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How to Hunt Merriam’s Canyon Gobblers

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 hunting

Sometimes, I think that Merriam’s gobblers in the mountains like to try to wear their hunters out. On one of my hunts, I struck a Merriam’s across a canyon and had him gobbling good. This turkey continuously would go over mountains and start gobbling again as I got closer to him. I had become very tired. When I got on the back side of a mountain and looked across the next canyon, I could see this gobbler drumming and strutting. After I’d crossed two mountains, I quit calling and got out my map to study the terrain – trying to find a route that would allow me to get on the same mountain where this turkey was. I knew then that the only way I could get a shot at this bird is if I went in silent. So, I used the terrain to hide me as I moved, got on the same side of the mountain as the turkey and crawled until I was close enough to spot the gobbler. Once I was above him, I crawled a little more to get within gun range and squeezed the trigger. That ole, smart Merriam’s gobbler rode in my pickup truck all the way back to the house.

I know some turkey hunters will say, “You ambushed that gobbler,” as though I’ve committed an unpardonable sin. However, I think that having to outmaneuver a turkey to take him requires much more talent and skill as a woodsman than hearing a turkey gobble, sitting down and calling to him, while you’re in full camouflage, so he can’t see you and shoot him. 

Everyone has his or her own personal rules he adheres to when turkey hunting. Some hunters may say, “Well, I don’t think that fanning a turkey is fair,” but they won’t hesitate to put a decoy out, which is the same thing. To put a fan in front of your gun and crawl in close enough to a turkey to take a shot still requires much more skill than calling to a turkey and having him walk to you. Then there always are the hunters who don’t think that using a turkey decoy is a fair way to take a turkey. But that’s just their opinions. 

I don’t have a problem with any of the ways that other hunters hunt and harvest wild turkeys. These tactics are ones I use that have helped me become successful at hunting Merriam’s gobblers. I hope you’ve learned something from the way I hunt turkeys and the photos. This information should be an aid to you, if you come to the Northwest to hunt the most beautiful gobbler ever. 

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

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