Hunting Merriam turkeys of the western pine forests can be easy -- once you've paid your dues.
Seconds after I arrowed my first Merriam turkey (left), my friend Keith Casteel cleaned up the leftovers with his shotgun.
As we headed out into the pitch-blackness the third morning of our hunt, frustration best described my mood. I'd been told that Merriam turkeys were easier than Easterns, but so far you couldn't prove it by me. We had seen lots of birds but had not come close to getting a shot. As we left the truck, my partner, Keith Casteel, whispered, "Look at it this way, Dave -- we're trying a new strategy, we're in Wyoming, and it's a beautiful morning. What could be better?"
The two previous evenings, we'd roosted gobblers and then set up on them the following mornings. The first morning, toms flew down, talked to us a little, and then left with their hens. The same thing happened the second morning. It was time for a change.
Knowing that Merriams often roost in the same location, we remained in that vicinity for our late afternoon scouting. Sure enough, just at dusk, three big gobblers flew across the road on their way to roost where we'd observed them before.
The next morning, Keith and I put out decoys and then settled into our blind to wait for first light. This time, however, we did not set up close to the roost. Rather, we placed the blind near a travel route the gobblers had used on their way to roost.
We waited quietly, believing the gobblers would leave the roost the same way they had entered the night before. Without question, our remaining quiet without calling was a crapshoot, but 30 minutes after daylight, when I'd just about given up, we heard a gobble not 200 yards away. Just that quick, the three gobblers came over a small rise, spotted our decoys, and literally ran toward the blind. Was our luck about to change?
MERRIAM TURKEYS ARE spectacular birds. White feathers on the margin of the tail and lower back distinguish them from the Eastern subspecies. The challenge of bowhunting Merriams in open ponderosa forests always intrigued me. Thus, when my good friend Scott Whyel mentioned hunting turkeys on a ranch in eastern Wyoming, it sounded like a fun adventure. I'm always game for something new.
On April 13, I flew from my West Virginia home to Rapid City, South Dakota, with Scott, Keith Casteel, Ryan Furrer, and Ed Neallis. Scott would be using a beautiful muzzleloader shotgun Keith built for him, but the rest of us planned to hunt with bows.
After landing in Rapid City, we loaded a rental van and headed two hours west to a motel in Hulett, Wyoming. Soon we met our guides, Randy Greer and Curt Stull, and planned the next morning's hunt. Curt had seen eight gobblers come off a pine ridge roost that morning and had set blinds next to a field to intercept these birds. Thus, the following morning we waited in these blinds and, right at first light, heard gobbling. We called back to let the gobblers know "hens" were in the field, but real hens in the roost trees lured the gobblers the opposite direction.
During the day we toured the area, looking for birds. We saw several large flocks, along with numerous whitetail deer. I had no idea that part of the world had so many whitetails. But we were there for the turkeys, and, luckily, we found several areas with birds headed to roost.
Hunting together, Ed Neallis (left) and Ryan Furrer scored on these gobblers the fourth morning of our hunt.
The second morning, Scott, Ed, and Ryan went to a new location, while Keith and I returned to our first-day blinds. Again we tried calling the roosted gobblers to us, and again the hens pulled them away from us. We found out later that Ryan and Ed had the same problem. Merriams are easy? Prove it to me!
OVER LUNCH IN A CAFÃ‰, Randy and Curt helped us develop a new strategy. Our idea was to split up to find gobblers going to roost -- without hens. Having no hens nearby, gobblers leaving the roost just might look for the hens they heard calling. That would be us.
With our strategy down, we caught a nap, and then Keith and I jumped into the van to look for birds and put them to bed. Randy and Curt took Scott, Ryan, and Ed to look for birds in different directions. Just at dusk, we spotted the three big gobblers mentioned earlier as they flew across the road and then headed to roost on the same ponderosa pine ridge where we'd hunted the first morning. After dark, we quietly erected a Double Bull blind on the path the gobblers had just taken, hoping they would exit that way in the morning.
Because hunting had been slow and we weren't getting close enough to the birds for a shot, Keith decided to carry a gun, while I took my bow. If we saw gobblers, our plan was for me to shoot first, then Keith. Great plan -- if the birds would cooperate.
AS MENTIONED AT the outset, when the gobblers saw our decoys, they ran right to us. I came to full draw and waited as one bird went into full strut near the blind. He turned, giving me a direct frontal shot, and the Gobbler Getter broadhead did the job. As the bird flopped on the ground, the other two moved off 10 to 20 yards and milled around for a few seconds, more than enough time for Keith to connect. Whoa! Our slow hunt changed in just a few seconds with two big gobblers down. We called Scott on the cell phone and soon he arrived and took photos.
That evening, we all split up along a high bluff and spotted a number of gobblers going to roost. Some had hens, some did not. Using our new strategy, Ryan, Ed, and Scott each set up blinds, and early the next morning, all three connected on beautiful gobblers. As we gathered later that morning, Ryan, Ed, and Scott each gave the exciting details of their hunts. Hunting Merriam turkeys turned out to be pretty easy -- once we got past the frustration.
Author's Notes: Wyoming offers limited-quota turkey licenses for certain counties, and general licenses for others. We hunted in a general license area. Over-the-counter licenses are available from January 1 through May 14. Season dates vary, but in our area the season ran from April 14 to May 15 with a bag limit of one gobbler. I used my Mathews Icon set at 55 lbs., Carbon Express Terminator Hunter arrows, and NAP Gobbler Getter broadheads. A Sceery Outdoors blowup Struttin' Tom decoy was easy to carry and really attracted the birds. Mornings were chilly, but daytime temperatures called for very light clothing. If you are interested in bowhunting for M
erriam turkeys, contact: Randy Greer, PO Box 38, Gillette, WY 82717; (307) 687-7461.