree. “When he comes out …” I said to myself. Well, he stepped out, all right, still in strut. I cutt at him. He strutted. Eddie cutt at him. He strutted. He was drifting out of range one foot at a time, and now I was wondering if I still had a shot. The bird paused and looked back at what I figured was about 50 yards.

sd tky2.jpgFinally, the bird stretched up his neck as if to say, “I’m leaving, last chance to come with.” I pulled the trigger and ended things right there. I looked at my watch: 5:30, just 12 hours after shooting my first South Dakota turkey.

Once again, it had been classic Merriam’s hunting. We didn’t have to worry about overcalling, and the bird had closed the distance in a hurry.

What wasn’t so classic was the gun and load I had used. Stevenson, Remington’s media relations manager, had brought several of the company’s 870s and 11-87s outfitted with the new ShurShot stock, which is a sort of hybrid thumbhole/pistol-grip stock. These guns have a 23-inch barrel and come outfitted with fiber-optic, fully adjustable rifle sights. In short, they are dedicated turkey guns.

Stevenson had also brought several boxes of Wingmaster HD loads, Remington’s version of “heavier than lead” shotshells. Normally I would have been shooting No. 6 shot, but somehow ended up with a box of 4s. This all worked out well, because the turkey I had just killed with the 11-87 turned out to be 60 yards away (I paced it off twice), not 50. With hardly a stitch of grass between me and the bird and no landmark but the aforementioned tree (which Eddie and I had both estimated to be 30 yards away; it was 42), I’d been fooled.

sd 08 rem.jpgI like carrying a range-finder when turkey hunting – and obviously could have used one in this situation — but out West I thought a binocular would be more valuable, so I took my trusty 8×30 Swarovski and left the range-finder at home. Even a gear junkie like me has a limit as to how much stuff to carry. I don’t advocate taking 60-yard shots, but in this case, having a tight-patterning, dedicated gun, choke and load paid off and made up for my error.

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