TURKEY GRAND SLAM ~ By Stan Chiras
A Novice Tells How It’s Done
I had just started hunting these magnificent birds last year and already I was hopelessly
addicted. Most turkey hunters will tell you there is no cure, and their wives will agree! I was no exception. The desire to get the Grand Slam came as the result of simply wanting to do a lot of
gobbler chasing in my second season. It seemed reasonable to let that chase take me to
places where the different species of turkey called home. The problem then became
one of “how to” and “how to afford it all! ”
I could scratch out the time, for my occupation would let me mix travel and sales
calls, with frequent returns to my home base in Wyoming. I began calling friends,
trying to locate good spots to hunt. Being a bowhunter, I didn’t really want to lessen my
odds by hunting areas that the guns had pounded. I came up with some areas that sounded good and made me feel fairly confident of success. Nonetheless, I contacted some guides as back-ups, telling them that I wanted to first try hunting alone. My feelings are that if someone else locates and calls the bird for me, I am little more than a shooter and the essence of the hunt is lost. Besides, guides cost money and it would cost enough getting from one place to another.
I spent the winter planning. Every detail, from equipment to travel routes to photography was studied, pondered and finalized. My plan was to get licenses in seven states and try get my four birds from them. I spent countless hours crouched in my living room practicing sitting still, calling and even aiming at gobblers on videos I had rented!
My bow, a High Country Trophy Hunter, was tuned from wheel to wheel. I broke in
several spare strings and set up my Amacker Banjo sight to hit dead on from five to 25
yards. I shot day after day, until I could hit the fist-sized vitals of my turkey target every time
within that range. I was detemined to shoot 4 within 25 yards where my skill level would make
me confident of a clean kill.
Every morning, before leaving for work, I would step out the door and take one, and only
one shot. There are no warm-up shots at turkeys and I expected no follow-ups. If the shot
was true, my day was off to a great start. If it was errant, I felt like a toad. Eventually all my
arrows hit the mark, the result of practiced concentation and an awful lot of desire.
My bow was short enough that I could shoot while sitting, which greatly reduced
critical movement which had cost me shots at a couple gobblers during my first season.
That, coupled with 65 percent let-off made what I considered the ultimate turkey weapon. I
would be able to draw when my quarry’s vision was obstructed and hold for a long time if necessary.
The last thing I did was shoot the bow set at a shorter draw length than normal for me. The
bow came a little shy of my draw and quite by accident I learned it could help. Since I’m no
student of target archery, I hope it will suffice that with the slightly shorter draw I did
not suffer from any creep and it was very easy to find a consistent form. Whatever, I was
shootiing much better than I ever had before and that`s the way to start a hunt like this one.
A personal commitment was made as well: I would be more patient than I had ever
been my life in every circumstance I encountered. Secondly, I vowed to be persistant.
I would not quit until I dropped from exhaustion and there wasn’t a turkey season open in
the entire country. (It’s very interesting to note that three of the birds were taken on the
last day of the hunt after my hopes had been well dashed. I doubt I’ll ever give up early in
my life again!)
Conditioning is necessary because turkey hunting can be very strenuous, both physically
and mentally. There are times when you get on a gobbler in a hurry and cross ravines or penetrate thick hillsides as though they weren’t there. Other situations are stealth, either in stalking into an area to set up or sitting still for hours on end. Both as s lot easier to do if you’re in shape.
Still, other times will find the turkey hunter down and out and in need of a psychological lift. Perhaps the birds are not gobbling, or they come in silently and you muff the set-up. Sometimes they answer your every call for two hours and then simply walk off gobbling into the woods. At times like these, you have to find a way to make the most of the encounter. A hunter who tends to say “I almost got one in today and sure learned what I might want to do with the next one,” will find
himself ready to go the next morning. You can’t let those turkeys get you down! They’re
just teaching you a little humility.
