Hunting wild turkeys has become an obsession of mine.
I think part of it has to do with the fact that there were no turkeys in northern Indiana while I was growing up. Pursuing them is something that came to me a little later in life. Now, there are few things I’d rather do.
Last month, I notched a major milestone in the life of a turkey hunter when I completed my grand slam.
The National Wild Turkey Federation defines the grand slam as taking all four U.S. subspecies. These include the Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam’s. I have also taken an Ocellated in the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving only the Gould’s to go for a world slam.
To me, achieving these slams is a great way to force myself to travel and experience new places with people I may never hunt with again. I enjoy the travel aspect of hunting as much as anything, and the four hunts I recall from completing my grand slam are the true trophies.
At 5:30 a.m. on the second day of Missouri’s 2014 season, I was standing in water up to my ankles at the edge of the Big Piney River.
With my shotgun slung securely over my shoulder, I held a bag of decoys in my left hand and a walking stick in my right. Slowly, I eased out into the chest-deep current. I was thankful to reach the other side safe and sound.
As the sun peeked over the horizon, I’d only heard two gobbles. Both were a mile off. My hopes were diminished. After an hour of sitting still, I had to move. I clawed my way up the bluff behind me. Once I reached the top and had caught my breath, I slowly eased down a logging road, calling occasionally. Finally, a gobbler sounded off. Of course, he was right where I had been sitting.
I slid back down the bluff and peeked out into the field. Two gobblers were messing around in my decoys. I used a well-worn deer trail running just inside the wood line to close the distance. When I was about 75 yards from the gobblers, I squeezed between two trees and softly struck my slate. The purring was too much. The biggest tom turned my way and started his death march.
Every 10 yards or so, he’d look for the hen but never spotted her. I leveled him at 15 yards.
Although I have killed many, this bird represents the Eastern subspecies of my grand slam.
Wooded, western river bottoms coursing through the high plains teem with wildlife. The stretch of the Cheyenne River that Jonathan Harling and I were hunting near Edgemont, South Dakota, is certainly no exception to this rule.
Harling and I embarked on a Black Hills turkey hunt in the spring of 2013 with hopes of hanging our tags on a couple of Merriam’s. Before noon on the first day, our mission was complete.
We had started the day high in the hills but had been hearing birds down in the bottoms. My spirits soared as we descended into the cottonwoods. At the river’s edge, we found a thick cluster of brush with a few bales of old wire to hide behind. Harling took to calling. He softly yelped to three gobblers, who returned a thunderous chorus. They came charging in.
With my shotgun resting on a branch, I took aim and collected my Merriam’s. Two seconds later, Harling collected his.
When I woke up in the loft of Russell Graves’ barn just outside of Childress, Texas, I thought he was playing a joke on me. The gobbling going on outside was so loud, I figured it had to be coming from an electronic call he’d set up. It wasn’t.
Mesquite flats surrounded his property for as far as you could see. Few of these trees were big enough for a turkey to roost in, so each night, a couple hundred birds would roost in the same cluster of taller trees behind Russell’s house. When about 20 longbeards came in just after sunrise, I picked out a beautiful Rio and the hunt was over; however, my Texas adventure had just begun.
For a few days in 2018, I toured around the nowhere land of north Texas with one of the most creative and talented minds in the outdoor industry. I listened to tale after tale of Texas lore and visited many little towns I’ll likely never see again. We grilled over mesquite picked up from his land and drank whiskey while toasting our friendship and good fortune.
It’s fitting I finished my grand slam with my uncle, Tom. He’s who I hunted with as a kid and who fueled my infatuation for all things outdoors.
When he bought my great-great-uncle’s house in Okeechobee, Florida, last winter, I started planning our Osceola hunt. When it came to fruition last month, the entire experience was perfect.
We had permission to hunt a 2,000-acre plantation that’s half swamp. The idea was the guys leasing the property would know what they were doing when it came to turkeys. They didn’t. They hunt deer and hogs regularly but had never killed a turkey. Basically, they said go over by those trees and pop up your blind.
Tom and I figured we’d move once we had a better lay of the land. We never had to.
A single bird gobbled a couple of times, and I gave him back a sweet little sequence. Not long after, Tom said, “There’s a turkey.” I pulled up my binoculars, and sure enough, it was a longbeard. I started on the slate call and turned him like a top. He covered a hundred yards in a few seconds, and my grand slam was complete.
See you down the trail …
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected].