Hunting Merriams in South Dakota (Part 1)
F requent readers of this column know by now how much of a turkey -hunting fanatic I am. Whenever I have a free morning during turkey season, I am out there hunting these majestic birds.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to try my luck in the beautiful state of South Dakota. When I say it is a beautiful state, please believe me; pictures can never give true justice to the incredible beauty of the landscape. I was truly amazed from the moment I walked off the plane in Rapid City and throughout my time spent in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
My host, Katlyn Richter, from the South Dakota Department of Tourism, had just a few weeks to plan a Merriam turkey hunt for myself and two other Texas journalists. With her constant attention to detail, she provided a perfectly planned weekend with the highlight being hunting these beautiful birds.
After an uneventful flight, I met Katlyn at the airport. We still had a few hours before the other hunters arrived so she thought it would be nice to do a little sightseeing and decided to take me to Mount Rushmore, which was nearby. I was pleasantly surprised to see my first mountain goat. It was not off in the distance on the side of some mountain. No. Rather it was right there at the airport! As a matter of fact, there were about 10 mountain goats feeding on the grass next to the airport parking! Right away, I knew I was in for a great trip.
The drive to this famous monument was an eye-opening experience. The many different rock formations and wildlife that I saw on the way enhanced the beauty of this great State. I was truly amazed at the knowledge my host had as she shared her expertise with me about South Dakota. What an amazing place.
Upon reaching our destination, clouds rolled in and out making the experience one that I will not soon forget. As I viewed the rock carvings of 4 famous American Presidents, I had Katlyn take a few pictures so I could show the folks back home. I had to learn more and asked if we could visit the museum that was right there on the property. To go back in time and imagine what it must have been like to take on such a monumental task of these carvings was just unbelievable. This is surly something that all Americans should see if they ever get the chance. Driving through the black hills region on our way back to the airport took a little longer than expected because of the constant photo opportunities.
Once the hunters arrived, we traveled south to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This place is huge and covers 11,000 square miles of prairie land scattered with pine trees. Our accommodations for two days were made at the comfortable Dakota Prairie Ranch Resort. A restaurant that served a variety of good food was conveniently in the same building.
Our host, Katlyn, introduced us to Ivan Sorbel, head of the Pine Ridge area Chamber of Commerce, who made our stay on the reservation both comfortable and educational. Ivan took the time to show us the many Native American displays in the visitor center and answered any questions that we might have. He told us all about what animals were on the reservation and which ones were abundant. Also, he gave us a history lesson of the Oglala Lakota Nation and provided literature for us to read at our convenience. He would meet us later for dinner where we would be introduced to our Native American guides and we could discuss our plans for the morning hunt.
My alarm went off at 4:15 the next morning but I think I did not get any sleep at all that night. I was like a kid on Christmas morning. It had been years dreaming about one day hunting a Merriam turkey and finally, that day was here! I jumped out of bed and donned my camo clothes that I laid out the night before. Katlyn previously packed us all a small breakfast to bring in the field, which included extra snacks that she thought we might like to have. This woman thought of everything to make our trip go as smoothly as possible. She even had Winchester supply us with turkey ammunition. All that was needed now was to locate a Merriam turkey and have a great hunt.
I was ready early and was outside my hotel room anxiously awaiting my guide, Calvin Ferguson, to arrive, which he did do, and on time. Calvin provided tons of laughs on the way to our hunting ground and I knew that some good times were ahead as I wiped the tears of laughter from my eyes! I have to say, Calvin had scouted the area ahead of time and knew exactly where the turkeys liked to roost. Standing on the top of a hill in the pre dawn hours gave me a few minutes to think about the history of this “hunting ground.” How many Lakota warriors stood here before me? I was captivated by the beauty of this land when all of a sudden the silence of dawn was broken by a loud gobble. Calvin gave me the look of confidence and we headed towards the sound of that gobbler. I followed his every footstep as we headed downhill amongst the scattered pine trees. My guide whispered for me to sit down next to a lone pine on the edge of an open field and he sat next to me. It was not long before the silence of dawn tuned into a frenzy of gobbling. I could not believe my eyes as at least 30 birds flew down in the nearby field 100 yards from our ambush site. It was a sea of turkey fans all strutting around back and forth gobbling every other second! Unfortunately, nature took over and the hens came to the toms as they slowly walked out of sight.
We moved to a few other places, but these birds were now “henned up” and were as quiet as a church mouse. Calvin suggested that we try some other spots that he knew about.
To be continued, next month…
Email Lou Marullo at ContactUs@fishgame.com