My first bird dropped to my Zwickey-tipped XX75 within five minutes on opening day in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming. As I nestled into some brush I had scoured. three gobblers were calling to the hens and each other. (As I was to learn with all my subsequent hunts, it is often best to be there on the first day, when the birds are ready and not yet fully aware of the dangers afield.)
The Wyoming Merriam’s turkey responded quickly to my call. Two gobblers came in and I shot the second, a bird with a 9 1/2 inch beard that weighed 18 pounds. He took my first arrow at 22 yards through the vitals and caught a second well-placed shaft moments later as insurance. It proved to be unnecessary. He made it over a rise and into a draw before expiring. I took the quick, clean
kill as a good omen for the hunts to come.
The next weekend found me in Montana, searching for another gobbler and hoping my
luck would continue. I just shook my head in mild disbelief when my evening yelping
located a gobbler. A likely looking clearing would be my morning hide. Daybreak found
me nestled against a large cottonwood tree, hoping for the best.
Have you ever seen something in the semi-darkness and had your eyes play every trick in
the book on you? Well, there I was, waiting for the fun to begin, when a subtle “spitting”
sound caught my attention. I stared into the uncertain landscape, sure I heard a tom drumming.
It had to be a gobbler, but it was much too early for one to be on the ground and I had not heard anything fly down. I began to pick out a dark spot in front of me, at a range I couldn’t determine. In the low light the spot seemed to appear and disappear, than move. I would have to wait.
Meanwhile, the birds in the nearby trees began to gobble and my attention shifted to them. It seemed like mere minutes later when the object I had tried to make out on the ground was a clearly identifiable gobbler. He was strutting back and forth about twenty yards in front of me. I froze. Arrowing gobblers is far more complicated than getting one in range. Their eyes are
very sharp and detect the slightest thing out of place. Movement is simply impossible. Where a deer might just wait an extra second and even shrug off something if it doesn’t move again, a turkey just leaves. There are no second chances.
Let a turkey hear you and the scenario is the same. They teach you in a hurry that one mistake is all you get. The challenge is getting your bow to full draw, aiming and shooting before they know you are there. My mental conditioning was the most valuable asset for the hunt I had and discipline
was the key. If the bird could see me, or other birds could. there was no sense in doing anything. It would seem a shame to just let a gobbler walk off. but often it was all I could do.
Desperation attempts are a waste of time on turkeys. They only educate the birds to your
presence and lessen your chances of success for the next day. I waited for this bird to turn, facing dead away from me, when his fanned tail would effectively block him from seeing me. He
turned. I drew. I could hardly see the dual pins of my sight and a quick sighting on the brighter horizon enabled me to set in and make the shot. The arrow struck home, sending a solid “whack”
back to my ears. He turned again, stared directly at the source of the sound and caught
my next arrow squarely in the breast. My second bird was down.
A second Merriam’s with good technique; no mistakes so far on this venture! My shooting had been perfect. Both birds were done for the first arrows, but a second shaft conveniently laid next to me had struck home both times. Had they been really needed, they would have done the job. The practice and planning were paying off.
l thought of several setups for taking turkeys during the planning stages for this hunt. The trick is to get them in and be able to make the motion of the shot undetected. The easiest way to do this is to park yourself against a very large tree in a woods with lots of other trees in front of you. When the bird passes behind one you`ll have a chance to draw. When he steps out the shot is yours.
Another way to fool an old tom is to draw him past you with the aid of a decoy. Try to set yourself up facing away from the bird as you call, although the urge to turn and look him over can be almost cruel! If you call and the bird comes in, sights the decoy and then approaches it, a shot at a fanned bird facing away can be your reward.
Remember to anticipate the spot you expect the bird to be and then position yourself for that shot. Right handed archers will want the bird to the left of the way they are facing, nd the opposite is true for lefties. There is nothing more depressing than being unable to shoot because of body position.
