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Wild West Turkey Hunt

turkey huntA blizzard in the forecast, Ken Byers and Toby Shaw hastily unloaded their camping trailer and were nearly finished when a turkey gobbled 200 yards from camp. Both men looked at each other with a gleam in the eye…the final details could wait.

“How long has it been since we hunted together?” said Shaw, part of the Byers Media duo who spend most of their time afield with hunting guests. Within minutes they were in hunting clothes with Shaw carrying his Hoyt Alphamax and Byers grabbing a turkey fan, freshly thawed from the freezer. The gobbles had come from a creek bottom and unfortunately the flock was on the other side. Anxious to get on birds, Byers found a promising crossing spot, held his fan high and leaped the rushing water, almost.

“It seemed to happen in slow motion,” remembers Shaw still laughing hysterically. “Ken fell, then rolled, ending up waist deep in really cold water, but kept the feathers dry. If you don’t want me to kill a turkey just say so, I laughed and made the jump to get down to business.”

Land of Gobblers Aplenty

Merriam’s turkeys were still in winter flocks in mid April and the hunters soon spotted a group of 20 or more including several longbeards. “The birds fed on a small flat at the top of a steep hill,” says Shaw, “and we had to crawl a hundred yards on our bellies- just moving elbows and toes to reach them. The jakes in the flock were fighting causing a commotion that helped cover the sound of our advance and we slipped right under the ledge. Ken peaked over with the fan and laughed, ‘there only 30 yards.’ When I looked, jakes were already coming to us. Suddenly I heard a “put” and saw a longbeard approaching at 25 yards. I put the pin right at the base of the neck and let go.”

turkey huntOne gobbler was down, yet Shaw had two tags and other longbeards were in the flock. Several jakes went over and started picking at the downed gobbler while two other youngsters stood staring at the fan. Eventually, everything moved away and the hunt was pretty much over. Just as well since Ken has a bad hip and I have a bum knee. After crawling all that way we could barely walk and looked like two 100-year-old men returning with the turkey.

Gear that Worked Well

Shaw’s archery skills were well tuned after a successful shot on a Michigan bobcat, a remarkable trophy. Supporting his Hoyt compound were Easton Flatline arrows fletched with Blazer vanes, two-blade Bloodrunner broadheads, and a Black Gold sight. Both men wore Mossy Oak camouflage and use Brunton Epic binoculars.

If you caught “FANtastic Turkey Hunting” in this spring’s Bowhunting World, you will recognize the tactic of using a gobbler fan to lure turkeys. It seems, Merriam’s and Rio Grande turkeys in the Great Plains are itching for a fight and the presence of another gobbler in their territory drives them crazy. If you can sneak within 100 yards of a flock, the dominant gobbler will almost always approach, sometimes run to your location. As Byers and Shaw proved, teaming up is an incredibly exciting way to score.

Also, shot placement on Turkeys can be tricky and even a perfect body shot can ruin a batch of great tasting breast meat. “I’m hooked on that neck shot,” said Shaw. “You kill them right there or you miss… and they drop like a stone.”

Wild West Weather

That evening the blizzard arrived on schedule and snow and rain fell for most of the following week. Given the difficult conditions, most hunters, opted for pellets over arrows and the camp accounted for 26 longbeards, a mixture of Merriam’s and Rio Grande subspecies. Fortunately, even in inclement weather, the turkey quest is much like a deer or elk hunt and every day afield is a Western adventure. Turkey populations remain high in South Dakota and no state rolls out the camo carpet as eagerly. For licensing information check www.gfp.sd.gov and SD Tourism will make travel a pleasure at www.TravelSD.com.

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