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Thrilled to be part of friend's 'grand slam of turkeys' feat

  • LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS Tes Jolly with the Nebraska Merriam turkey that completed her grand slam of turkeys.
    LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS Tes Jolly with the Nebraska Merriam turkey that completed her grand slam of turkeys.
Published April 04. 2015 09:00AM

There are knots of horses grazing contentedly in various spots of the grasslands, their heads down and their tails blowing straight out behind them, as if frozen that way. I'm thinking that turkey decoys will have to be affixed to the ground using four-foot rebar stakes.

My nondescript little rental car is dwarfed by diesel trucks towing trailers carrying farm tractors tall as a two-story building. Soon I am slowing for Arnold, Nebraska, where this year's graduating class numbers four students.

I can't wait to travel the final miles and get to the Cabela's turkey camp, where my old friend Tes Jolly and I will share a hunt for the first time in more years than we care to count.

Tes was born in Alabama to a mother and father who placed great importance on respect and knowledge of the outdoors. She's an amazing turkey caller, highly-successful hunter, talented writer and artist, and award-winning photographer.

In short, she's many things I am not. I was born to the land of suburbia, where people hunted for a good apartment. I didn't hunt until my late twenties. When I met Tes, on a for-ladies-only hunt called Does and Bows, held at White Oak Plantation near Tuskegee, Alabama, I remember being so impressed with her knowledge.

For years we met annually at the hunt and also hunted together other places; but somehow we haven't seen each other for a decade.

A lot has changed since we last met for a hunt. For one thing, both of us no longer have parents to call, to let them know we've arrived safely. Tes's mom was the most recent passing.

"I feel like calling my mom," Tes says as I step into the huge Cabela's outfitters tent we'll share during the hunt.

"I know," I answer. And just like that, we're right back to the level of friendship we're always known.

The first afternoon I choose a grassy hill near roosting trees, nestling in against a lone bush. It isn't long before I hear the sounds of a group of turkeys gobbling like mad men. Soon I can hear them fussing off to my left at the bottom of the hill.

Since there's a big group including hens I decide to try the demanding old hen approach - for some reason it's not a big stretch for me - and they respond. I have the gun up with my forearms braced on my knees; good thing, since the whole gang of them comes charging up the hill.

I want a Merriam's with the white tail feathers and there's one in the group. I wait and wait until his snake of a neck and head are clear from the others. At the shot, he drops in a heap and moves very little.

I unload and run up to the crest of the hill, where he's fallen. Past him are two more dead turkeys, thankfully males, but jakes.

One is an Eastern, and one is an Eastern/Merriam hybrid. Just like that, I'm out of tags.

The next day, I'm hunting with my camera, hidden about twenty yards behind Tes. Gobblers are calling but hung up, and she brings her hand to her head like she's answering a phone and then jerks her thumb back over her shoulder. I get it; she wants me to start calling and moving away, making the turkeys think the hens are leaving.

I crawl through a nasty tangle of an area, filled with blown-down trees and briars, while making hen yelps alternately with a mouth call and slate. It works. Two of them come hurrying over a hill, and Tes drops the biggest.

The gorgeous Merriam turkey completes her grand slam (Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam) and I'm thrilled to be part of it. I jog up to her and we just grin; then head back to the truck, walking in each other's shadows.

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