Devils Tower Toms

Gentle pine-clad ridges, emerging wildflowers, Western hospitality and plenty of vocal gobblers. Devils Tower provided the backdrop for the hunt, sponsored by Hunter's Specialties, Remington and Swarovski. Hunting was with the capable guides of Solitude Ranch Outfitters (huntsro.com), based out of Hulett, Wyoming, the jumping-off spot for visitors to the tower and hunters in this game-rich corner of the Cowboy State.
In Lakota Sioux tribal mythology, six young girls were playing in the Black Hills when a bear surprised and chased them. In their terror, the girls begged the Great Spirit for help. The ground beneath them began to rise, creating a tall monolithic rock that lifted the girls to safety.
According to the native myth, the girls were delivered to the sky on top of the spire and became celestial stars. The girls were immortalized in the constellation Pleiades, sometimes described as the Seven Sisters.
And the deep lines on the sides of the weathered tower are from the claws of the giant bear, according to the Lakota myth.
The landmark tower is the heart of the nation's first national monument, designated in 1906 by President Teddy Roosevelt. The monument is managed by the U.S. Park Service and any trip to northeastern Wyoming should include a hike around Devils Tower.
We bunked at the Hulett Motel (devilstowerlodging.com), where pickups disclosed a common sentiment of Wyomingites regarding wolves. The non-typical whitetail skull in the pickup bed is one of dozens of winterkilled deer our hunting guides have collected this spring.
The lively Belle Fourche River flows through the heart of Hulett. The tiny town will play host next month to Wyoming's first one-shot turkey hunt. Sponsored by the Remington Outdoor Foundation, the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of Wyoming and the Hulett community, the Old West Invitation Turkey Shoot is scheduled for May 13-15.
This is the first year Wyoming Fish and Game has offered second spring gobbler tags for portions of the Black Hills. On my first morning in Hulett, waiting for the sporting goods store to open so I could buy a second turkey license, these gobblers roamed the outskirts of town. They offered a few tentative gobbles in response to my calls, but moved cautiously away.
Finally, out in the field with guide John Berndt, we had luck with more responsive gobblers in the shadow of Devils Tower.
Berndt spends the autumn months guiding big-game hunters in western Wyoming, but he's a capable turkey guide. During our first set-up I glanced at his call pouch and saw gleaming brass of turkey loads. Thinking he had back-up shells for my Remington 12 gauge, I gave them a closer look: 10 gauge. Berndt doesn't mess around.
Though this was a H.S. Strut trip, and I carried my favorite new slate, a Ring Zone, and an all-weather Field Champion box call, Berndt favors his veteran mahogany Lynch box.
H.S. Strut's new Ring Tone friction call in Starfire Crystal sings loud and high-pitched.
The warm mornings and sun-scrubbed afternoons coaxed up the season's first wildflowers, including colorful, fragile crocuses.
The Wyoming portion of the Black Hills are a bit more gentle than the Hills around South Dakota's Mount Rushmore. Old homesteader settlements dot the ridges, and winter wheat and hay are cultivated in remote valleys.
Wyoming is better known as mule deer and elk country, but northeastern Wyoming is alive with whitetails. In some lower-elevation hayfields, hundreds of flagtails graze and flit, and flocks of Merriam's turkeys amble around the deer.
Berndt carries the fan of a Merriam's tom in his call pouch. He's a believer in using it as a sort of live-action decoy.
In the open country of the West, a fan can mask the approach of a hunter. We used it successfully on my first gobbler, henned up with a dozen hens on an open slope. We crawled and slid into shotgun range, then used the fan to mimic the approach of a rival gobbler. The gobblers watched with interest as we popped and displayed the fan, then strutted our way. I picked my first gobbler out of the group of toms at 42 yards.
Never use a fan on public land or anywhere a fellow hunter might mistake you for a gobbler. But it can work well mid-way through the season when turkeys are still flocked up and don't respond immediately to a call.
My second gobbler was a more classic call-in. I spotted a flock of turkeys in a grove of bur oak at mid-day and John and I sneaked to a spot where they could hear our calls. A few yelps from the glass call and two toms broke into a running strut, stopping in a winter wheat field only long enough to gobble. It took more than 15 suspenseful minutes, but finally the toms charged across a wooded draw and into range. My Wyoming hunt was over, less than a full day after it began.
Two days, two fine Merriam's gobblers taken in the shadow of remarkable Devils Tower.