Kids and turkeys just make sense together. A big tom doesn’t analyze his life, stress about his rank in the animal kingdom or concern himself with the business of the universe. He eats bugs and gobbles at owls. A kid doesn’t worry about her email inbox overflowing, the parking ticket she forgot to pay or the taxes she still has to do. Kids and turkeys live in a simpler world. I contemplated this while crouching behind a small hill with Todd Hatfield, his 12-year-old daughter Mallory, and our two hunting guides. We were watching a group of wild hogs rooting around beneath an oak tree in the middle of a field. We had chased turkeys all morning and were now trying to figure out how to get a closer shot on one of these pigs. A small herd of curious cows had moseyed over to about 10 feet behind us to watch the action. As the men glassed the hogs, Mallory stood facing the opposite direction keeping a watchful eye on those untrustworthy bovine. “What about the cows!?” she whispered, eyes wide. “Don’t worry, it’ll be OK,” Todd whispered back, trying to hide a smile. Welcome to the Legacy Slam 2012.
The Legacy Slam, like all of our other Grand Slam Adventures focused on taking a dedicated Outdoor Life reader on the trip of a lifetime. But the Legacy Slam was different in that it was designed as a family hunt. With a handful of sponsors (Lowa Boots, Cabela’s and Mossberg) we set up a hog and turkey hunt on Tejon Ranch in southern California for two family members. We had a huge pool of applicants but ended up picking Todd and Mallory, a pair of die-hard deer and turkey hunters from Grayling, Michigan. What set Todd and Mallory apart? Mallory had the gumption to write the entrance essay herself.
Tejon Ranch is epic. The 270,000-acre ranch is is a mix of mountains, grasslands, desert, canyons and forest. The diversity of habitat means wildlife, and lots of it. The ranch is home to elk, mule deer, antelope, black bears, turkeys, hogs and mountain lions.
On the first morning of our hunt we went after turkeys and got into birds right away. After passing on some jakes and spooking one longbeard, our guides spotted a group of hogs working their way up a hill. We quickly dipped off the road after the pigs. With the wind in our face, we caught up with them halfway up the hill. Mallory settled on the shooting sticks, as Todd pointed to a big cinnamon-colored sow quartering away and bringing up the rear.
With one shot from her .308, Mallory rolled the big sow at 130 yards. Todd whooped and hugged his kid. The guides and I looked at each other half surprised and fully impressed. A 12-year-old girl taking an up-hill shot, off shooting sticks through brush at 130 yards? No problem.
Then it was back to turkey hunting. Tejon is home to Merriam’s turkeys, which are usually smaller than their eastern brothers, but beautifully colored. We heard an old longbeard gobble from up in the fog, but were never able to get into position on him. The mountains at Tejon are deceivingly steep.
We drove country roads with guide Steven Ryan hitting a coyote locator call on every ridge. It wasn’t long before we had a pair of gobblers sound off across the canyon. We climbed close to the birds and then got set up. Our other guide, Cody Plank, played a few notes on his wingbone call and soon the gobblers came charging in like a pair of frat boys at a keg party.
But they hung up at about 40 yards, too far for Mallory’s 20 gauge, so Todd got the greenlight. With a boom, we had our second animal down; a gorgeous Merriam’s tom with a thick beard.
The day was still young, and it was time to find Mallory a bird–back to the truck and the mountain roads. We circled back to two toms and a group of jakes we had messed with earlier in the morning. We followed them up a ridge and began creeping into range single file. Steven was in the lead, followed by Todd, me and then Cody…a large squad of hunters to be sneaking up on turkeys.
But somehow Steven got us close. Really close. We walked to within about 60 yards of the birds and then laid down in the tall grass. Cody started calling while Steven got Mallory on the gun. It was far from an organized formation, but more often than not, it’s the haphazard setups that kill toms.
Time slowed to a crawl. The turkeys gobbled. The longbeards were out of range. The turkeys gobbled more. The jakes were in the way. The turkeys gobbled louder. The longbeards were standing too close together to shoot. More gobbling. Then…BOOM! Down went tom number two. The backslapping, laughing and play-by-play began.
