by DJ Randolph | Mossy Oak Regional ProStaff Manager
It's 4 a.m. and snowing so hard that I can barely see the road. We have 40 miles of gravel through Wyoming's Black Hills to reach our hunting spot. Thankfully the GPS lady in my phone knows the way, because I am in 4-wheel drive and struggling to see the road. It takes a while longer than usual, but we finally reach the ranch we are assigned to hunt. An hour later the sun is rising, the ground is white, and we are after turkeys on a beautiful ranch west of Devils Tower. There is still a light snow and it’s a bit windy, so hearing birds will be a challenge.
After two failed attempts at calling in a flock, while glassing, we spot two good-sized jakes in a field that I think we can sneak. I ask Steven if he is willing to shoot a Jake, and he grins and says yes. I know there is a dry creek bed that is about 7-feet deep that borders this field. We follow the creek bed quickly but quietly. When I think we are close enough, I peak over and see the two birds about 50 yards out. Steven is shooting a 20-gauge and is only allowed one shot, so we need them to come closer. The birds are nervous and start "putting." We have to make something happen quickly, so I start “putting” back at them with my Zink mouth call. Sure enough, they are getting closer. We can't see exactly where they are from the creek bed so when I think they are close, I give Steven the go ahead.
I told Steven, "Step up the bank and find the red head. If it is in range, shoot. Otherwise, let him go. This is a one-shot event!" Steven steps up and starts tracking to the right, then "boom." I'm nervous that he had to take a moving shot. "Did you get him?” I asked. He grins at me and says with confidence "I shoot clays all the time. I got him!" Wow, I like this kid! Handshakes and pictures follow.
This is Steven’s first turkey, and he did it in Wyoming's Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot (OWITS). This is my second year guiding for the OWITS. I just met my clients yesterday. Steven is 14 and has never shot a turkey before. Jim is 59 and has never shot a turkey before either. It's 8 a.m. and we have already made some memories. Plus, Steven is on the scoreboard.
The Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot is held each May in the Black Hills of Wyoming. It is a two-day, one-shot event. This means that each hunter has to get their bird with one shot for it to count. Hunters are paired with guides two to one. The event is hosted by the town of Hulett, which is just down the road from Devils Tower. This is a charitable event with proceeds going to The Wyoming Wildlife Foundation and the Hulett Community Center. The population of Hulett is about 360 people, but that more than doubles when OWITS is in town.
Hulett is a friendly, western town complete with a saw mill, a couple of great cafes and a few fun watering holes. For OWITS, a large tent is setup on Main Street. The tent houses the meet and greet on Thursday where guides, hunters and ranchers can get to know one another. It also hosts the banquet on Friday with entertainment, incredible food, raffles, auctions, and hunting stories from the first day’s hunt. It's the kind of event and town where after the first day, you have made friends and feel welcome everywhere you go. By the end of the weekend, you start feeling like family and can't wait to come back next year. The whole community and surrounding ranches come together to make it an awesome experience. You might be eating lunch with an outdoor celebrity, country music singer, governor, professional sports player or retired military general.
The way the hunt works is that each guide is assigned to a ranch, so they have a chance to meet the rancher and do a little scouting. Most of these large, pristine ranches are not open to public hunting but are opened up for OWITS. About a week before the hunt, the hunters' names are randomly drawn and assigned to a guide. Each hunter only gets one shot for their bird’s score to be entered. This is a very friendly competition. There is a Calcutta, where choices are auctioned off and the winner gets to pick which ranch/team will win.
So, after pictures of Steven’s turkey, we started looking for a bird for Jim. We found a whole flock of birds in an old farmstead and were able to get about 100 yards ahead of them. We set Jim up, and then Steven and I went behind to start calling. The first series we got no answer, so I switched to my raspiest Zink call. This was the one that really got a hen fired up. With every yelp I made, she was more angry and coming fast. There were two nice gobblers with her but they were coming in too high for Jim to have a good shot. Since Jim couldn't get a shot, I decided to have a little fun. I told Steven, "I'm gonna bring her into your lap!" I did bring her to 12 yards, yelping with anger in her voice. Even after she saw us she still answered my calls and returned again. We came away with no shot but both hunters were grinning from ear to ear. Gotta love a really angry hen.
So, the first day ended without Jim getting his bird but we were able to get him a good one the next day. We didn't get any pictures because after wrestling it around in the mud, it was not very photogenic. It was a great weekend for me because I got to introduce two hunters to turkey hunting.
Keith Pullins, also on Mossy Oak Prostaff, guided his young hunter to his first turkey as well.
Our group of Prostaff really enjoys this event and will keep coming back year after year. If you would like to take part in Wyoming’s Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot, you can contact the following.
Wyoming Wildlife Foundation
1472 N. 5th Street, Suite 201
Laramie, Wyoming 82072
Phone: (307) 721-8300
Fax: (307) 432-9456