The first question; What is a seasonal wild turkey slam? It’s the taking a wild turkey during each season of the year; spring, summer, fall, and winter. Wisconsin turkey hunters are lucky to have a turkey season open during all yearly seasons. Usually, the most challenging bird to bag is the winter turkey. In 2017 the first day of winter was December 21, in Wisconsin, the turkey season closed December 31 this gives a hunter ten days to complete their seasonal slam. During winter visibility is excellent against the snowy white background, everything is frozen so that all things from the ground up to your equipment makes a lot of noise that is easily heard by the turkeys. Not to mention setting up for some “cold calling” takes on an entirely different dimension, if you are lucky some days may rise above zero with minimal wind.
Because the turkeys are in large 50+ member flocks, they can be hard to find but when located the excitement is such a hunter will forget about the cold, at least for a while. Vic the turkey dog and I searched many empty fields and woodlots with no success in locating the turkey flocks. Even after being invited on a “there are turkeys there for sure hunt,” we found no turkeys, lots of sign that they had been there.
During the next few days, we continued searching for turkeys, no success until, as usual, when, my attention started to wane as my mind
wandered around random thoughts. As we trudged up an old logging trail along the river Vic begins sniffing and looking towards the river below. Some rabbit and squirrel tracks were leading into decaying treetops felled by a tornado a few years ago. I glanced down towards the ice chunked river and seeing no turkeys continued, leaving Vic to have some fun with the rabbits.
Suddenly the crystallized air exploded with the sounds of scattering turkeys. Earing aids under ear flaps make it very hard to hear directionally and the sounds of excited turkeys and Vic’s barks echoing off the hillsides all around… I tore off my hat; clearly, the commotion was coming from behind me and down towards the river. Hastily as I could with the heavy insulted boots clomping along, I headed back towards Vic just in time to watch perhaps seventy-five to a hundred turkeys rising above the standing timber then soaring off in all direction including some flying across the river. Stunned does not begin to describe how I felt about strolling past that many turkeys. What the heck?
All the years I have hunted this area and hiked this trail I did not know there was a nearly flat bench tucked in the hill out sight from the path. While above on the trail you can see the river just beyond what appears to be a very steep drop straight to it. The bench is not visible, and the turkeys were enjoying a smorgasbord of acorns. The snow cover on about five acres of ground was scratched away with all the leaves turned around and over.
Vic gave me the most exasperated look, after all the pheasant hunting we had been doing he, no doubt, expected to hear gunfire and watch some wild turkeys fall from the sky.
But he should know I am not real keen on shooting turkeys in flight; it’s time for us to setup and get-to calling some back before the sun sets. Vic chose a nicely sheltered setup area; I spread out his closed cell foam pad and insulated blanket for cover he snuggled close to my side as I leaned back on my new Alps Grand Slam turkey vest. (A very thoughtful friend gave it to me for Christmas) I love this vest.
When it gets cold friction calls do not seem to work as well, perhaps this is due to my stiff fingers, losing the feel through mitten covered hands or the snow dust that is attracted by the call’s surface. After sitting quietly for about 12 minutes, I begin sending out some inquiry yelps and kee-kees. Sometime later a distant yelp answered the trumpet which I quickly answered by series of loud yelps breaking a the end as if the turkey was losing its voice, that’s my best imitation of a lost turkey. I did that a few times and got no answer, except the 40-yard gobbler starring at us from our right and behind us. He had not made a sound and of course as it always seems to happen this bird came in from behind on my wrong side to shoot. When he moves behind a tree I cluck once and raise the gun while pushing Vic down, I hate to shoot this close over his head, so we wait as the tom moves parallel along the river below. Seems like forever before he steps into the shooting lane, at 45 yards the prototype number 9 Federal Premium TSS (tungsten super shot) dropped him dead. Vic is released to hold the gobbler down until I get there. No matter if the turkey does any moving or not that is one of Vic’s favorite part of the hunt.
There is still a half an hour before sunset, so we set back up to resume calling. Two turkeys fly back from across the river and land down along the bank a bit out of range. Vic sits up to see better; I have to pull him down and lean my body over him, the movement caused one of the turkeys to move closer in range, my last #9 TSS drops the bird. Incredibly at the shot, the second bird moves towards us into range, one of my regular turkey loads drops him flopping on the ground. I released Vic to race down on the flopping bird, and he gets on top it quickly holding it down until the first turkey starts twitching then he races onto that turkey. I am moving as fast as I can to help contain the turkeys. Before I can get there the turkey, Vic released flips over off the edge falling twelve feet down onto the river’s shelf ice, in slow motion slides off the ice shelf into the fast current and is swept away out of reach. I had to scream to stop Vic from attempting a retrieve in the icy river, we both hate losing birds.
Damn it; the other bird is not laying there! Where in the heck did it go? While trying to stop the flopper, the “dead” turkey slid off onto the ice shelf below. As insurance, I immediately shot this bird in the head again even though it showed no sign of life. No way are we going to lose two turkeys. It’s a beautiful hen lying dead on the ice sheet much too close to water’s edge. The bank is twelve feet straight down; I kept from falling by grabbing roots and rocks. Fortunately, there is a pebbled place to stand off the ice, the ice cracks as soon as I put any weight on it, the turkey is 17 feet out of reach. I climbed back up to find branch or sapling long enough to hook the turkey with to drag it within reach.
I can’t recall a time when having a turkey firmly in hand felt as good as this one did but I still have to climb back up which requires both hands. The bank was too high to throw the turkey up. No, of course, there was no rope handy, so I did the next best thing; slung the turkey over my shoulder and clamped the leg in my teeth. It worked.
Anyone who has hunted with me when the game requires follow up to retrieve knows I did not give up easily on the bird swept away in the river. Vic and I walked along downstream until the light of day gave way hoping to find the turkey pushed up somewhere we could retrieve it without risking life. We returned the next morning to resume searching further downstream; sadly we never saw that turkey again.