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A Turkey Story

This article is partial reprint of a story that originally appeared in the January 2000 issue of Dakota Outdoors Magazine.  Some of the information has changed: for instance we are no longer based out of the Wagon Wheel Resort.

You can contact Dakota Outdoors at 605-224-7301 or 1-800-658-3063

By Kevin Hipple

My most recent hunting camp experiences have been by far the most comfortable.

The past two years I have had the opportunity to participate in the turkey hunts with the Turkey Track Club in Piedmont, SD.  The club is based out of  Wagon Wheel Resort for the spring turkey season in South Dakota.  The resort provides clean, comfortable cabins which, while rustic, also have heat, comfortable beds and running water.  The resort also provides the camp cook and some of the fines meals I have ever eaten.  They were certainly better than depending on the skills of the camp cook.

The Black Hills turkey population has been increasing and the hunting has been excellent during the past two years that I have hunted there.  I had successful hunts and one of a kind experiences both years I visited Turkey Track.  But some of my finest memories are the other hunters I met during my time there and the stories they told.

Each evening at turkey camp, as we ate our final meal of the day, the hunters shared the stories of their hunts.  The experiences we recognized in each of those stories brought those of us who had never met closer together.  Then there were the other stories, those we would rather listen to than experience.

Like the lumberjack story.  As I visited with two friends from the previous year's hunt, I discovered they would be hunting with my guide from last year, Tom.  Another guide joined us and told us to ask Tom about the lumberjack story.  Tom's response was a stern look and a vague threat not to find any turkeys.  The story would have to wait.

We finally heard the story after both hunters had killed their turkeys.  It seems Tom had been having poor luck during one particular hunt.  Whatever could go wrong to spoil a particular turkey stand would.  Finally, Tom and his hunter were waiting just below a roosting gobbler on a steep Black Hills mountainside.  As the sun rose, the turkey gobbled, answering Tom's every call.  Things looked promising for that morning.  But whe it came time to fly down out of his roost, the old bird still managed to foil Tom's plans.  Instead of flying straight to the ground, he flew all the way across the valley to a distant ridgeline.  Tome and his aggrevated hunter could do nothing but watch him.

But then a young jake followed the old tom, flying right over Tom and his client.  Never missing a beat, the hunter pulled up his shotgun, swung on the bird and dropped him with a single shot.  Right into the top of a pine tree.  Now, this particular hillside was verys steep.  So steep, in fact, that Tom and his hunter could see the dead turkey at almost eye level, stuck in the top of the tree.  Unlike most turkeys, he never even flopped once.  That left Tom with a problem: how to get a dead turkey out of the top of a pine tree.

Never on to shirk his duty, Tom stood on the shoulders of the hunter to get high enough on the pine tree to get a hand hold.  Pine trees in the Black Hills don't have convenient hand holds close to the ground.  No, their limbs start 20 or 30 feet in the air.  So even with a boost, Tom had to shinny up the tree quite a ways before he could get a more solid perch on a limb of the tree.

Tom climbed the tree until he thought it was small enough that he may knock the bird loose by shaking the tree.  Throwing his weight violently back and forth from his perch high in the tree did nothing more than make the tree sway dramatically.  Tom climbed higher, the trunk narrowing dangerously as he went.  Finally, he was able to reach out and grab the turkey and drop him to the ground.  And he still had to climb safely back to the ground.

We also heard tales from a young hunter who had shot his first turkey as Dad watched proudly over his shoulder.  Another hunter told of downing a big tom after calling him from a distant hillside and watching the bird run the whole way to their stand.  Still another hunter told of belly crawling into position, shedding equipment from his turkey vest as he went.  For all his efforts he never even got a shot.

Those hunts and the time spent swapping stories around the dinner table in a warm, comfortable lodge showed me another aspect of hunting camp.  There is something undeniably special about sharing your hunting chores and experiences with people you enjoy.  It adds a dimension to the hunt that day hunters will forever miss.  The shared experiences and hardships form a bond that is as special as it is deep.  A true hunter's bond.

If you are like me and have missed out on the experience of hunting camp, this year may be the time to sample what you have been missing.  Now is a good time to plan a hunting camp with some friends for this fall.  It may be an early season grouse hunt on some Dakota grasslands or an exotic adventure to some far away place after exotic game.  It really doesn't matter.  No matter where you go or what you are after, I am convinced you will produce some valuable memories if you join in a hunting camp this fall.

Good luck and have fun.