On the Hunt in Colorado for Merriam’s Monsters

By the time we reached Colorado for the last piece in our Grand Slam attempt for wild turkeys last year, Jessica Kallam and I felt defeated. We’d suffered through sweat-lodge blinds in Florida for days on end, with her never seeing a bird, and me taking a shot (and missing) at a turkey that was so close I should have run out to tackle him instead. We then moved on to hunt in Texas … I missed again, and she didn’t get her tom. At that point, my hunting confidence hit a new low (In my decade of turkey hunting, I had never missed a bird till this adventure and then, that’s all I could do in Florida and Texas).

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So, it is with great pleasure that I bring you the success story from our last foray – the story of how we tagged our Colorado Merriam’s monsters.

But before I relate the Colorado story, I think I should pass along the valuable lessons I learned from my failures on the Florida and Texas hunts.

After getting home from Texas, I was at a loss to explain why I missed those birds. So, looking for help I called my friend, Anne Mauro, the University of Maryland shotgun coach, and told her about my woes and my problems with not being able to hit a bird – even after patterning my gun. 

Anne told me several things that made sense, that I now practice:

  1. In competition and hunting, never relinquish your gun to anyone else. Always keep track of and possession of your gun; competitors have been known to tamper with each other’s guns and optics/sights.
  2. Know your gun. Get it out and pattern it and work with it. These were “loaner” guns from Remington, so after the second fiasco – in which I left a huge scar on a water trough, but thankfully didn’t wound any turkeys – I worked with it a lot. 
  3. Mark your adjustment spots on the optic’s windage and elevation dials, and take a pic of them with your cell phone, so you can remember, exactly, the settings. Check these throughout the hunt, just in case. 
  4. Anne also encouraged me to take over the future patterning sessions, rather than assuming the outfitter knew his stuff and keeping quiet. In Florida (much to Jessica’s and my chagrin), we patterned our guns on an 8.5 inch x 11 inch splash targets at 25 yards on a tree. 

In Texas, after I requested that we actually pattern our guns rather than shooting them at a target, the outfitter set-up a slightly larger piece of paper (about 24 inch x 24 inch) at 25 yards on a target stand. The paper was still too small, but it was all he had. As an aside, the rattlesnake lying in wait by the target was a slight distraction and should have been an omen. 

After my Florida and Texas misses, I requested that the gun come to me prior to my departure for Colorado, instead of allowing someone else to transport the gun for me. Imagine my surprise when, on my range and using 48-inch square patterning papers, I found that the red dot sight on the gun was zeroed so the pattern was 3 feet too low. After adjusting the optic, I hunted for days with the correct sight set-up in the hilly, scrabbly Ozarks. I also put 50 rounds though it, from about 5 to 50 yards, on my range. I now knew what that gun, with that ammo, could do.

Colorado Springs Bass Pro Shops

As with all our other stops on this odyssey, we began at the local Bass Pro Shops. Jessica and I are in front of the Colorado Springs’ location.

Oh yes, Jessica and I had some interesting times. After arriving in a toad-strangling thunderstorm in Trinidad, Colorado, the night before our hunt, we decided that rather than immediately hunting the next morning, we’d check our shotgun patterns and red dot sight zeros by shooting our shotguns from several different distances onto 36-inch square targets. In order to do this, we were told we had to drive down to the Whittington Center in northern New Mexico, as our outfitter knew of nowhere in the local area we could do the patterning (???). By the way, the outfitter brought zero, nada, nothing for us to shoot at (Mother Nature was helping, with winds whipping us at about 30 mph).

windy range photographer

Here are Jessica Kallam and Jonathan Owen on the range at the Whittington Center in New Mexico, and Jonathan’s camera mic is our wind gauge.

Fortunately, I had thought to bring some 36-inch square rolled up pieces of paper and masking tape. However, and here’s the other thing, check your tape. Mine was dried out. The outfitter got fidgety, didn’t understand why we had to do this, and urged us to leave without patterning … yet we found old pieces of tape from other targets on the range and cobbled the tape together on our targets and hoped they would stay up till we shot at them. They did, and guess what? Jessica’s pattern was also 2 to 3 feet low. We adjusted her sight, noted the settings, and headed to the mountains for our hunts. My sight settings had had not changed from my patterning session at home – even after an airplane ride – so, my confidence was a bit bolstered; but, could I hit a turkey?

double rainbow

It’s not everyday you see a double rainbow. Worth the climb on day #1 of the monster Merriam’s turkey hunt in Colorado.