My Rio Grande bird had to be taken by another method. I was hunting a ranch in west Texas almost devoid of trees suitable for the turkey hunter to “fade” into. To make matters worse, the birds were concentrated in large flocks. Not once did I call in just one gobbler. Usually they came with hens, or jakes or even other gobblers but the number of birds was rarely under ten. That’s a lot of eyes to deal with! I had to resort to a makeshift blind.
I carried some camo netting for just such a predicament. After calling in bird after bird to amply let them wander off I decided that it was time. A ravine that was scattered with small cedars made a perfect location for my barrier. I draped the netting between the cedars and leaned boughs up against the whole affair. A huge gobbler that had already come in on three occasions in the previous five days was my target. I hoped my blind would let me get a shot at him on my last day.
My luck seemed to turn, because that was the only morning that I did not call a gobbler in. Perseverance would have to be the key: I decided to stay behind the netting for the entire day. That afternoon the gobbler showed up, all alone for the first time. He was history. I was sure of it.
The bum just ignored my calls. To this day it makes no sense. Eventually he wandered off into a brushy hillside. I was devastated. Since I was due to head for Florida in the morning it seemed the slam was over. I sat there and pondered my plight well into evening.
Almost miraculously, a group of six jakes came up behind me shortly before sunset. I
decided to take one, since a gobbler wasn’t likely to make an appearance. They came in
and circled my calling, offering me a head-on shot at the lead bird. The blind worked perfectly. If only I had used it earlier in the week. The arrow caught the bird off center by an
inch. But I celebrated too soon. The jake was nowhere to be found. I had to cancel my flight
to resume the search in the light of dawn. As luck would have it, I found the bird in the morning darkness while I was sneaking in to set up for another hunt (Texas allows you two spring birds so I was going to try for another before looking for the jake). Later I passed up a shot at two gobblers with medium-sized beards because I failed to recognize just what they were at first. I guarantee I will never do that again. Round tails are not jakes.
I gathered up my dog (who was patiently waiting in the car on all my hunts), the bird
and a bunch of gear and headed off to central Florida for what I expected to be a very tough
bird to get, the Osceola. I wasn’t disappointed, for not only were they tough to hunt, they were scarce as hen`s teeth. The practical problem of needing to make a living meant I would have to return home in only three days. It was difficult to feel confident with so little time to get to know the
area and find birds.
An important element for success on any hunt is scouting. I would rather spend three or
four days of a seven day hunt scouting, and hope my preparation would yield positive results later, than just plow in and hunt fret day one. The second night of my three precious days finally found me watching a long-bearded gobbler go to his roost. The next morning I sat against a pine tree next to the cypress swamp that held the gobbler. I almost wished this turkey wasn’t so impressive, for
not getting him would be like missing a Pope and Young buck. I said I almost wished it, mind you; I wasn’t complaining.
He gobbled in the heavy mist of morning, a mist that was really a fog. First two hens
came down and immediately wandered off. Soon he would follow. He had to, for I had no
time left. He landed exactly where he had taken off from the night before. My decoys
were placed next to the edge of some pines and I was motionless next to one of them. He
ignored my decoys and began to wander off. Knowing full well that this old boy had gotten
that magnificent beard by letting things come to him, I decided to purr and cluck very softly.
He gobbled and fanned. With the fog and this cautious Osceola gobbler and a hunter relying
on his instincts for what to do next, the moment was pure magic.
He hung around in front of me for a while and then just disappeared. A few purrs, ending with only slightly louder clucks carried out from my call. I kept it up for a minute or so, hoping my adversary would come back. Then my prayers were answered as he appeared off to my right, very near the spot he had flown down to. It was perfect for a left-handed shooter. I wouldn’t have to shift position at all to aim and shoot from the sitting position.
