The inky darkness faded as a glowing light emerged on the eastern horizon. The rugged landscape sat silent. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the birds hadn’t yet woken to greet the morning sun. The sky brightened quickly, and with the growing light came a thundering gobble from up the ridge. The vocal tom started a territorial war from his perch as three other gobblers sounded off in response. My heart started beating faster, and my brain spun out of control, trying to devise a game plan.
Perhaps it is the changing seasons and a fresh new, growing landscape. Something about spring turkey hunting gets the blood flowing through a hunter like sap through a tree. With fewer activities competing for your hunting time, spring allows more focus on strutters.
I was in Wyoming, hunting with Ralph Dampman and Trophy Ridge Outfitters. We were hunting an area nestled next to the Black Hills and in the shadow of Devil’s Tower. The region is well-known for Merriam’s turkey, with bold white bands on their tails and highlights in their feathering. These turkeys are known to be vocal birds, and the thunder off the roost did not disappoint.
It was the first morning of our hunt, and Ralph and his crew had done the homework to know where birds were roosting and traveling for breakfast. Watching, listening, and patterning birds is part of the hunt, and putting the pieces of a puzzle together to be successful is always more rewarding. I always feel spoiled when someone else does the legwork, but I miss out on some of the hunt. Hearing multiple birds in the neighborhood made me overlook the lost opportunity to help put the birds to bed. We had arrived in camp the day before, and the priority was to pattern shotguns.
Fiocchi released its new Golden Turkey TSS loads in #7 and #9 shot sizes. I was shooting the new Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 Turkey Performance Shop Shotgun. It was fitted with an Extended Extra Full Turkey Choke and a Burris Fast Fire II Sight for fast and accurate target acquisition. The combination proved highly accurate with incredibly dense patterns. The patterning targets were obliterated with holes as the small shot size means extreme pellet density. Patterns were consistent and held tight even at longer ranges. It boosted confidence in preparation for the next day’s events.
We played with the new Benelli 28-gauge that produced incredible patterns with the TSS loads. The reduced recoil and lightweight design had appreciable benefits. One of our crew would use the diminutive gauge on the hunt, and the rest of us looked on with envy.
Ralph usually has guides accompanying hunters in the blinds. However, I have been to his camp many times, and he offered to let me go solo. His instructions were easy to follow. Get in the blind, wait until daylight, do some soft calling, and watch for birds to strut the old two-track adjacent to the hide.
The blind was tucked up against a steep hill with towering pines. The grass was green and it smelled like spring. A creek cut down the valley on the other side of the two-track, making the old truck trail a natural spot for birds to navigate. I listened to the gobblers sound off up the hill for about 10 minutes before things went quiet. It was a good indication that the birds were now on the ground. I used a Primos box call to scratch out some soft hen calls. The calling was not aggressive, and I was caught off guard when two hens appeared on the trail from the opposite direction from where the gobbles had come. As they slowly approached me, the ladies ambled down the trail’s edge, scratching and eating. I watched the hens for about 15 minutes and was surprised a gobbler was not in pursuit.
Little Drummer Boy
I listened closely to discern the sound of a turkey strutting his stuff. I was sure it was a bird, but without a gobble, it left some doubt. Considering Merriam’s turkeys are known to be highly vocal, I was surprised when I thought I heard drumming from the ridge behind me. The hens drifted back down the trail. I almost wrote off the drumming noises when I heard them again, this time much closer. I peeked out the back window of the blind and saw a beautiful big tom walking and strutting down the ridge. He saw the hens and was displaying his best to look appealing.
Wyoming is often referred to as “The Cowboy State.” This turkey was all cowboy doing the two-step as if trying to pick up one of the ladies at the local watering hole. The tom was a showman in every sense of the word. Feathers were lifted on his back to make him iridescent. His tail fan would open and he would shift it from one side to the other. His head changed colors like a traffic light going from red to blue and white. There would be moments the bird was all show before strutting forward. I enjoyed every moment of the show and even took the chance to take a few photos and a video as the bird cut the distance. It was a risky proposition, but worth it. I had plenty of time and enjoyed the show instead of rushing the shot.
The big bird strutted in circles. When his tail was facing me, I slid the barrel of my shotgun out the window. The illuminated red dot was placed on the base of the bird’s neck, and when he came out of strut, I slowly tightened up on the trigger. At the report of the shotgun, the turkey flipped backward and lay still on the ground. The load of TSS hit the old gobbler so hard that there was no flop or thundering wings.
