My Merriam's Mecca
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MY MERRIAM'S MECCA

My Merriam’s Mecca
By Andrew Lewand

When most people think of Spring Break, visions of Florida beaches and golden suntans come to mind. I, myself, have made many pilgrimages to escape the cold of New York and absorb the warmth of the southern sun. This spring, however, my destination was quite different. I decided to start the Grand Slam of turkey hunting and ventured to South Dakota in pursuit of a Merriam’s turkey.

The Merriam’s turkey is a majestic bird whose plumage shines a copper and green. Most noticeable is it’s white feathers that often tip the tail and the mid section of the tail. The Merriam’s also feature shorter legs than the Eastern subspecies and as a result will often sport a shorter bird.

The Mecca Begins: On Saturday, April 13th, I boarded Northwest airlines for a three plane trip to Rapid City, SD. I found it interesting that my shotgun and rifle ( I brought it along for coyote calling in case I tagged out early) were not even inspected by airline personnel. Ammunition was secured in gun case and guns were unloaded as per airline rules. The flights and layovers were uneventful and smooth. My guide, Richard Mednansky from Windsor Creek Outfitters, met me at the airport and we experienced a bit of panic when my aluminum gun case did not emerge with the rest of the luggage! Various thoughts raced through my mind as I looked in disbelief at the now empty luggage carousel. Richard, an eagle eyed Sioux Indian, came through by spotting the gun case on a separate unloading dock some thirty yards away! “Ok, things are gonna be great” I exclaimed. We proceeded to drive 2.5 hours to White River, SD and make plans for our morning hunt on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

The alarm sounded at 5:45 AM and we slipped out into Richard’s back yard which backed right up to the White River. We hadn’t travelled 50 yards and the turkey started to gobble ahead of us... and not far ahead! We took our positions and braced ourselves for action, me with my Remington 870 and Richard with the video camera. For the next 1/2 hour, the turkey’s gobbling filled the air. We were basically surrounded by gobblers. It was comical to hear them roar at each pheasant that sounded off in the distance. Then, it happened... hens made their presence known by emitted sweet tree yelps. Sure enough, just like back east, the toms instantly locked on the hens and at flydown time, the birds were gone. The rest of the morning in that area proved fruitless and I moved to set up at a travel corridor that Richard had recommended. This set up location was breathtaking. I sat nestled in some downed trees in a small pasture between two woodlots at the rivers edge. My vantage point allowed me to spot birds coming from either direction and the hills of South Dakota were present in the background making for a picturesque view. As I let some aggressive yelps emit from my glass friction call, I was interupted by the gobbles of a turkey. He quickly approached from my left and I notice immediately that he was a jake. It was too early in the trip to bag this bird, so I let him walk past. That would be the last hunting action for me on this day as the temperatures were soaring into the 80’s and I ventured back to Richard’s house to figure out a new game plan.

On the second morning of the hunt, the birds that were behind the house had relocated across the White River to unhuntable lands. I watched in vein as a mature Tom strutted and worked some hens. Try as I might, the Gobbler would not fly over the river to my calling. “Fear not, We haven’t even started to hunt yet” exclaimed Richard. “We will get our birds tonight” he stated calmly ( Note: South Dakota allows for all day hunting).

At 4:30 PM, We headed out to a new area and as we approached we came upon a flock of approximately 40 turkeys. The birds scattered to a nearby hillside and now the hunt began to shape up like a fall hunt. We positioned ourselves called lightly and the birds began to appear. At one point, a portion of the flock walked right past me and I literally did not know which bird to shoot at. There jakes and hens everywhere and I never took a shot! All of a sudden, I heard a “putt, putt” behind me and there stood a longbeard not 30 yards away! He was about to escape the scene when I anchored him with my Federal #5. This awesome bird sported a 8.75” bird, 1” spurs, and weighed 20 pounds on the scale. This bird scored 57.5 point. Not to be left out the action, Richard was able to harvest a tom who sported a 9.5” bird and also had 1” spurs. A body weight of 17 pounds gave Richard’s bird a score of 56. What a great double!



Posing with my first bird. The bird on the ground is Richard’s


On Tuesday morning, I ventured back behind the house to see if the birds had come back over the river so that I might get a chance at one. The gobbling told me that, unfortunately, the birds were still across the river. Most disappointing!

At 8:00AM, I took a long walk to the travel corridor set up I had the jake in the day before. The only action there was a lonely hen who fed 10 yards away. Something about this location intriqued me, so I decided to set up there for an afternoon/evening hunt.

Richard dropped me off at the “pasture” at 4:50 PM with plans to pick me up at 9:00 PM. My plan was to set up some decoys and try to intercept any birds as they made their way across the corridor. At 5:00 PM, I was set and began to yelp with both my mouth diaphragm and my glass slate friction call. Almost immediately, an excited hen yelped back at me. I could see her step out of the cottonwood trees 100 yards away. See spotted my decoys and sprinted to them faster than any turkey I have ever witnessed! “I hope she has a tom in tow” I thought to myself. Sure enough, He appeared from the same spot as the hen. I fanned his tail once and he, too, sprinted towards the decoys at record speed! The hen did not like what she saw and slipped into the woods behind me. The Gobbler stood bewildered as if he did not whether he should follow the hen or stay with these new friends... my jake and hen counter parts. His lengthy decision cost him because I figured it was “now or never” and sent a load of #5’s at his head. The bird flopped down and I was in total turkey hunting euphoria as I traveled 53 yards to examine the trophy. That’s right, 53 yards! Looks like my pre season decision to go with a super full choke was the right one. This awesome Merriam’s featured ultra bright white plummage and a 7” beard. He had only one small spur and weighted 21 pounds on a scale.


This whopper weighed 21 pounds

With my two tags now filled, the trip was complete. I surpassed my own expectations on the trip and decided to get both birds mounted. The first bird in a full strut pose and the second in a 1/2 wall pose. I had a day and a half to “kill time” before my flight home, so we fished in the river for Catfish and spent time with a group of hunters who had just come in to hunt. All in all, I consider this to be a hunt of a lifetime and would do it all over in a second.

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