On the second day of the hunt, my local guide, Steve (not the outfitter), and I hiked up a logging road and started hearing sounds from what seemed to be a behemoth bird somewhere in the dark. Steve told me to sit down right where I was, at the bottom of an embankment, and after I sat, I realized I had plopped into a mini-stream of cold water sluicing down the mountain. I looked behind me at Steve, and he gave me hand signals to stay put and most definitely, not to move. Let’s just say, the experience is not one I’d like to repeat and about an hour later, I felt numb from the waist down – of course, my legs had gone to sleep. Steve crawled up the embankment, and scurried back down. “That bird! It’s still in the tree! Gobbling his head off!”

We then heard it fly down, and we scampered around to where Steve figured it would be strutting. Steve was right. That old gobbler worked in a zone back and forth, as he strutted and stuck out his neck and gobbled to the mountaintops. By now, Steve and I had low-crawled up another small embankment. I wore mud from the waist down. He gave me the hand signal to keep on going, and every time that old boy hollered, I grunt crawled a little closer – picking up more mud, this time all the way up to my neck. 

Here’s how it went. The gobbler strutted and then turned toward me. I stopped. For about 15 minutes or a lifetime, take your pick. Finally, I got into place in a sitting position on his strutting ground at what I reckoned was about 35 yards and slowly got that V3 shotgun up and supported. 

He hollered again and I shot. He hit the dirt. I praised the Lord that I had made a clean shot.

Merriam's turkey toad head

Sorry for the blood in this shot, but as you can tell, the tom was a real toad head.

It turns out the old boy was a “toad head,” as a hunter from Texas called him. Maybe there was some type of divine intervention right there, as at that point in time, with my low confidence level I needed to succeed. That big, fat-headed tom was a beauty. 

Merriam's turkey Colorado mountain hunt

I had spring in my step as I went back to camp.

My guide wanted the unique head, so I gave it to him as an extra tip. He also took the meat. I took the fan, feet and beard – which was about 6 inches long. It turns out, this old boy, Mr. Toad Head, had been appearing on the outfitter’s cameras for at least 5 years and frankly, had been on the “hit list” for the camp. 

Meanwhile, Jessica kept on hunting. Day #3 came and almost went, and I could tell, she felt … frustrated. Hours upon hours and nothing to show for her time, expense and trouble? Seriously, how could she lift her head in the shotgun area at Remington’s headquarters in the future?

It turned out to be one of the last day, last hour, last minute things. She and Steve, who took pity on her and offered to guide her, had a successful hunt. Instead of her spending yet another afternoon of sitting in a blind, seeing no toms, Jessica rode in the truck with Steve and they drove around spotting for turkeys. They saw a huge, and I mean a beast of a Merriam’s monster crossing the road (of course, like a chicken, to get to the other side) and she jumped out of the truck with her V3, took the safety off and put the pow on that turkey.

Jessica Kallam Merriam's turkey Colorado 17Turns out, she got the biggest turkey in camp that trip. But, please note, Jessica, he didn’t have a “toad head” like my turkey.

So, all in all, the guns and ammo worked great. The lessons we learned, the hard way, might serve to benefit others and us in the future. 

I’d like to thank Remington Outdoor Company for the wonderful experience last year, of our attempted Grand Slams. The V3 is the perfect gun for either the sweaty swampy scene in Florida, the torrid Texas flatlands or the marvelous majesty of the mountains of Colorado. I look forward to taking it to Louisiana and to Texas this fall for more bird hunting.

  • About Barbara Baird

    Publisher/Editor Barbara Baird is a freelance writer in hunting, shooting and outdoor markets. Her bylines are found at several top hunting and shooting publications. She also is a travel writer, and you can follow her at https://www.ozarkian.com.