Things looked very good. He was interested and coming in slow and deliberate. The
fog had him wet and his fan looked pretty bad, but do you think I cared! He was the lord and
master of this little piece of paradise and I had been invited for the show.The gobbler got as close as 15 yards and must have decided that the decoys should have moved by now. I was sure he would leave. It was time to act. I had strung some camo netting around me, about six feet out, to break my outline. If he turned I would draw. He did, and so did I, except he had turned straight at
me. I froze and luckily he did not notice my movements through the fog. The net had done
It seemed like forever, but he turned away, with his fanned tail blocking me from his
sight. This time I got to full draw and came down on my target. He turned sideways and I
once again thanked my bow for its high let-off, as I had to wait for him to settle down
before letting the arrow f`ly. It struck with a solid whack, indicating a pretty good hit.
Then he surprised me and flew to the top of a nearby pine. He was history though, and I
A short time later he came down, while I patiently waited in silence, not wanting to risk
spooking him into the thick cypress swamps nearby. His beard was over ll inches and he was
a true trophy. Now the heat was really on. With one bird to go there was no turning back and my confidence level was soaring. An urgent pressure to succeed was overshadowing my thoughts.
Earlier I spoke of the planning that went into this venture. It is one of the most important factors for success, for you simply can’t get them where you can’t find them. Unfortunately, I hadn’t given enough thought to the order I was hunting the different species. I should have started with the eastern, gone after the Florida next and the other later. The reason? It’s easy for me to say now: The eastern turkey get the most pressure and react quickly, making things very tough for the
hunter, especially the bowhunter. I haven’t said much about my calling because it isn’t that good. I rely primarily on a box call and stick to a limited vocabulary of yelps, clucks, purrs, cackles and Cutts. Since I feel a little inexperienced I tend to call less often and more softly, hoping to convince a bird with the coy approach. Turkey hunters have told me a lot of things about calling and it seems many different approaches work. I think the secret lies with the birds themselves, for some days they come in like hungry wolves and other times they plan the classic “you come to me” game.
A quick trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, since I had a tag to left to fill there. I wanted to sharpen my calling and hunting skills before going after the much respected eastern gobblers.
as with the other two Merriam’s, I found a bird the first evening out and setup in a likely opening the next morning. A whole bunch of birds came in, including five gobblers and quite a few jakes. They strutted about in front of me, offering no chance to draw with all those alert eyes on call. My only recourse was to wait for them to leave and hope a gobbler would be among the last to go, thus offering me a shot
The last bird was fanned out and strutting across to my right. When he crossed behind a large cottonwood, one of several in front of me, I came to full draw. He stepped out and the arrow smacked home , hitting him in the wing butt. After waiting a while, I crept up a small rise, expecting to see him on the other side. What I saw was a red head and a blur of feathers as he rocketed off to some distant brush. I was baffled. The arrow had hit just where it was supposed to so he should
have been down. I decided to wait a while longer and sneak up on the brush.
When a hungry coyote showed up and I decided to pass up the shot, it turned into a
godsend. The canine hit the turkey’s trail and immediately raced off to fetch the bird. I figured
it would be easy to follow and make the coyote give it up. But it didn’t go quite that
way. The gobbler came bursting out of the thicket and flew up to a treetop about a quarter
mile away. Now all I had to do was to wait for the bird to expire.
After awhile I decided that he wasn’t coming down so a stalk was in order. Luckily, the
wind picked up making the bird face into it just to hold on. It also covered the sound of my
approach. I had never shot up in a tree before and decided to simply aim dead center, hoping it would be good. The arrow centered the gobbler and he was mine.
On To The East
I got busy trying to locate birds in New York, and acting on a tip from Charles Alsheimer, called in a super gobbler. I didn’t get the bird but felt extremely good about having
called up my first eastern. Charlie later showed me a thing or two about cackling and
purring on a diaphragm which helped me make major strides in my calling. Unfortunately, hordes of hunters moved into the area that weekend and the birds went silent. I decided it would take a few days to calm things down and headed off to a farm in West Virginia, about six hours away, to try anew. I had learned a lot about these birds. They
are the ultimate survivors, fleeing at the slightest miscue. Their eyes are absolutely
unforgiving, their ears superb and their gobbles were incredibly enchanting.
