A Decade With Gobblers

One of my favorite spots is this ridge deep in the Custer National Forest of southeastern Montana. It's a great place to call in the afternoon, and because it's about an hour from the nearest road it doesn't get a ton of pressure.
I never should have gotten this bird. My buddy Mark Copenhaver and I were prospecting for turkeys on a blustery April afternoon on a ranch in eastern Montana when this gobbler responded and came in on a string. From the time we first heard his gobble about a quarter mile away to the time I shot him was no more than about 30 seconds. I barely had time to sit down and get the gun up. Proof that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
A decade ago, the only way to hunt an Eastern wild turkey in northwest Montana was to draw a special permit. I drew one of these coveted permits and bagged this 2-year-old Eastern tom not far from Bigfork, Mont., on a section of state land. Now spring turkey hunting in the Flathead Valley is available with an over-the-counter license.
A trip to South Dakota's Black Hills produced this brace of Merriam's toms.
My largest turkey to date is this Eastern, shot a few years ago on my family's Missouri farm. The gobbler weighed 28 pounds, sported a 12-inch beard and 1-5/8-inch hooks. His full-body mount is in my house.
This Eastern gobbler strutted into a slate call in a pasture on my family farm in north Missouri. The neat thing is I shot him only a few yards from where I killed my first wild turkey nearly 30 years ago.
My mom poses with a nice Eastern gobbler taken off our farm. I'll never forget seeing my very first wild turkey. It was the afternoon of the Bicentennial, July 4, 1976, and we were having a holiday picnic under an oak tree in our front yard. A hen came running up the farm road from our fields, did a double-take at my family and our neighbors eating outside and ran out in the pasture in front of the house. The only people who knew what it was were some older neighbors who said they hadn't seen a wild turkey since they were kids. Now there are hundreds of turkeys on the farm.
This Montana Merriam's tom strutted and gobbled his way right into my lap on a hunt in the Missouri River Breaks. I had already killed a bird that morning so I just took photos of this double-bearded gobbler.
Nothing pretty about either this photo or the turkey hunt. After talking to henned-up gobblers all morning, I saw this Montana gobbler displaying on a distant ridge. I sneaked in after the tom, and when he went over the crest of the ridge, I moved in and shot him. Especially early in the season when hens won't let gobblers out of their sight, ambushing the toms is sometimes the only way to score.
My first Rio Grande gobbler was this southern Texas tom. When the gobbler wouldn't leave his hens to come to the call, I had to call the hens instead and managed to shoot the gobbler as the hens scolded his decoy.
Where I live in eastern Montana, few people hunt wild turkeys, probably because local bird populations are pretty low. I hunted a couple springs ago with buddies Kelly Burke, left, and Ryan Fast on Fast's Milk River farm. We called in a nice mature gobbler but he hung up out of range. When this Merriam's jake came in to the decoys, I shot him.
I don't quite know what to make of this picture. I look like a suicide bomber in Mossy Oak. It's a self-timed shot of me with a South Dakota Merriam's that I shot after about three hours of on-again, off-again calling and gobbling. I'm not sure why I didn't take off the face mask or set up the photo better. I think I was in a hurry to hunt another gobbler.

OL's Hunting Editor Andrew McKean opened his album for these photos of turkey hunting around the country.