Before dawn of their third day hunting in Wyoming (Who said these Merriam’s were a shoo-in?), Mike and his cameraman and outfitter were all in place in a blind they had built the day before from limbs and leaves. When they left the spot the night before, they heard a roosted bird gobbling between 150 and 200 yards away.
It wasn’t long before they heard that gobbler along with two others in different directions.
“We felt good and our confidence was high, but we were feeling the pressure to get it done and close the book on this spring and go home,” said Mike. “I've got a wife and four kids at home and I was ready to see them as bad as they were ready to see me, and we still had a 30 hour drive ahead of us to get home.”
With a few tree calls, the nearby gobblers answer and soon the vocal yelps of hens as well as a jake breaks the silence as well. And then Mike heard it—the unmistakable sound of drumming and even wings dragging the ground, directly behind the group.
With hens coming in from in front of them and a longbeard drumming from behind, nobody could move. Soon the hens—absent a jake—stroll right in and pass by the hunters and join up with the gobbler behind Mike and off to his left a little. Realizing these birds were about to all go off together without giving him a shot, he slowly reached down to his friction call and give it some soft “pips,” a sound he has heard these Merriam’s make during the last few days of hunting.
It angers the hens who come stomping right back in and go for the two Dave Smith Decoys Mike set out in front of him—a feeding hen and a squatting hen. The two real hens begin scolding and circling the squatting hen. About that time, the gobbler strutted into view and seeing what is going on with the hens, comes running in full strut.
It’s the same tom that hung up in front of Mike yesterday after walking right by him and that he refused to shoot because he feared it was too far to make a reliable shot.
“I knew it was the same bird because it had a couple of feathers missing in the middle of his fan. I had nicknamed him split tail when I first saw him,” said Mike. “I should’ve let this show go on for as long as it would’ve lasted, but I wasn’t taking any more chances on things going wrong. We'd had wild horses stamp at us, cows come in, as well as deer, elk and you name it foul our hunts up, I was in no mood to take any more chances.”
Terry was nervous too and wanted the hunt over and the quest fulfilled as bad as Mike.
“I'm on him. Kill him when you can,” Terry told Mike. With the moment of his final 2012 hunt at hand, Mike squeezed the trigger—CLICK!
The firing pin fell, but the shell didn’t fire.
“I told Terry later that I jinxed myself with that ‘450’ shell because I had wrote the number 450 on it with a Sharpie before putting it in the barrel. And I was right,” said Mike. “I eased my hand up and pulled the bolt back firmly and let it slam shut, expecting turkeys to scatter everywhere, but they had so much going on just 20 steps away that they never even noticed.”
Mike quickly settled back on the gobbler and as soon as he had a clear shot again, he touched the trigger. This time recoil rocked his shoulder and Number 450, Split Tail, collapsed on the ground.
It was done! The time was only 5:55 a.m., which made for a short hunt, but after nearly three months, thousands of miles, 11 birds and two Grand Slams, Mike finally had his 450th wild turkey under his belt before he turned 50 years old.
It was going to be a great birthday.