• Timing is everything: Because of logistical constraints, we squeezed our Grand Slam into a single week. In central Florida, we were too late by a week or two. In northern Florida we were near the peak of the Eastern gobbling activity, but we were a week or two early in Oklahoma for the Rio Grande and Merriam’s portions of our hunt. Ideally, I’d hunt the southeastern gobblers in late March and wait until late April to hunt the western turkeys.
• Weather is the wild card: Even if your timing is perfect, the weather will throw your Grand Slam hunt for a loop. We lost a full day in Florida because of torrential rains, and unsettled weather also cost us an easy Rio Grande gobbler in Oklahoma. Stay nimble if you can, changing your itinerary to match the weather conditions. And bring gear for any sort of weather, from scorching heat and humidity in Osceola country to wind-driven snow in Merriam’s habitat.
• Be suspicious of your fellow travelers: The three of us – hunter Shawn White, videographer Chuck Sumner and I – ended up bonding like old friends on this cross-country trip. And there’s nothing like friendship to breed mischief. Chuck and Shawn convinced our hosts in northern Florida, Vandy and Melba Collins, that I was gay. And in Oklahoma, I convinced our hosts that Shawn had some terminal illness and that this Grand Slam hunt was his dying wish. We ultimately came clean with these folks, but it was fun to play mind games on each other.
• Celebrate turkey country: It’s easy to become consumed with the scorecard on a trip like this, where you measure success by birds killed. But the real lesson of our Grand Slam was that wild turkeys live in glorious country. From the neon-green hardwoods of Dixie to the windblown steppes of the Great Plains, the common denominator was the presence – sometimes elusive, sometimes obvious – of turkeys. After a trip like this, across time zones and dialects, I’m convinced that ole Ben Franklin was right, the gobble of a spring turkey is an anthem of sorts for America. And I encourage you to obey your own urge to stitch together a Grand Slam. You may kill some great birds but you’re guaranteed to see some beautiful country, and bring home a lifetime of memories.
– Andrew McKean