F&S Adventure: Hunting Merriam’s Turkey in the Shadow of Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower
In mid-March, I packed up my camo clothing, a Remington 870 Express Super Mag Turkey/Waterfowl camo shotgun, some Remington No. 5 turkey loads, some Hunters Specialties diaphragm and slate calls, and flew from my home in upstate New York to Rapid City, South Dakota. My destination? Hulett, Wyoming, an historic western town that's home to Solitude Ranch and Outfitters. Taking I-90 west into Wyoming, I got off on 14 north at Sundance, then got onto 24 north. Coming over a rise, I got my first glimpse of Devil's Tower National Monument, only nine miles out of Hulett.
I met up with turkey hunting icon, and friend, Ray Eye.
Along with Karen Mehall of the NRA and guide Jay Norman – whom we quickly dubbed “Super Guide,” because he had such a knack for finding birds–we drove off to part of the 30,000-acre ranch in search of Merriam’s turkeys. This was steep, mountain lion country.
The drill was to drive around until we spotted a flock, then get out and try to set up ahead of the direction they were going. Here, Norman uses a Hunter’s Specialty Ring Zone call, trying to elicit a response.
An old line cabin, deep in the ranch.
Karen glasses from a blind.
Before the afternoon was out, Jay had called up this Merriam’s gobbler for Karen.
The locals call this The Stone Cow.
Next morning, we headed out early, planning to set up near a roosting area in some Ponderosa pines. Things didn’t work out as planned, but later in the morning, we spotted a flock on a hillside, ran around the back end, and set up ahead of them. It wasn’t long before I had my first bird of the trip.
Note the fan next to Norman. His tactic is to hold that fan in front of his face and upper body whenever he’s sneaking in on a bird. It works, too. The birds don’t get alarmed, and he is usually able to get quite close. Don’t try this on public land, because someone might mistake you for the real thing. If you hunt private property and are sure no one else is around, it’s worth trying.
When I shot my bird, I had to belly crawl to the edge of this bluff, then shoot almost straight down, as the flock filed by 25 yards away. At one point, Norman said “Don’t worry, I’ll hold your ankles if you start to go over.” That’s comforting. Fortunately, he didn’t have to.
Jon Sabati, licensed turkey guide and president of the Volcano Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, came along and taped me while I crawled up on that bird. I hunted with Jon in Hawaii last year.
Coming off the bluff.
We went back to the Hulett Motel for lunch and to regroup. It’s on Main Street in town, and the rooms overlook the Belle Fourche River.
We went out again in the afternoon, and were fortunate to spy yet another flock on a hillside. Here, I work an H.S. Ring Zone call.
They headed up the hill, coming mostly to Norman’s calls. We ran around to the back end, set up…and got another one! That was two birds in one day, a first for me.
Note Devil’s Tower, to the right of my elbow. It was pretty cool to hunt practically in its shadows.
Sabati got one too – his first Merriam’s ever, helping him complete his grand slam.
With a limit under my belt, I spent the next day sightseeing at Devil’s Tower. What an amazing place. It was sacred ground to Native Americans, and is our first national monument – established by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Karen and I took a mile and a half hike around the tower. Every step puts a new face on it. I can only imagine what the pioneers thought when they first saw it.
I was surprised to learn that thousands of people climb it every year. I spied this guy, on his way back down.
That last night, we all headed to the Ponderosa Bar & Grill on Main Street in Hulett. This is a great three- or four-day trip. Turkey season in this part of Wyoming runs from the second Saturday of April to May 20. Openings were still available as I wrote this. You’re allowed two birds apiece, the second on a limited quota license. The cost is $72 per license for nonresidents, plus a $12.50 conservation stamp. To book, contact owner Mike Schmid at 307-389-7336; email@example.com. Website is huntsro.com. Cost is $1200 for a three-day, guided one-bird hunt (this includes a room at the motel, plus meals); and $1800 for two birds. Whitetail and mule deer hunts are available in the fall; and there are deer all over the place.