Featured Story

 

Backcountry Merriams

by

Jace Bauserman

The shimmering light of my headlamp blazed a path to the rickety registration box marking the canyon trailhead. It was 4:00 a.m., leaving me exactly two hours to cover the rocky, seven mile trek to my secluded, public land, turkey hot-spot. With my day pack strapped on and bow slung across my back I bounced into the dark abyss of the canyon bottom. Picking my way across boulders, downed timber, and sections of river I finally reached the area where I had roosted some Merriam gobblers the previous evening.

Dawn broke with a symphony of gobbles erupting from the cottonwood grove where I had put the birds to bed. I placed my decoys within 150 yards of the roost trees in an area littered with scratching sites. Being that there were hens, I knew coaxing one of the gobblers away from the ladies was going to be a chore, but eventually my soft hen yelps and the sight of my jake decoy pushed one of the birds to his breaking point. As if on a string he trotted towards my position offering me an easy eight yard bow shot. By the time the sun had climbed above the horizon I was finishing my photo shoot and preparing to get back on the trail heading towards home with another Colorado public land gobbler dangling out of my vest.

I love bowhunting; especially on rugged, public land terrain where Merriam turkeys lurk. The challenge of diving miles into the back country, separating myself from other hunters, and arrowing a Merriam gobbler provides an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I’m stepping outside the "norm" of turkey hunting, and it is in a word...AWESOME!

I’ve read the articles and heard the stories about how Merriams are the easiest of the four subspecies to harvest. People raving about how they investigate any call that pierces their ears, and how they come trotting in with a blindfold on. Take these stories with a grain of salt. These birds survive harsh winters, constantly evade fierce predators, and are truly a wiry bird. Here are some tips:

Plenty of public: Colorado’s thirteen national forests harbor millions of acres of public land; much of which is inhabited by Merriam turkeys. In most cases trekking across state lines requires the hiring of an outfitter; especially if it’s a first time visit. However, being that thirty-six percent of Colorado is public land and that the current Merriam population is nearing 24,000 hunters who put in the time to do a little homework should have no trouble embarking on a public land Do-It-Yourself turkey extravaganza.

Research: If the wheels in your head are turning and the thought of a Colorado turkey hunt is flooding your brain here are a few things to help you get started. Go to the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s web site - www.wildlife.state.co.us - click on the hunting thumbnail and then again on turkey. This will provide access to harvest statistics, a turkey distribution map, the regulations brochure, and helpful articles covering turkey hunting in Colorado. The next step is contacting CDOW offices and getting in touch with terrestrial biologists. These helpful are invaluable during the final planning stages of your hunt.

Scout your area: even if it is just the day before season. Look for places that have cottonwood lined creek bottoms or ridgelines dotted with towering pines. Both serve as excellent roost sites, and if a food source is nearby you are likely to find birds. Camp in close proximity to the birds and get on them well before the break of day.

Bring a good pair of optics. You won’t be looking over a 200 acre farm; instead thousands of acres of national forest.

Build a blind: Packing a Double Bull blind miles into the wilderness is going to add plenty of weight to an already heavy pack. If you know where you’re going to hunt that first morning clip off a few branches and other vegetation and build a make-shift blind. Many times I will strike a mid-day gobble or intercept birds moving from the timber to open meadows or sage flats. This leaves no time to construct a blind. At this point I try to find good cover, use shadows, and draw when the bird is a ways out. Yes, there are those times when I have to let down, or I get totally busted, but on most occasions I’m offered a perfect shot.

Good luck and I’ll see you on the trail!

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