Tuesday, July 13, 2010
COMPLETION OF THE NWTF CANADIAN SLAM
Last week I traveled to the Canadian Province of British Columbia where I hoped to fulfill my final requirement for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Canadian Slam by harvesting a Merriam turkey. According to NWTF’s record book only one person, Kathleen Neault, Colorado, has completed this Slam; and I was hoping to become the second. In October last year I had harvested an Eastern turkey in Hastings County, Ontario. These are the only two turkeys needed to qualify for this recognition. This past winter I surfed the net for turkey hunting outfitters in Canada that guided for Merriam and found out that there were very few. Turkey hunting in Canada is fairly new and generally there is little interest in hunting them; but that has been rapidly changing with the continuing increase in the Canada populations of wild turkeys. My choice for this hunt was the Kettle River Guides/Outfitters operated by Tami and Melvin Kilback who have been in business for over 33 years for whitetail and mule deer, elk, moose, bear, cougar, lynx and bobcat. And their trophy wall of successful clients was extremely impressive. And they were eager to add some turkey photos to this collection. Upon my arrival at the base camp I was greeted by my guide, Jamie York who helped me settle in to my cabin and then sat down to discuss the morning’s strategies. We would be hunting the high ground on a vast piece of Crown(public) hunting land and based on what Jamie had scouted we decided that we would get there early and walk and talk our way along the trails trying to solicit gobbles from a love sick tom. As for calling, I handed him a Wilson’s Game Call black walnut box call and told him he could call and I would shoot. According to Jamie 10 years ago in this area turkey sightings were very rare but now the population has increased significantly. Little did we know just how big this population really was. What I liked immediately about the hunt was the fact that we could legally hunt from sunup(5 a.m.) until a little past 8 p.m. And he also said that turkeys could hunt with either a shotgun or a rimfire rifle. And in the spring the limit was just one bearded bird. My choice of gun for this Slam was a new Mossberg model 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun which, for the first time in my turkey hunting career, I topped off with a fixed power, circle and cross hair reticle Maine Vue scope. I was very impressed with this combination at the range. It had worked well on my Ontario turkey hunt and I also used it to shoot several coyotes this past winter. In fact I also shot a dozen or so Canada geese with it during the early September season hunt. So my confidence level with this gun was extremely high. When that target was in that circle it was history. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when the alarm announce sounded my 3 a.m. wake-up. The things a hunter will do just to chase a wild turkey; but what a beautiful country to do it in. Coffee to go and a banana, and we were headed up a narrow dirt road to Crown (public) land where Jamie had seen a number of Merriam a few day before. We never got a chance to use our walk and talk plan because the birds began to gobble before he had gone 50 yards from the truck and it was still 20 minutes before legal shooting time. There were 4 gobbles coming from 4 different directions so we thought it best to set up as soon as we were out of sight of the truck. With our two decoy hens in place we started to yelp softly and the double-gobbling responses were immediate. I never expected this type of a greeting but I will admit I had visions of calling the airlines that afternoon after the photo shoot of my tom, to see if I could get an early flight home. No such luck because those toms, which continued to gobble for about an hour never came close to us; they just went silent. Something was wrong and I did not know what it was. Moving farther up the ridge about a half mile we called again and got several more responses which sent us scrambling to get set up. And the results were an exact duplicate of our first encounter - they would not come in. For the next several hours we had toms gobbling all over this high country and never got one to come to us. When we headed back at 10 a.m. for breakfast we had 17 responding toms and not one sighting. Now breakfast was a real SLAM prepared by our camp cook, Jeannie. Her breakfast menu was right out of the weight watchers cook book. It included pancakes with 4 kinds of syrup, eggs over easy, home fries, sausage and bacon. And that evening at dinner it too was a 5 star meal. And that is the way it was for the rest of my stay. I never left the table hungry. When we returned to the turkey woods that afternoon it was like a repeat of the morning with plenty of turkey talking and responses but no appearances. The total gobblers heard that day we estimated to be 22. On Day two we awoke to find the ground covered with about 1-2 inches of snow and a very cold biting wind; but it had little or no effect on the turkeys. They were again gobbling and responding to our calls all morning and still no incoming toms. I was beginning to loose my confidence and was definitely confused at what was happening. I did however believe that from what we were experiencing, that perhaps the breeding season was over. Moving on we found an area where we could see where turkey had been feeding and I decided to take off on one set of tracks that headed down the hill. Tracking a turkey in the snow is something I had never done in all my years of hunting turkeys. It was definitely different but unfortunately the trail ended at the edge of a brook after three-quarters of a mile. And at day’s end we had spoken with 16 more toms, and not once did I release the safety on my Mossberg. FINAL DAY If it did not happen today I would have to re-book and wait a whole year to get another chance at completing my Canadian Slam. And to add to the pressure, the blinding snow and occasional rain was constant. I told Jamie to stay warm and dry and just drop me off a quarter of mile from where we had found the tracks the day before. I planned on setting up and sitting there all day in hopes of their return. At sunup they were talking but not moving and after 4 ½ hours of sitting and shivering I called Jamie to be picked up. Time to ride and call and until be got a response. And I will admit that my confidence level was extremely low and I believed it was over until next Spring. But we were not ready to call it quits just yet. At our third stop we got a chorus of gobbling response but again they would not come in. Jamie, who knew this country better than anyone, suggested be try a drive. He would get above the birds and try to move them down to me. I am not confident in turkey drives but, at this point it couldn’t hurt to try. When he got there I heard him softly calling and the turkeys answering but nothing was coming down to me. I was wondering why he had stopped calling when I heard the truck coming. “Ed, I think they are roosted up there,” he said; “want to see if we can sneak them?” Now sneaking and peeking a group of turkeys is next to impossible to do without being busted. But “Why not?” Back up on top we slowly began to move down the snow-covered hill towards what sounded like a flock of toms gobbling; even though we were not calling them. After each step I took I expected to hear the putt, putt alarm and the flapping of wings as they flew off. But Jamie had and idea, which I believe was the whole key to the final success of this hunt, when he moved off to the right of ,me and then down out of sight of the turkey continuing to work the box call softly all the way. By doing this the turkeys were looking in his direction which allowed me a little more freedom to make my move. My plan was to reach a large fallen pine tree which I estimated to be about 20 yards from the birds. When I reached it I shouldered the Mossberg, put my thumb on the safety, took a deep breath and stepped around the tree. My plan was to take the first tom that I saw. But when I did step out I did not expect to see what probably was close to 20 toms; some roosting and others on the ground. Picking out the closest one I got him in the scope and squeezed the trigger. In seconds there were turkeys in the air everywhere; except for the one 2 year old tom who lay on the ground. My quest for the Canadian Slam had ended. When Jamie retrieved my turkey he said that the shot was actually 45 yards. It was a great hunt, in a great setting with some great people. I can assure you that the turkey woods of Kettle River Guides/Outfitters have an abundance of Merriam turkeys. You can check them out at kettleriverguides.com. If possible, I plan on returning to British Columbia next April; and if you are interested in coming along drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).