Todd and Mallory are good turkey hunters. You can tell by the way Mallory doesn’t move when birds are in sight. But, they’re used to grinding it out on public land in Michigan. Hunting the unpressured Merriam’s on Tejon was a breath of fresh air for them.
Not bad for one morning of hunting. Two turkeys, a hog and an old mule deer rack.
Merriam’s were found naturally in the ponderosa pine forests and mountains of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. Eventually, they were transplanted to Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Despite the hogs, coyotes, and mountain lions, Merriam’s have thrived on Tejon.
Hogs are notorious for their ability to take lead. Big boars have a thick coat of fat and gristle over their shoulders that protect them from their rival’s tusks as wells as bullets and arrows. Mallory made a great shot on her hog, just behind the shoulder, and as you can see, the damage was extensive.
The area in California we were hunting had a non-lead bullet requirement. Todd and Mallory loaded up with Winchester’s new RazorBack ammo that’s designed for hogs. The bullets have a beveled profile, which is supposed to control bullet expansion. The bullet is designed to to expand shortly after impact, not on impact, so it can bust through hide, fat and bone before expanding.
After we had lunch and butchered Todd and Mallory’s animals, we jumped into the truck to find some more pigs. Before long, we spotted this group feeding beneath an oak tree. The pigs were out in an open field without much cover for a stalk, but we were able to get behind this hill for a closer look. Soon a heard of curious cows moved in behind us to see what we were up to.
Pigs have pretty poor eyesight, so occasionally they’ll hangout with cows to use as lookouts. Cows have great vision and will tip off hogs to any distant danger. But in this case, the relationship worked to our advantage. When the pigs saw the cows surrounding us, they decided to come have a look.
The group walked up right to us and got to about 10 yards away before Todd made a good shot on the biggest one of the bunch.
Tejon is still a working cattle ranch, so that means cows, lots of cows.
We threw Todd’s pig in the truck and headed back to camp for dinner. Steven and Cody skinned the pig just as the sun was setting. After that, Dale our camp cook, had a huge steak dinner waiting for us.
The next morning we set out to find a trophy boar for Mallory. Todd and Mallory each had two pig tags, and with two eater hogs in the freezer, we were after tusks. Cruising through the open plains of Tejon, we drove by these three antelope.
Striking out in the lowlands, we went up the mountain to find a boar. We saw a bunch of pigs, but none with big tusks. We also saw a handful of mule deer.
We’d drive to the top of a ridge and then stop to glass. There were miles and miles of country for a boar to hide in, so we took our time picking apart the canyons. Finally, just as the sun was going down, Cody and Steve spotted a nice boar rooting around with some other pigs. We made a fast stalk on the group and tucked in behind a big rock outcropping. Mallory and Cody snuck closer in knee-high grass and got set up on the shooting sticks. Finally the boar turned broadside and Mallory squeezed the trigger. The pig flipped over backwards and then got up, cruising full speed downhill. In a second he disappeared with the other pigs in a dark canyon.
We got out the headlamps and started following the blood trail. We tracked the pig for about a mile, down and then up the canyon. Soon the trail thinned from blood drops to specks, and then it disappeared altogether. We returned to the truck tired, and disappointed. But the great thing about hunting with kids is their ability to bounce back. The next morning when we headed out to the airport, Mallory was in high spirits recounting the highlights of the trip. A veteran hunter would have have sat in the back of the truck sulking about the one that got away. But Mallory was all smiles as we rolled through the Tejon Ranch gate, and so were we.
A special thanks to the Legacy Slam Sponsors: Lowa Boots, Cabela’s, and Mossberg. If You Go…
Address: 4436 Lebec Road, Lebec, California 93243
We took Todd and Mallory Hatfield on the hunt of a lifetime at the Tejon Ranch in California. See the story and photos behind the 2012 Legacy Slam.