WHITE RIVER, S.D. - A great moment is when a whitetail buck heeds your call, changes directions and quickly closes the distance between you and him.
Your heart better be up to task.
Tom turkeys are the springtime equivalent of that moment. They appear from nowhere, change directions, resume approach .....now faster.....almost here.....
In South Dakota on the last weekend in April I hunted on the Rosebud Indian Reservation with Tom Whitehead of Nisswa, Steve Veverka of St. Paul and Jack McDaniel, a Sioux guide. The reservation has three species of wild turkeys: Merriam's, Rio Grand and Eastern, making it a great destination for the Minnesotan who failed to draw a permit this spring. The license is $150 and the guide fee is $100 per day. The spring turkey hunt is capped at 200 hunters, who are allowed to take two birds apiece.
The Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota is big country, with countless creek bottoms, ravines and ridges where wild turkeys abound. Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Like the 12-year-old kid who shoots a 10-point buck on his first stand, I suspect my first turkey comes too easily.
It's 6 p.m. on Friday. Whitehead and I pull into White River, a town where the streets are clean except when the kids kick over the garbage cans at night. We wait for Veverka and McDaniel, who we presume are scouting nearby. A half-hour later they pull up and we see they've done more; Veverka has a 19-pound Rio Grande in the back of his truck.
We drive west of town for seven miles, turn north into a pasture and keep going. Off-road travel is permissible here.
"Where else can you do this?" Whitehead asks as we bounce along toward the sunset. "Even BLM land out here is sometimes a no-no."
West of the Missouri River the Great Plains start, as land use switches from row crops to pasture. Deceiving is the land as seen from the road. In what appears to be unbroken prairie are creek beds, ravines, small river bottoms, depressions and other drops in elevation that are imperceptible from the road. In the low country are whitetailed deer and mule deer, sharptail grouse, pheasants, the occasional flock of Hungarian partridge, countless non-game birds and animals and, of course, turkeys.
Off-roading is how to get around out here, but you can't bulldoze in on turkeys. When it's time to formulate a game plan we park on a high spot and get out the binoculars. This is big country, made for big things like 3/4-ton diesel trucks and .12-gauge shotguns loaded with 3-inch mags. Out here my bow seems a puny weapon and my .20-gauge will make but a pop in the wind.
Using binoculars to find turkeys and then stalking them is the primary way turkeys are hunted here. This makes a good pair of binoculars a must. Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer » Purchase reprints of this photo.
We note two flocks of turkeys on higher ground over a creek bottom. The sun is getting low. Our plan is to intercept the birds as they approach the trees to roost. We proceed as a foursome but then split, with Whitehead and Veverka going one way and McDaniel and I the other.
We follow the creek bottom to where we can hear turkeys gobbling in a field above. We break from the brush and begin to crawl over pasture. No margin for error when hunting turkeys in open spaces.
McDaniel says I should take position "behind that bush up there." I look up and see a palm-like plant you might use as an ornamental. Behind that I'm supposed to hide?
Halfway to the bush, sure that at any moment a turkey will crest the rise and bust me, I see a gully just to my right. It's within crawling distance and will serve concealment better. I crawl into the gully and perch over the side, leveling my .20-gauge on the horizon. My feet lose their grip in the sand. (By the way, are there any rattlesnakes around here?)
I reposition once, twice, digging my heels in hard each time, but the sand keeps giving. At the rate I'm losing ground I'll soon be 80 feet down at the bottom of the gully.
But McDaniel's calling finally coaxes two jakes and a tom into clearing the rise. My .20-gauge and copper-plated No. 6s drop the 18-pound Merriam's at 35 yards.
Jack McDaniel (left), a Sioux Indian guide, knows how to hunt turkeys on the sprawling Rosebud Indian Reservation, which has more than a million acres of varied habitat. Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer » Purchase reprints of this photo.
It's the last tom I have in range all weekend. Turkey numbers are great on the Rosebud, but turkeys here are like turkeys anywhere else - unpredictable and spooky. Whitehead says it's the toughest he's seen in four times here. He shoots his bird on the wing with a shot "I'll never take again." Veverka takes a jake before leaving Saturday night.
Whitehead and I consider hunting the next morning, but he's got a fishing tournament next weekend and the fishing opener looms ahead for me. At sunrise we head east, all the way home planning how we'll do it different next year.
VINCE MEYER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862.
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