Several days of rain had put a damper on my spirits, although I kept at it every day until the noon stopping time dictated by law. Somehow the last day of the hunt snuck up and promised to be the first clear day of the week. It was now or never. A tom had gobbled
just before noon the day before in a beautiful little hollow, but refused to come to my pleadings. I would try to take him. I found it was best on all my hunts to try to set my tactics for the morning the night before and then just spend the night dreaming about the wonderful
things to come.
I was beginning to feel like the real master of myself, more than I ever had in my life. My
mind was full of constant rumblings about the value of planning, practice, patience and perseverance (my four P’s). I slipped into position an extra hour early, as I had done on the two previous last day hunts. I was going to kill that bird, I was positive. If only one had gobbled that morning . . .
I called three times that morning, from my hide nestled in the corner of the hollow. Since
moving was not part of the day’s program, I settled in on my Komfort Turkey pad for the
long haul, which passed all too quickly. The season would end at noon. At 10:53 my last
soft yelps of the morning broke the still air. Again, nothing.
If you had been there you would know the feeling I cannot describe as a bird came from
under a shady tree, just across the hollow from one very shaken turkey hunter. He
strode into the bright sunlight and stared directly into the woods that held me. This was
one of the infamous ‘”silent gobblers” we have all heard so much about.
He dropped into a depression and I grabbed the bow I had foolishly put down an
hour earlier. As it turned out, I could have eaten lunch during the amount of time it took
him to reappear. Fighting the urge to rise up a little and peak to confirm his whereabouts became a difficult task, but I held firm. He appeared, still looking at my location.
He began to scratch about and feed in the closely cropped pasture, practically in my
lap. He noticed my decoys which I had partially concealed in some bushes off to the uphill
side of my hide. I was six or seven yards into the dark forest and it felt safe. Yet he continued to scratch about, glancing at the decoys from time to time. There was no strutting,
only feeding stares. The whole time he was facing directly at this archer and offered abslutely no chance for a shot. I kept telling myself that my Grand Slam was right in front of
me and all I had to do was wait for the right moment.
He was about 20 yards out. The shot should be a piece of cake. I glanced down to
make sure the arrow was on the rest and nothing was going to get in my way when I pulled
up. Much to my dismay, I noticed some debris on the sight and there was nothing that could be done about it. I would have to ignore it when it came time to aim.
When he finally turned away and put his head down to feed I acted smoothly and
quickly. I arrived at full draw and decided to wait for him to go through a cycle of checking
the area for danger as he had been doing between each series of scratches. He seemed to
take forever to drop that periscope (as I had come to call their heads in frustration many
times before) and I once again thanked High Country for that let-off. The pin was cluttered
with leaf matter that made aiming less than ideal.
After 26 days of hunting and a string of success, I began to crack. Pressure had been
an integral part of the challenge all along. It made the hunts very serious matters and
added to the enjoyment. But now I couldn’t stop the pin from circling the bird. To top it
off, he took a step forward and it seemed like he would just walk away and I would be frozen there, like a fool. I was screaming at myself to
get it done.
The arrow struck the bird, who was quartering away, dead center. The force of the 75
pound bow drove him several yards across the field. I’m not sure I remember releasing too
well. It just happened regardless of what was going on in my worn-out mind. I’d like to
think that all the practice had paid off. The gobbler flopped down the ravine and
into the woods. He was done though, for I had seen the strike. I slowly made my way over to the edge of the woods and spotted the magnificent creature. It was clear that he was expiring and, as with any game animal I have ever taken, I backed off to let him spend his last moments in peace. He never knew what hit him and my presence would only add terror to his end. I was happy and sad in a way that I can’t describe but I think a lot of you know
what I’m talking about.
It was over. I fell to the ground and just lay there, thinking. My eastern wild turkey was a
few yards away in the West Virginia woods. I didn’t have to get up at 3:30 a.m. tomorrow
and I wasn’t sure I liked that for the sunrise had become a special time filled with anticipation
that each day would be better than the last. I guess they had been.
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