Outdoor Journal: Unconventional approach bags wily Merriam

Last week, I traveled to the Can­adian province of British Columbia, where I hoped to fulfill my fin

Last week, I traveled to the Can­adian province of British Columbia, where I hoped to fulfill my final requirement for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Can­adian Slam by harvesting a Merriam turkey.

According to NWTF record book, only one person, Kathleen Neault of Colorado, has completed this slam, and I was hoping to become the second. Last October, I harvested an Eastern turkey in Hastings County, Ontario. These are the only two turkeys needed to qualify for this recognition.

Last winter, I surfed the net for Canadian turkey hunting outfitters that guided for Merriam and found very few. Turkey hunting in Canada is fairly new, and generally, there’s little interest in hunting them, but that has been rapidly changing with the continuing increase in the Canada populations of wild turkeys.

My choice for this hunt was the Kettle River Guides/Outfitters, operated by Tami and Melvin Kilback, who’ve been in business more than 33 years. Their trophy wall of successful clients was impressive. They were eager to add some turkey photos to this collection.

My guide, Jamie York, helped me settle in to my cabin at the base camp, then sat down to discuss the morning’s strategies. We would be hunting the high ground on a vast piece of crown (public) land and, based on what Jamie had scouted, we decided to get there early and walk and talk our way along the trails, trying to solicit gobbles from a love-sick tom. As for calling, I handed him a Wilson’s Game Call black walnut box call and told him he could call and I would shoot. According to Jamie, 10 years ago in this area, turkey sightings were very rare, but now the population has increased significantly.

Little did we know just how big this population really was. I immed­iately liked the fact that we could legally hunt from sunup (5 a.m.) until a little past 8 p.m., and turkeys could be hunted with either shotgun or rimfire rifle. In the spring, the limit is one bearded bird.

My choice of gun for this slam was a new Mossberg model 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun, which, for the first time in my turkey hunting career, I topped off with a fixed-power, circle and cross-hair reticle Maine Vue scope. I was very impressed with this combination at the range. It had worked well on my Ontario turkey hunt, and I also used it to shoot several coyotes last winter. I also shot a dozen or so Canada geese with it during the early September season hunt. So my confidence level with this gun was extremely high. When that target was in the circle, it was history.

It seemed like I’d just closed my eyes when the alarm sounded my 3 a.m. wake-up — the things hunters will do just to chase wild turkeys, but what a beautiful country to do it in. After grabbing a coffee to go and a banana, we headed up a narrow dirt road to where Jamie had seen a number of Merriams a few day before. We never got a chance to use our walk and talk plan because the birds began to gobble before he had gone 50 yards from the truck, and it was still 20 minutes before legal shooting time.

There were four gobbles coming from four different directions, so we thought it best to set up as soon as we were out of sight of the truck. With our two decoy hens in place, we started to yelp softly, and the double-gobbling responses were immediate. I never expected this type of a greeting, but I admit I had visions of calling the airlines that afternoon after the photo shoot of my tom, to see if I could get an early flight home.

No such luck because those toms, which continued to gobble for about an hour, never came close to us. They just went silent. Something was wrong, and I didn’t know what it was.

Moving about a half-mile farther up the ridge, we called again and got several more responses, which sent us scrambling to get set up. And the results were an exact duplicate of our first encounter — they would not come in. For the next several hours, we had toms gobbling all over this high country and never got one to come to us. When we headed back at 10 a.m. for breakfast, we’d had 17 respondes, but no sightings.

Breakfast was a real “slam” prepared by our camp cook, Jeannie. That evening’s dinner was also a five-star meal, and that’s the way it was for the rest of my stay. I never left the table hungry.

When we returned to the woods that afternoon, it was a repeat of the morning, with plenty of turkey talking and responding, but no appearances. The total gobblers heard that day was about 22.

On Day 2, we awoke to find the ground covered with about 1-2 inches of snow and a very cold biting wind, but it had little or no affect on the turkeys. They were again gobbling and responding to our calls all morning and still not coming in.

I was beginning to lose my con­fidence and was definitely confused at what was happening. I thought the breeding season might be over. Moving on, we found an area where we could see where turkey had been feeding, and I decided to take off on a set of tracks that headed down the hill. Tracking a turkey in the snow is something I’d never done in all my years of hunting turkeys. It was different, but unfortunately, the trail ended at the edge of a brook after three-quarters of a mile. And at day’s end, we had spoken with 16 more toms, and not once did I release the safety on my Mossberg.


If it didn’t happen this day, I’d have to re-book and wait a whole year to get another chance at completing my Canadian Slam. And to add to the pressure, the blinding snow and occasional rain was constant. I told Jamie to stay warm and dry and just drop me off a quarter of mile from where we had found the tracks the day before. I planned on setting up and sitting there all day in hopes of their return. At sunup, they were talking, but not moving, and after 4 1⁄2 hours of sitting and shivering, I called Jamie to be picked up. It was time to ride and call and until we got a response. I admit my confidence level was extremely low, and I believed it was over until next spring. But we weren’t ready to call it quits.

At our third stop, we got a chorus of gobbling responses, but again, they wouldn’t come in. Jamie, who knew the country better than anyone, suggested that he try a drive. He would get above the birds and try to move them down to me. I’m not confident in turkey drives, but at that point, it couldn’t hurt to try.

When he got there, I heard him softly calling and the turkeys answering, but nothing was coming down to me. I was wondering why he had stopped calling when I heard the truck coming.

“Ed, I think they’re roosted up there,” he said. “Want to see if we can sneak them?”

Now, sneaking and peeking a group of turkeys is next to impossible to do without being busted. But, why not?

Back up on top, we slowly began to move down the snow-covered hill toward what sounded like a flock of toms gobbling, even though we were not calling them. After each step, I expected to hear the putt, putt alarm and the flapping of wings as they flew off, but Jamie had an idea, which I believe was the whole key to the final success of this hunt. He moved off to the right of me, then down out of sight of the turkeys, continuing to work the box call softly all the way. That caused the turkeys to look in his direction, which allowed me a little more freedom to make my move.

My plan was to reach a large fallen pine tree I estimated to be about 20 yards from the birds. When I reached it, I shouldered the Mossberg, put my thumb on the safety, took a deep breath and stepped around the tree. My plan was to take the first tom I saw. But when I stepped out, I didn’t expect to see close to 20 toms, some roosting, others on the ground. Picking out the closest one, I got him in the scope and squeezed the trigger from 45 yards. In seconds, there were turkeys in the air everywhere, except for one 2-year-old tom lying on the ground. My quest for the Canadian Slam had ended.

I can assure you the turkey woods of Kettle River Guides/Outfitters have an abundance of Merriam turkeys. You can check them out at www.kettleriverguides.com. If possible, I plan to return to British Columbia next April, and if you’re interested in coming along, drop me an e-mail at [email protected]

Categories: Sports

Leave a Reply