Spring time can be a very frustrating time for a college student in Bozeman Montana. Choosing between fishing, hunting, hiking, and spring time skiing can be a really difficult decision. This weekend I opted to head east to hunt down some Merriam turkeys. I had recently gotten private property permission from a friend at school to hunt his family ranch along the Yellowstone River. I was accompanied by my two hunting buddies Keith and George. I had never hunted Merriam's before, only Eastern's back in Kentucky. Excited to add a new species to the hit list, we wasted no time getting in the field.
As we began to scout around the property, we realized this was quit an Eden for some of Montana's greatest wild critters. We saw over a hundred mule deer, pheasants, and turkeys. As we scouted our way into the later afternoon, we were realizing the majority of these toms were holding close to the Yellowstone. As the sun set, we watched dozens of Merriam's roost up in some big old trees. One problem, the birds were on an island and totally inaccessible from the land.
This is where our story begins. Four a.m. the next morning found Keith George and I loading decoys, guns, bows, and hunters into a canoe along the dark banks of the Yellowstone. As we set sail, I was a little worried of the possibility of capsizing in the dark in an ice cold river. Knowing we had a chance at collecting some Merriam's, these fears quickly vanished. Thankfully, we reached the island and collected all of our gear and made our way towards the roost. We set up some three hundred yards away from where we put the birds to bed at the night before; I got ready for a long wait in the dark.
As I hunkered down, with Keith and George to my right, I began to wait in the pitch black. Finally I heard it, a big ol' gobbler let loose a dominate gobble in our direction. That's all it took, with that one sound off, the whole forest became alive with other toms alerting others of their presence. That was plenty enough to get my blood pumping. I responded with some hen yelps and clucks that kept the big boys fired up until sunrise.
Once we could see, I realized none of these birds were within eyesight. Then about fifteen minutes after full daylight, all gobbling stopped. I was worried. All of these birds were defiantly off the roost and not in front of us. Did we set up to far? Did I call too much? Where are they!? Another fifteen minutes went by with no gobbling, and no turkeys. As my confidence faded, my eyes caught sight of something to my left. It was a big tom Merriam. He was only about fifteen yards away but I couldn't move; he had me pinned. His attention was now on our two decoys.
As he slowly crept by me, he was not strutting at all, an indication that this bird was on high alert and ready to flee. For a split second the gobbler put a willow thicket between his eagle eyes and my shotgun. I threw up my twelve gauge, and waited for him to take one more step. He held at about thirty yards and I squeezed off a shot. Merriam down! Man alive was I excited. I jumped out of my hiding spot hootin' and hollarin' as I ran towards my quarry. We had done it. He was about a twenty five pound bird with an eight inch beard. None of that mattered to me though. I was happy to have any bird in my hands!
This hunt was a success for several reasons. Without extensive scouting the previous day we would have had no chance to get close to these birds off the roost. Without a headstrong attitude and convenient permission to use the family canoe, we would have never gotten on top of these gobblers. And lastly, the teamwork it took to get across the river in the dark cold morning as well as multiple callers closed the deal on this impressive first Merriam. By the end of the day we had two birds down and whole mess of new stories and memories.