The two gobblers were trashing the jake decoy, pecking pieces out of his head and tearing feathers off his body. I was tracking the one on the left, because I was sitting on the left and where I am from that’s how we do it.
I heard “shoot ‘em” and watched “my” turkey’s head turn to mist. I swung the gun, picked up his brother, who was doing the boot scooting boogie or turkey trot or some kind of getting the hell out of here dance. I tracked his head, adding a little lead and just as I shot he disappeared behind his flopping litter mate and the decoy as they all lined up in perfect unison with the storm of pellets. Later analysis of the video will show that I got both the decoy and the flopping turkey, but missed the running turkey due to his shields being deployed. I came out of recoil; picked him up in the scope again and this time he caught the full effect of the Federal #6 Heavyweight payload. While it seemed slow to me, the time between the shots on the video was about a second. I guess all that 3-gun shooting paid off.
It was about an hour before dark on the very first day of a four day hunt and I was done! I had shot another even bigger gobbler that morning, so both tags were burned. No complaints. After several turd-encrusted hunts in a row, it was about time a trip went right!
I have been pretty lucky over the years to have taken a world slam of turkeys and more grand slams than I can count and I think the Merriam’s might well be my favorite turkey to hunt. That’s mostly because of where they live. I love hunting anything in the Rocky Mountain states and this turkey species lurks about in some of the most beautiful country on earth.
Vermejo Park Ranch, in northern New Mexico, right on the Colorado border, is no exception. We were hunting the high country and I shot that bird at about 12,000 feet, where a flatlander like me runs out of breath walking down hill. Just blowing a mouth call finds you panting for air and my guess is there are about two molecules of oxygen per cubic yard of air.
You also have to love the Merriam’s because they are gobbling fools. They babble on and on and never shut up, which I like in a turkey. They may not have the largest beards or the longest spurs, but their white-tipped feathers make them perhaps the most striking of the North American turkeys. Finally, they live in big country with low hunting pressure. That makes them a bit naive about turkey calls and decoys, which I also like in a turkey.
My companions were Nick Mundt from Bone Collector and Road Trips fame and Cally Morris, of Hazel Creek who was filming for his web TV show, Realtree’s 15 Yard Chronicles. My goal was to write a feature article for NRA’s American Hunter magazine, so if you toss in this blog you might say we had just about every media option covered.
Nick was the shooter with “first pick” and he explained later that when filming they always shoot the bird nearest the decoy. So now I know.
Cally is a world champion turkey taxidermist and markets a line of life-like decoys that are a portable mounted bird. I have used decoys for about as long as I have been turkey hunting, which is 41 years this spring, but I have never seen birds react to decoys like this. All six of the toms we shot, and one that we didn’t (no tags left) broke into strut as soon as they spotted the decoys, then fixated on the jake and came into it like they were on tracks. While they kept stealing glances at the “ready hen” decoy in the breeding position, they would not leave the male. It was amusing to watch their reactions when they beat the hell out of the decoy and it didn’t fight back or run away. Those were some puzzled turkeys. When the decoy would spin to turn his back to the aggressor, it drove them mad. They would attack, purr, putt and chatter what I am sure is turkey trash talk, all the while pecking and spurring the snot out of the decoy. This would probably still be going on if we didn’t shoot them, as they showed no inclination to stop.
I ain’t lying when I said I had to stop because my arms got tired. I caught a 6-pound brown trout and about a two pound brook trout, but mostly I caught rainbow trout from two to six pounds until it almost got boring. While I caught a lot of them with a spin-cast rig, I mostly used a fly rod. I would say the average was about three fish in five casts. When I made a retrieve and didn’t get a strike, I would experience irrational feelings of disappointment. The trout were full of fight in these high mountain cold water lakes and on a light five-weight rod they would wear you out.
Vermejo Park Ranch is 923 square miles, or nearly as big as Rhode Island. In the four days I would guess I saw 1,000 or more elk and probably half that many mule deer. Coming back for an elk hunt has climbed very high on my bucket list as the elk hunting there is legendary.
At night we dined like kings with outstanding service and food. The bar was well stocked with single malts and premium bourbon and for a while I thought that perhaps I don’t need to go to heaven as I have already been there and done that.
It was one of the premiere hunting trips of my career.
While Merriam’s turkeys live in the wide open spaces and are known for long shots, I think the furthest turkey we shot was maybe 20 yards. Most were 10 to 15 yards. Bringing them in this close with aggressive calling and Cally’s decoying methods makes for heart-pounding, can’t breathe, adrenalin rush turkey hunting. But close birds are the ones that you miss. The “pattern” at 10 yards is about the size of a shotgun slug and a turkey head is a small, always moving, target. Over the years I have learned that an optical sight on the turkey gun is by far the best option to eliminate misses. You still have hunter error, no optic can fix panicked-infused-stupidity and every turkey hunter on earth is going to experience that now and then. But the optic eliminates aiming errors common to shotguns with beads.
I was using a Franchi Intensity Shotgun in Realtree Xtra Green camo and equipped with the new Weaver KASPA 1-4X24 turkey scope with the Vertical Zone Turkey reticle. I had it stoked with Federal Mag-Shok Heavyweight 1-5/8 ounce #6 shot. If you have never hunted with the tungsten based, heavyweight turkey loads you will not believe how much deadlier these pellets can be. They simply turn turkeys off.
We were filming, so I had to look pretty. I draped myself head to toe in Bass Pro Redhead clothing in Realtree patterns. I looked like a newbie, out there in my unsullied camo, but I got it blood-stained pretty fast on this trip.