By the end of our inaugural Black Hills Merriam's hunting trip, my hunting buddy and I were like desperate, washed-up, old men waiting at a local watering hole for any sign of action. Heck, we would've probably settled for a bearded lady (hen).
By the end of the 4-day adventure, all we could do was re-hash our disbelief that we had gone the entire hunt without seeing a single bearded turkey. Literally, it took us 2 days to hear our first gobble or even see our first turkey track. After 48-plus long hours of hunting, I picked up the first dried hen dropping of the trip like it was Black Hills gold.
We hunted harder than I've ever hunted before. With the poor shape I'm in, I'm surprised I didn't all but keel over. (Don't be fooled by my appearance; skinny doesn't equate to being in good shape. I need to hit the gym, big time.) Without exaggeration, we hiked somewhere between 20-25 miles through the generally steep Black Hills terrain; we drove 480 miles (while in the Hills), ranging from Hot Springs, to Custer, to Hill City; and we hunted a total of 40 hours. Yeah, you heard me: We didn't see a bearded turkey. Hence, the reason I might have settled for a bearded lady. Thankfully, all was not lost. We heard gobbling, which always helps a turkey hunter keep sanity in tact.
In fact, that watering hole reference I made earlier—it holds "gobbler" significance. Yes, I spent a few evenings at our camp trailer watering hole with all my good friends from the NWTF, but a real watering hole was where I got the most turkey action of the trip.
The first gobble I heard was on our third morning, echoing from the top of a ridge I was climbing. As I ascended toward the welcoming sound, I hit my mouth call and a hen squawked from a tree barely 50 yards to my right. I was hoping she'd see me and fly away, deep into the woods, never to be seen again. That didn't happen. I got to the top of the ridge in pursuit of the gobbler; he was hot. I sat down, started hitting him with some more calls and ... hello. Following in my footsteps comes the angry hen, seeking me out for a fight. But I was stoked to be in close contact with a live Black Hills Merriam's wild turkey, so I let her circle me for a while, admiring her, hoping her clucks and purrs (along with mine) would lure the gobbler in.
A short while later, three or four other hens joined her and congregated in front of me in a shallow dip off the side of the trail. I later came to find out it was a decent-sized watering hole. The tom never came. Eventually, the hens ran to him like one of his gobbles contained a serious threat or a sexy proposition. I chased the old boy the following day, was taunted by his boisterous gobbles, but never saw his face. At one point I was within 50 yards of him—along with his harem of loyal hens.
That watering hole hen experience turned out to be the most action-packed "turkey" part of my first Black Hills hunting experience ... and no, none of them were bearded ladies.
Like the Terminator: I'll be back.