Days of planning and travel culminated in a notched tag and a beautiful Wyoming bird on the first morning. In some ways, I was disappointed that the hunt was over. However, I have been on the other end of the spectrum, hunting for days without producing an opportunity. My motto is: “Never pass up a gift turkey on the first day.”
Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 Turkey Performance Shop Shotgun
The popularity of the Super Black Eagle 3 (SBE3) led Benelli to build the ultimate turkey shotgun in its Performance Shop with all the proven components and extra attention to detail for turkey aficionados. Modifications for the gobbler-getter include a low-glare, ported barrel with a fiber-optic bead; a camouflaged all-weather stock with a textured pistol grip; a Burris FastFire sight for unsurpassed accuracy and performance-boosting enhancements from Rob Roberts. Before any shotgun leaves the Performance Shop, it is pattern-tested. Benelli even includes computer printouts to show actual impact points in 10-, 20-, and 30-inch circles.
The Turkey Shotgun uses the inertia system for clean and reliable cycling. The barrel and choke tubes are cryogenically treated to increase pattern density. Barrels are 24 inches in length, and the stock includes a pistol grip. The bolt handle and release button are oversized for ease of use. The 12-gauge is chambered for 2¾-, 3- and 3½-inch shells. A full assortment of chokes and a custom, extra-full turkey choke are provided. Everything comes packaged in a hard case. The shotgun is fully dressed in Mossy Oak Bottomland camo.
It is available in 12-, 20-, and 28-gauge with several model options, including right- and left-handed configurations. Find it at: www.benelliusa.com.)
Fiocchi Golden Turkey TSS
Time is precious. Travel is getting expensive. Shotshells are one of the least expensive parts of any adventure, so treat yourself to something with an advantage. Turkeys are notoriously hard to kill. Increase your hitting power and pellet density, and you tip the odds in favor of filling a tag.
Tungsten is dense and smaller pellets will carry the same, or more energy, than lead. Tungsten delivers such a hard blow that birds often don’t even flop after being pounded in the head and neck. Small pellets mean superior patterns with a higher pellet count in the kill zone. More pellets in a regular 3-inch shotshell will outperform the punishing 3½-inch lead shotshells and have less recoil. If the birds are challenging, TSS can increase the effective range but make sure to pattern any distance you might shoot.
Fiocchi now offers 12- and 20- and 28-gauge and .410 bore in 3-inch loads packaged five rounds to a box. The 12-gauge is available with #7 or #9 shot sizes, while the others are 3-inch loads of #9 shot. The premium tungsten weighs 18g/cc, allowing the small pellets to deliver incredible kinetic energy and penetration. For more information, visit the Fiocchi site at www.fiocchiusa.com.
Burris FastFire II Sight
The FastFire II is a lightweight sight making it easy to acquire the target and stay steady for the shot. The sight provides a 4-MOA red dot that automatically adjusts the brightness with a sensor that reads your environment. There is unlimited eye relief, meaning if you can see the red dot, you are on target. There is plenty of elevation and windage adjustment to efficiently pattern the sight and shotgun. A Picatinny mount makes it easy to mount to a shotgun rib with a firm hold that withstands the punishing recoil of magnum turkey loads. The sight runs on a CR2023 battery with plenty of life. The reflex sight has 1x magnification, allowing both-eyes-open shooting for enhanced awareness and target acquisition. The unit is parallax-free for better accuracy. Find it at this site: www.burrisoptics.com.
Trophy Ridge Outfitters
Ralph and Lenora Dampman have owned and operated Trophy Ridge Outfitters for over three decades. The lodge and cabins are close to Devil’s Tower in northeast Wyoming and the picturesque Black Hills surrounding them are game rich. Whitetailed and mule deer, elk, mountain lion, buffalo, Merriam’s turkey, and even prairie dogs and mountain lions are offered as fully guided hunts. This outfitter hunts all year and knows his territory and wildlife.
ALPS Ambush Sling Pack
For my Wyoming turkey hunt, I packed everything I needed for the day in an Ambush Sling Pack. The lightweight, one-strap design is easy to sling over your shoulder if on the run, and the strap is ambidextrous. The single strap allows the user to mount a crossbow or shotgun without having a shoulder strap hamper the length of pull. A MOLLE system on both sides allows the ThermaCELL pocket to attach to either side of the sling. The Ambush Sling Pack weighs one pound empty, and there are multiple pockets to pack hunting gear and something to eat and drink.