Day 1, 8:22 p.m.
My plane touched down in Rapid City, S.D., at around 2 p.m. and we rounded up our party to head toward Belvidere. We hustled along the highway toward our destination as the South Dakota landscape became a blur.
There wasn't much time to waste. After we got settled into camp and had a bite to eat there would only be a few hours of daylight left.
My hunting teammate for the week, Hornady's Neil Davies, and I jumped in his truck, it was time to kick off this prairie safari right. Neil had spotted a few big gobblers in an area just over 1000 yards off one of the dirt-covered "State Highways" twisting through the 'Bud—we'd try those bearded bastards first. We drove to the spot and glassed the group as the toms strutted and gobbled around their hens just below a grass-covered ridge line.
"We'll enter there," Neil said, as he pointed toward a gate a good ways down the road. "And we'll hump it up to the edge of that ridge and see if we can't get them in close."
I unlatched the barbed wire gate guarding our advance toward the group of birds. The evening sky seemed to be dying, fading into what only hours ago had been a sun-drenched prairie. For a moment I was lost in the vast stillness of the landscape, the clouds bleeding sunlight as the wind swept over hills and rocky bluffs ahead. But we weren't going that far, and the moment to react to the awe-inspiring nature was not now, we had gobblers to chase and they were close.
I strapped my Cabela's Speed Seat around my waist and grabbed the cold fore-end of my Mossberg LPA and, almost without thinking, loaded up, engaged the safety and slung the 12-gauge over my shoulder. I was on a mission.
"Let's go," Neil hissed as we headed to the crest of the hill where we hoped the birds would rise. "Stay right behind me."
Before I knew it we were crawling on our hands and knees through the broken sage and prodding cactus of the prairie. We knew the bird we wanted was just over the hill. The plan was to stop about 40 yards shy of the ridge's end, give it a few yelps and hope they spied the fake fan Neil held prominently toward the sky (I'll tell you more about that strategy later).
I planted myself in the prone position, and we waited. We heard nothing. The longbeards weren't responding, maybe they had skirted us and moved up the draw to our right. It would have been a simple maneuver, and there was no way for us to know.
Then I saw a bobbing, bright red head blurred by the prairie grass between us, and he wasn't alone. But they were moving quickly and never presented a clear angle for a shot. About 18 in all, the hens, jakes and gobblers moved past us to the right and disappeared back down the ridge and up the aforementioned draw. No worries, we had a simple plan of attack now.
We would hurry down the hill toward where the birds had crested and swing around to the right.
We quickly made our move, hoping not to spook any stragglers as we snuck along.
We shuffled deliberately toward a bowl-shaped indentation in the hillside, the logical spot where the birds would end up. From there it was on to a dry, tree-lined creek bed. If we whiffed on this chance the birds could easily escape into the cover. In other words, it was our last try on this group.
We copied our previous approach—prone position, fan held high and a few yelps to get their attention. The entire picture slowly came into view as we crawled over the final knoll.
"There they are," Neil whispered. "There's a gobbler in the middle."
I stopped listening about mid-sentence. I had the bird's head in my sights. All went silent.
My Mossberg 500 let out a bellow that sent feathers and wings flying everywhere. The birds took off to our left and I stood up, ready to blast away. There was no need. My gobbler was in a death roll, kicking a few feet from where he stood when I sent the pellets flying.
"Great shot," Neil sparked, as we did the customary fist pound. "He was out there a good ways."
"What do you think, 20 yards?" I replied, with my heart pounding up to my ears.
It was a lot further than that apparently. "That was a 53-yard shot," Neil said, putting away his rangefinder.
Note to self: prairie depth perception way off.
Stay tuned for more turkey hunting or check out the locations we've visited over the last year in the AH Journal Map below.