Birds in the Badlands

When several vocal gobblers behind us decided to fly down and move off with hens shortly after a recent South Dakota daybreak, Gary Sefton and I decided to make a move, leaving the mobility-limiting hen decoy behind. Sefton had killed a bird the day before, and carried his second prairie hunt tag. I was looking to fill my first.

Our next setup, an edge-cover field position framed by cedars, provided the view of a pretty valley, green fields and cottonwood stands—a broad expanse that held turkeys, or so we hoped.

Cold calling from both of us brought a lone turkey hen into range, but no gobblers. Such Western prairie hunts often demand volume, so we ran several different friction calls during that calling session: Knight & Hale’s new Glass Hammer pot and peg call, and their Wet Willy waterproof box figured prominently (www.knightandhale.com).

A late-running bull session back at camp the night before left me a bit sleep deprived until Sefton yanked me out of a power nap. “So what else do you want to talk about?” he said, getting me back in the game. We both commenced to calling again while making casually quiet conversation. Game time arrived suddenly.

“Hen, to your right,” Gary whispered. Shotgun up, I waited, scanning the distance behind her. Soon I saw what I hoped for: a full fan, mincing steps up the hillside toward us. The strutter veered off from the hen slightly, keying on our position, clearly coming in the direction of our clucking, yelping and cutting location. A gobble confirmed that.

The tom was behind a small bush, and I waited, my new Remington Model 870 SPS Super Mag ShurShot Turkey 12 gauge locked in position (www.remington.com). Then I caught the break I needed: the longbeard wheeled, and turned his full-fan posterior toward us, obscuring his wary x-ray vision. I pushed the rifle-sighted shotgun barrel three inches closer. The turkey turned, readied itself to gobble. My shot echoed down the canyon as it did. Thirty-five yards. Dead bird.

Walking out toward our original setup position, I caught a glimpse of a gobbler standing at a distance near a clump of sage. “Gobbler, near the blind,” I said, and my buddy froze in position. I dropped back down the hill. Glass Hammer and striker in hand, I started cutting hard. Several eager-for-action jakes immediately answered, putting and clucking nearby.

Watching a relaxed and standing Sefton from my position said maybe we’d blown the deal, but when he eased his shotgun up slowly to rise above the higher field, I knew we were about to close it. The gobbler halved the distance. A load of Wingmaster HD No. 6s put another longbearded Merriam’s in his turkey vest. “I wonder how long that gobbler was grinning down that decoy,” Sefton offered. We looked at each other and laughed.

We’d settled down a little by the time James Woodley of Heartland Outfitters (www.heartlandoutfitters.com) arrived in his truck, but that flash hunt still makes me smile to think of it.—Steve Hickoff