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How Mark Kayser Hunts Creek Bottom and Open Prairie Country for Merriam’s

provided by John E. Phillips

Mossy Oak ProStaffer Mark Kayser grew up in South Dakota and harvested his first turkey in 1983. He’s spent most of his life there but recently moved to Wyoming. “We hunt the Merriam’s subspecies of wild turkeys and also have some intergrade turkeys. For example, in South Dakota, farm turkeys from the eastern and Rio Grande turkeys were released and crossed with the native Merriam’s. Most of the turkeys we harvest in South Dakota and Wyoming have white-tipped tail feathers and white-tipped feathers on their backs, although some turkeys have sandy-colored, yellow-tipped feathers on their tails and backs.” 

Mark Kayser Merriam's turkey decoy

I like to hunt Merriam’s in creek bottoms because that’s most likely where the turkeys will roost – generally in cottonwood trees - in the morning before they move out into open prairies. Since I live in Sheridan, Wyoming, I can hunt the creek bottoms close to home. These creeks are primarily populated with cottonwood and ash trees. Many sections of these creeks are either wide open or have bends and stretches containing a lot of timber. I start all of my creek-bottom hunts on high ridges that will allow me to look down on the timber with my binoculars where I not only can see turkeys along the creek but also identify the roost tree. Most of the time, Merriam’s will roost in the biggest, oldest cottonwood tree in that timbered area along a creek. Those trees usually have huge limbs where Merriam’s like to stand to strut and gobble. If I’m hunting somewhere I haven’t hunted before, I use my HuntStand app to look for terrain features that will allow me to get close to that roost tree without the turkey’s seeing me. I at least want to be 150 yards away from where I’ve seen the turkeys before I set up and begin calling to them. 

I’ll start with soft yelping because I don’t know exactly where those turkeys are. If I hear a boss hen calling aggressively to me, then I’ll call back to her aggressively, assuming that the gobbler is somewhere close to her. Typically, during the time of the year that we hunt, the Merriam’s gobblers will be henned-up and may not answer me when I start calling. When this happens, I quit calling to the gobbler and aggravate the boss hen with aggressive calling. You’ve got to remember, if that boss hen begins calling to me, that ole gobbler still has perhaps seven beauties right around him. So, why should he leave those hens and come to me? He must be thinking, “Why would I give up seven beauties to go to a hen I don’t know? Could she be that special?” I know that if that gobbler is henned-up, my best chance of taking him is to get the boss hen to try and find me. Of course, the rest of the hens and the gobbler will follow. Now if the boss hen doesn’t start calling to me, and the gobbler is answering me, I’ll talk just to him. 

Another important thing to remember is that some Merriam’s on the prairie, especially on tribal lands, will fly down into a big opening and stay out in that open country all day long. Then they can see any predator that may be coming after them, whether it’s a natural predator or a hunter. One of the most effective tools I’ve ever used to hunt field turkeys is a turkey gobbler fan. I’ve dried out and preserved turkey gobblers’ tail feathers and zip tie that fan to a stick. I’ll use that fan, while I crawl toward a gobbler out on the prairie. This tactic works so effectively that I’ve had turkeys come right up to where I practically can poke them with my shotgun barrel. I’ve been using this fanning technique long before it was introduced in the East for hunting turkeys, although, I definitely don’t think I was the first one to use it. (Be sure to check the state’s regulations where you’re hunting before using this technique.) 

Mark Kayser Merriam's turkey hunting

Before I used the fanning tactic, I was using one of those soft-foam hen decoys that you could fold up and put in the back of your turkey vest. While hunting, I’d put my hand up in the decoy and move it like a hand puppet. I could make that turkey look like she was feeding, walking, moving from one side to another and going to the gobbler. I began using those decoys back in the early 1980s to take prairie gobblers. Those decoys worked just as effectively - if not more effectively - than using turkey tail feathers to crawl in close enough to take a shot on a Merriam’s gobbler out on the prairie. However, once I started using a turkey fan instead of a foam hen decoy, I found that the gobblers often would come in quicker and more aggressively toward me. 

One of the advantages that we have out here in the Northwest is that our turkeys don’t get nearly as much hunting pressure as they do in the East. So, I’m not too concerned about having another hunter shoot at my turkey fan for two reasons. More than likely he’ll be able to see me behind that fan before he takes the shot. 

On many of the properties I hunt, I’ll see a rancher fixing a fence long before I see another hunter.  Most of the lands that I hunt in the prairie are private lands that I have permission to hunt, but if you’re on public lands, you need to be a much more careful about fanning. 

To learn more about Mark Kayser, visit his Facebook page at

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