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.”
Mossy Oak: Why do you prefer to hunt in the mid-morning or late morning as opposed to the early morning when you’re hunting Merriam’s gobblers?
Mark Kayser: The best time to take Merriam’s turkeys is from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the middle of the season. That’s when the hens are moving to their nests. The gobblers that want to breed already may have bred that morning, so they’re looking for any hen they can find that hasn’t made a nest yet and still needs to be bred. If you’ve been working a Merriam’s turkey at daylight and can’t get him to come down to you when he flies off the roost, can’t circle in front of him and get a shot and/or can’t call the boss hen and have her bring the gobbler to you, then I suggest you eat your lunch, take a nap and not plan to hunt that turkey until 11 a.m. or noon. Even if that tom still has hens with him, the flock of hens may be in a calm mood and may be holding in the shade somewhere or cleaning their feathers.
One of the reasons so many people come from the East to hunt Merriam’s gobblers is that these turkeys love to gobble; they will gobble all day long. If you can get a turkey to gobble from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., more than likely he’ll keep doing it and gobble all the way to the gun or either stop, strut and then continue to come to the gun. If a tom hasn’t heard a hen in the last hour or so, oftentimes he’ll start running in to where you’re set up. Merriam’s gobblers are known for walking great distances to reach hens. But if I hear a turkey gobble from a long way off, and the terrain will allow me to get closer to the turkeys without being seen, I’ll attempt to move in closer. I usually can get a turkey fired up by just using hen yelps. However, to get him even more anxious to come to where I am, I’ll also throw in some cutting calls. I like to take a gobbler’s temperature. If I can get him fired up, and he gobbles every time I call, then that’s a very good indication that I’ll take that gobbler home for dinner - even if that Merriam’s is somewhat timid and waits a little while before he calls back. I’ll do the same.
I love to watch when a tom gobbles, struts, spits and drums. If the show’s really good when I’m calling a turkey out in the open prairie, I may let that bird get to within 15 yards of me before I shoot him. If I’m in timber or a creek bottom, anytime he’s within 40 yards, I may squeeze the trigger. But I generally don’t like to have the turkey too close before taking the shot. Several years ago, I was fanning a turkey, and when he came within about 10 yards from me, I missed him. I realized then that missing a Merriam’s that’s at 10 yards or less is much easier than missing a turkey at 20 or 30 yards. However, that turkey I missed was so juiced up that I was able to break open my 20-gauge shotgun, put in another shell and take that Merriam’s with the second shot.
To learn more about Mark Kayser, visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/markkayseroutdoors/.