By Jon Leonard
Most serious turkey hunters eventually strive to obtain the wild turkey Royal Slam which consists of harvesting each of the five subspecies of wild turkey found in North America. I have taken several Merriam’s and Rio Grande turkeys hunting in Utah and surrounding states. I took a nice Gould’s turkey in Mexico and I was fortunate enough to take a big Osceola turkey in Florida. However, I still needed an Eastern turkey in order to complete my Royal Slam. I should also mention there is a World Slam which consists of the addition to the Royal Slam of an Ocellated turkey, a separate species entirely which is found in the jungles of southern Mexico and Guatemala. However, this challenge may be out of reach for me, especially in light of the current turmoil in Mexico.In looking for an opportunity to hunt Eastern turkey, I was fortunate to get some unexpected help from a Texan who I met through my involvement in the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). He had called me to ask if I would help him harvest a Utah wild turkey. He had already completed his World Slam and as many other serious turkey hunters are beginning to do, was attempting to take a wild turkey in the 48 states where turkey hunting is allowed (Alaska does not have a wild turkey season and North Dakota’s turkey season is limited to residents only). I advised him on which units to apply for and when he lucked out and drew a turkey permit, I joined him on his successful hunt. During the time we spent together, I happened to mentioned that I needed an Eastern turkey to complete my Royal Slam. He suggested I might want to consider going to southwest Kansas which has a good population of Eastern turkey, and was closer to home, making it more convenient and affordable. He also recommended an outfitter who he had hunted with. I didn’t give it much more thought at the time however, since it would take a few years to plan and save up for.
The next year while attending the NWTF’s National Convention, I bumped into my friend from Texas who presented me with an envelope in appreciation of the help I had given him the year before in Utah. When I opened the envelope, much to my surprise, there was a certificate good for an Eastern turkey hunt for my son and me with Kurt Nunnenkamp of Paradise Adventures in Altoona, Kansas. Needless to say, I was in shock since this gesture was totally unexpected. I was also thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know and hunt with such a generous individual. Thus began my adventures in paradise.
The following spring, I gathered up three other addicted turkey hunters who accompanied my son and me to Kansas. We flew into Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we were supposed to have an extra-large SUV rented for the 90 mile trip north to Altoona, Kansas. However, the rental car company did not have on-site the big vehicle that I had been promised, so we were left trying to figure out how to get five rather large turkey hunters and all our guns and gear into a very small minivan. Finally, with some pushing and shoving we managed to get underway and eventually spilled out of the minivan at Paradise Adventures hunting camp where we were met welcomed by Kurt Nunnenkamp. Kurt is an exceptionally personable individual who goes out of his way to make everyone feel right at home.
Kurt’s lodge is quite plush by turkey hunting standards with plenty of beds, bedroom, and above all bathrooms which become very important in the early morning hours when everyone is rushing to get ready for the morning hunt. After unpacking and enjoying a tasty dinner, Kurt laid out the plan for the following day. I would be hunting with Kurt while the others in our party were assigned to Kurt’s other very experienced and capable guides.
As turkey hunters know, turkey hunting starts long before daylight and this was no exception as Kurt and I left camp in the wee hours to go after a big gobbler he knew frequented a certain area. This part of Kansas is characterized by fertile, rolling farm ground intersected often by densely wooded creek and river bottoms. This is ideal turkey habitat and produces lots of big old bubba gobblers, some weighing more than 25 lbs. When we arrived at our designated hunting spot, we set out a decoy in the field and built some crude hiding places in the tree line adjoining the field. We then tried to get comfortable while waiting for first light and hopefully big bubba’s appearance preceded by booming gobbles from his roost tree. However, all we saw or heard were a couple of noisy hens which foraged past our hiding spot.
We finally gave up on bubba and decided to move to another area. Kurt has over 15,000 acres available to hunt so there are always plenty of fresh places to go. By this time it was mid-morning with a bright sun overhead which helped us warm up and dry out. We relocated to the edge of a lush, green meadow which trailed off into a wooded river bottom. As we were trying to decide where to set up, as if on cue, a gobbler sounded off from the distant river bottom. We hurriedly set our decoy out and settled back to wait for the gobbler to come to Kurt’s soft pleading clucks and yelps. Eastern turkeys have generally been hunted many years longer than western birds so they are typically much more wary. The general rule when hunting “educated” turkeys is to call less frequently than we typically do in the west. The down-side to this is that it is easy for sleep deprived hunters to periodically doze off. Turkeys which have been hunted for many generations also frequently come in silent, which is exactly what happened this time. After waiting for over an hour and nodding off several times, I looked up and saw the bright red head of a gobbler silently and cautiously heading towards the decoy. Although he was probably within range of my shotgun, I was caught totally off guard with my shotgun lying across my lap, not even close to a good shooting position. I quickly determined that the turkey would pass on the other side of a bush which I was hoping would shield me and give me time to get my gun up and ready to take the shot when he came out from behind the bush. As soon as the turkey went out of sight, I made my move, but was greeted only with a series of loud putts and the sight of the big gobbler rapidly heading back in the direction he had come from. I had certainly miscalculated the amazing vision, hearing and speed which turkeys possess and which makes turkey hunting so challenging. As Kurt and I kicked dirt and cussed, we heard a distant gobble coming from the river bottom. To add insult to injury, that turkey was now mocking us. Game on!
Kurt decided we should take the offensive so off we went down the trail in the direction of the gobbler, stopping occasionally to make some yelps to let the gobbler know a lovesick hen was headed his way. This technique is very effective since it duplicates the natural courting ritual of turkeys where hens go to a strutting, gobbling tom. We also had the advantage of tree cover and terrain to hide our quiet approach. The closer we got to the gobbler the more excited he became and we were soon able to see him slowly coming down the other side of the draw, stopping quite often to strut and gobble. It doesn’t get any better than this when turkey hunting. We got about as close as we dared and I got into a shooting position, standing, but with a good, solid rest against a tree. Kurt kept track of the gobbler, whispering to me to shoot when he came into a small opening in the trees. As my shotgun’s boom reverberated up the river bottom, I saw my prized Eastern turkey tipped over, flopping on the ground. YES!!!! Royal Slam complete!
In this region of Kansas, you can harvest two turkeys, so after a round of congratulations and picture taking, it was off in pursuit of another big Kansas turkey. That’s the way it is in Paradise!