A s promised the saga of my incredible South Dakota hunt continues (see Part One, in the June issue). After an unforgettable morning of hunting Merriams with no luck, we headed back through the prairie fields toward our vehicle.
Once back in the truck, my guide gave me a little tour of the countryside and with it, a lesson on the Lakota Indian culture. I have to say, I found it absolutely fascinating.
These people do not take anything that is natural on the earth for granted. At one point, Calvin explained to me that they consider a tree a living thing and therefore during certain ceremonies, they feel their own life is enhanced from that living tree.
He showed me where Indian dances and singing usually took place and I could not help but notice all the different color strips of fabric that hung on the tree limbs. Calvin asked that I would please not take any pictures.Out of respect, I obeyed his request.
We tried a few other spots, but with no luck. So, we chose to take a break and meet up again later that afternoon.
I asked Calvin whether we could go back to our morning spot. With all those tom turkeys that we saw earlier, surely a few would come back to roost in that same area that evening.
I thought we might be able to intercept them as they made their way to the roost site. Standing on a hillside, Calvin used his mouth and made a very convincing coyote howl that immediately was answered with a distant gobble. Once again, Calvin looked at me and smiled and nodded as if to say ”today is the day.”
We circled the open field along a ridge of pines, calling for turkeys every once in a while with no response. Suddenly, to our surprise, a loud gobble came from our right. It was the same tom that was our distant gobble earlier.
We headed for a pine tree and sat down, but once there, I turned to Calvin and told him that I had no shot from this position. The surrounding grass was too high and obscured my view of the field.
The turkey sounded off again; this time much louder and much closer.
Whispering, Calvin asked whether I could make it to another tree. We crawled toward that second tree as the bird in the field searched for the hen he heard earlier. I sat up and Calvin sat behind me with his binocular.
We were not there for 30 seconds when I heard “There he is, to your left.” The tom was all fanned out and stood there gobbling, still 70 yards out. Calvin assured me it was a mature bird.
My heart sank a little when the big Merriam started to walk away, but a quiet yelp from my mouth call turned him again. He was headed right for us. The gobbler scooted under a fence and came within 50 yards of us. Calvin told me to shoot, and I obeyed.
I am not sure what the bigger display was; the turkey flopping around in the field or me jumping up and down celebrating the end of my quest for a Merriam turkey. The celebrating was followed by picture taking and reliving the hunt as we drove back to the hotel.
After packing the fan and beard of the turkey, I donated the meat to the tribe and was looking forward to seeing some of the sights in South Dakota.
This area has so much history attached to it. Not far from where we were, is the burial ground for more than 200 Lakota Indians who lost their lives at Wounded Knee. Famous Indian chiefs Red Cloud and Crazy Horse are buried on the Pine Ridge reservation as well.
The following morning found us driving through the infamous Badlands National Park where we saw herds of wild buffalo, rams, prairie dogs, whitetail deer and mule deer.
The natural beauty of the Badlands is hard to imagine. The many crevasses caused by wind erosion are as deep as the eye can see, and the different colors on the jagged hillsides are spectacular, especially at sunset.
We spent our next night at the Circle View Guest Ranch; a comfortable bed and breakfast that provided a beautiful view of the Badlands. A delicious “home cooked” meal was enjoyed by all of the guests as well as the family who owned the ranch.
I would be remiss if I did not include our visit to the famous Wall Drug Store en route to the airport. There, we met the owner who was happy to tell us all about the history of this unique establishment.
Starting out advertising free ice water for travelers has now grown into a huge business. Ice water is still free today. You can also still get a five-cent coffee. This is a “must see” spot if you are headed to the Badlands. While you are there, make sure you try one of their “world famous” cake donuts. We did.
It was time to fly home with our Merriam turkey treasures and tons of memories of a superb hunt. One of the things I treasure most of all are the many friendships that developed over just a few days including my fellow journalists Jon Stokes and Gayne Young.
A big thank you goes out to Winchester for supplying the ammunition. I also want to give a sincere thanks to the Oglala Lakota Nation and Ivan Sorbel of the Lakota Chamber of Commerce for everything he did to make this hunt so enjoyable.
Special thanks to my guide, Calvin Ferguson, whose knowledge of the Merriam turkey made this a successful hunt. And finally, I would like to thank our host, Katlyn Richter, of the South Dakota Department of Tourism, without whom my dream of taking a Merriam turkey would have never come true.
Email Lou Marullo at [email protected]