Merriam's Marathon: Plan a Turkey Hunting Road Trip

Plot a long-weekend road trip hunting toms in the high plains.

Illustrations by Katherine Baxter

A spring road trip is a bucket-list adventure for many turkey hunters, and South Dakota’s Black Hills have long been a popular destination for those wishing to tag a Merriam’s. The region’s same dark ridges—and burgeoning turkey populations—extend into Wyoming and Nebraska. With a little planning, you can chase white-tipped gobblers (on the cheap) in all three states over a long weekend.

High Point
All of this ground is easier to cover if you start from a high spot and work your way down. The Forest Service Cabin at ­Summit Ridge Lookout is about as high—6,096 feet—as you can get. It's also a stone's throw from the Wyoming border, giving you the option of hunting the east or west each day.

Gut Check
You're going to burn a lot of calories hunting these gobblers, so swing by Donna's Main Street Diner in Newcastle, Wyo., for heaping portions of delicious comfort food at great prices. I highly recommend the oatmeal pancakes at breakfast, and a "big and thick" burger and hand-cut fries for lunch.

Run the Ridge
Forget the notion that Nebraska is flat. The Pine Ridge region is studded with buttes just as steep, if not as tall, as any found in the Black Hills. It also has 200,000 acres of public land, much of it prime turkey habitat. Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford, Neb., has cabins and soldier's barracks for rent.

Up and Running
Heading west out of Rapid City, S.D., take a left off I-90 2 miles before you hit the Wyoming border. Here, Bob Spiers of Crow Creek Wildlife (605-642‑2523) will give you an initiation into chasing turkeys in the Black Hills. And I do mean chasing. While Merriam's can be easy to call, they're the track stars of the turkey woods.

Catch the Drift
If your trip falls on a weekend, swing on in to the Drifter Cookshack & Bunkhouse northwest of Crawford for a cowboy steak cookout held every Friday and Saturday night. Surrounded by rugged badlands, the Cookshack and nearby Dirty Creek Saloon also have cold beer on hand.

Burning Curve
A 2012 forest fire concentrated birds onto Pine Ridge's unburned areas. While parts of the Ponderosa WMA got scorched, some surrounding lands went untouched. Expect hunting pressure early in the season, but by mid May the woods should be silent—save for lonely toms' gobbles thundering through the pines.