By Brandon Butler
There is nothing I enjoy more than traveling somewhere new to hunt.
I’ve never been into the trophy aspect of hunting. Antler inches and beard lengths do not motivate me. But seeing a sunrise over a new horizon trips my trigger, so I set personal goals that require travel to complete.
I’m trying to finish a World Slam of wild turkey. To accomplish this goal, I must take at least one of each of the six subspecies — Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s and Ocellated. I have three down and three to go. By the end of this year, I hope to have checked at least one more box and experienced another incredible hunting destination.
Here are the three I’ve managed to get thus far:
Big Piney River, Missouri
Over the years, I have found much success in the midday. One of my best birds ever was killed at 10:30 a.m. on the banks of the Big Piney River near Licking, Missouri. I had set up on a ridge that is a regular gobbler hotspot. Sure enough, a big old bird was fired up on the roost.
I watched him strut up and down a limb for 20 minutes before he flew down and immediately started dancing on a ridge-top logging road. He came within 40 yards of me, but I couldn’t take a shot. Before I knew it, he was trailing off down to an open agricultural field.
There were only two ways he could have gone, and since he hadn’t showed up in my direction, I knew he had chosen to head the opposite way. I took a hike — a long hike circling around to the other end of the woods I was hunting — and set up against a big oak tree. Then I let out a series of soft calls. He gave me a strong courtesy gobble. Five minutes later, I had him flopping.
Edgemont, South Dakota
Wooded western river bottoms rising from endless expanses of high plains are usually teeming with wildlife. The stretch of Cheyenne River running through Mark Hollenbeck’s Sunrise Ranch near Edgemont, South Dakota is certainly no exception to this rule.
Cutting hard on an old box call, Hollenbeck struck a bird less than 100 yards from where we parked the truck. After 10 minutes or so of silence, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to slip down the river bank to view the large field leading to the next set of trees a few hundred yards down the bank. I figured the bird had split for the thicket.
I stayed hidden behind the high bank until I came to a large tree. Using the tree as cover, I slowly eased my head up, then my binoculars. The birds were nowhere to be seen, and they weren’t talking. I was just about to slip back down the bank to the truck when a gobble exploded so close it stood the hair up on the back of my neck.
The bird was just on the other side of the levee, no more than 20 yards away. I couldn’t have been in a better position. My gun was rested in the crook of a tree branch. I was solid as a rock. There was no reason to compare these two birds. Both were true trophies based on experience alone. When the closer of the two entered the window of view afforded by my scope, I leveled the crosshairs on his head and thumped him.
A trip to the Yucatán Peninsula to chase ocellated turkey turned into one of the greatest adventures of my life.
I took what is often regarded the hardest of the six turkey to kill while completing the world slam and enjoyed all aspects of the trip.
Snook Inn is located in the small village of Carlos Cano Cruz. It’s about an hour outside of Campeche. The accommodations are perfectly adequate for an authentic Mexican hunting adventure.
The food at Snook Inn was the best I’ve ever experienced in a hunting or fishing camp. One night, we had all the stone crab claws we could eat paired with fresh grilled Spanish mackerel. For dessert, we enjoyed pineapple drizzled with honey and rum.
The turkey hunting takes place in agricultural fields surrounded by dense jungle. Jaguars roam these fields. Ocellated turkeys often come through in flocks. The first morning five gobblers came in front of me, and I ended my hunt before sunrise with a single shot.
The beauty of the ocellated turkey is in its colors. A shimmering aqua and bronze body is highlighted by a tail fan with each feather hosting an eye of blue. I spent the second morning behind the lens of my camera. Over 100 turkeys in a single flock flew down in front of my blind. The next hour was mesmerizing.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.