Sportsman’s Corner: The quest for the Super Slam

Rick Jester of Georgia with his New Hampshire turkey. He is attempting to harvest a turkey in all 49 states that have turkey seasons.

Rick Jester of Georgia with his New Hampshire turkey. He is attempting to harvest a turkey in all 49 states that have turkey seasons. PHOTO BY MIKE ROCHE—

Published: 05-09-2024 5:12 PM

Modified: 05-15-2024 2:53 PM


By Mike Roche

It is the middle of turkey season and for some, the pursuit of wild turkeys becomes much more than a casual hunting activity. If this writer were honest, he would look at the impact of chasing gobblers and realize that my first turkey – a jake taken in West Rutland, Vermont, in May of 1987 – had a huge long-term impact on my life.

That year, the New England Outdoor Writers Association’s Spring Safari was held in Poultney, Vermont, and the first night the group held a turkey hunting seminar for the writers attending. The main presenter was Bart Jacob, a Vermonter who had become well-known as a hunter and call maker. There were also a few local turkey hunters who attended and offered to guide writers. It was my good fortune to be paired with Larry Sears and the jake that I shot was the only bird taken. But things changed.

Things, like my purchasing the same gun provided by Winchester for the safari, a Model 1300 with laminated wood stock, and one of Bart Jacobs’ custom-made slate calls were just the start. Camo clothing, more calls, special turkey loads and various seats and an endless stream of specialized turkey gear followed. But, in the world of turkey hunters, there are many who are much passionate than me. One recent example – a turkey hunter was able to take one of each of the four wild turkey sub-species (Eastern, Oceola, Merriam’s and Rio Grande) in a span of 10 hours! That required a private jet and a little bit more of an investment than my budget would allow at this time. This past week, however, a text message put me in contact with one pretty fanatical turkey hunter.

That message was from Andrew Sawyer. Andrew is married to my niece Kristine and works as an emergency room doctor in Alabama. The text asked if he could share my cell/text number with a co-worker who was looking to achieve what the National Wild Turkey Federation calls a “U.S. Super Slam.” It requires a hunter to harvest and register a turkey from all 49 states with established turkey hunting seasons. He was presently in Maine focused on the New England states.

I gladly agreed and we got in touch, and he had just taken a Maine gobbler on Wednesday. He said he was next looking for a place to hunt in New Hampshire. After some thought, the experience at two New England Outdoor Writers Association Spring Safaris that had been held in Lyme, New Hampshire, at Loch Lyme Lodge came to mind. Loch Lyme was great, and attendees’ turkey hunted, fished and listened to a fascinating presentation by Ben Kilham, who runs the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, a non-profit, state-licensed black bear facility where orphaned black bear cubs are rescued, raised and released to the wild. The thousands of acres controlled by the center are managed for bears and that management also provides prime habitat for many other wildlife species, including wild turkeys. That personal experience gave me someplace where Rick could look for his New Hampshire bird.

When we talked, he agreed. Being the kind of guy I am it was easy to decide to put off the many important projects around the house in favor of a trip for turkey hunting! Gear was packed and it was off to Lyme. My memory and the notes in my Delorme New Hampshire Gazetteer were helpful, but the most valuable tool for today’s hunter is onX Hunt. This phone application is an incredible tool in today’s hunting world. Maps of your state, multiple states, or the entire country are available and onX Hunt has been an eye-opener for this technologically-challenged senior citizen. It has great value when I am guiding upland hunters in New York, as property boundaries are one of the features. The app allows me to avoid trespassing when hunting in new covers. In this case, Ben Kilham’s bear preserves were downloaded and texted to Rick Jester, and he had maps of places to hunt.

Thursday, I met Rick and his father Hank for dinner (Jesse’s Steak House in Hanover is excellent!) and we got to know each other and plan strategy. After the meal, we headed out to try to locate or roost a turkey. We did not see or hear any gobblers, but did see one hen. That led to selecting that location to start Friday’s hunt and we rolled out of Lyme Center at 4:20 a.m. and were listening high on a New Hampshire “hill” as the sun rose.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Unfortunately, no gobbles were heard, and this writer made an executive decision to move. That led us to a spot with good history and my good friend and turkey guru Steve Hickoff had harvested a nice tom there. Stopping at the first opening, a grass field that is part of the bear management plan, my yelps from the Lynch box call were immediately answered and we were psyched! We quickly closed ground and set up where two of the trails, wide clear woods roads, split. The Avian-X hen decoy was set up and we were in business. Rick is an experienced turkey hunter and a skilled caller, so he began calling and the bird answered. Soon, it was clear that the bird was coming. Then, the longbeard was visible and in range, but hesitant about stepping out into the open. Then he “putted.” That short sound often precedes a quick exit and Rick fired his Benelli 12-gauge. Instead of dropping, the bird rolled and then was gone. The next thing we saw was the tom soaring down the mountain, leaving the three of us in disbelief. Rick was beside himself. It seems like there was a sapling that he, as left-handed shooter, had to get around and when he hurried after hearing the putt, missed.

We commiserated for a few minutes and then it was time to get over it and move on. We had not traveled 100 yards when Rick, who hears much better than me (too many rock concerts and shooting classes at Conservation Camp) heard a gobble. The plan was to quickly head up the trail and set up to call, but as we went around the first corner, we all saw a tom, in full display, and a hen not 70 yards up the road! Frozen like three statues, we stood staring and waiting for the tom to, of course, turn his tail to us and look at the hen. But no. The strutter, never breaking from the tail-fanning posture, slowly worked his way towards us. Fifty yards, then 40 yards and finally as close as 30 years with no sign of changing course.

At that point it was time to do something. Since the two hunters were behind me (Hank was carrying my Winchester SuperX3), I slowly slipped left and Rick, in one motion, slipped his shotgun off his shoulder, quickly mounted it and shot. It was Déjà vu all over again! The tom rolled and came up running and Rick was in pursuit. They disappeared and then the turkey came out of the brush and crossed the road behind us. It was behind Hank, and he could not see it and I had no gun but could see it perfectly as it weaved like a running back through the cover and up the hill and out of sight. In mounting his gun, Rick had inadvertently turned off his Red Dot sight, giving him no aiming point. You can’t make this stuff up!

We hunted the rest of the morning with no luck. Rick had to drive his dad to Logan Airport for a flight back to Georgia. It was also time for me to return to Orange, but Rick was not giving up. He drove back to Lyme and was back at it the next morning. When nothing gobbled off the roost or early, he kept hunting and was able to find and call in a big gobbler, checking off New Hampshire! When we spoke Tuesday, he had just taken a turkey in Vermont and was headed to meet up with a guide to hunt both Massachusetts and Rhode Island this week. That’s what I call a serious turkey hunter.

Mike Roche is a retired teacher who has been involved in conservation and wildlife issues his entire life. He has written the Sportsman’s Corner since 1984 and has served as advisor to the MaharFish’N Game Club, counselor and director of the Massachusetts Conservation Camp, former Connecticut Valley District representative on the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board, has been a Massachusetts Hunter Education Instructor and is a licensed New York hunting guide. He can be reached at mikeroche3@msn.com.