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The Black Hills Offer Non-Traditional Methods and Weapons for Hunting ‘Thunder Chickens’

By: Bruce Speidel

Turkey season is about to open in my neck of the woods. Most states only allow shotguns and archery equipment to hunt turkeys, but Wyoming and South Dakota both allow the use of centerfire cartridges, which provides for a unique, albeit not easy, hunt. The Black Hills are home to well-educated, wild and crazy strutters, or “thunder chickens,” as we affectionately call the wily creatures, and hunting them can be a challenge.

Conventional turkey hunting involves finding an area with turkey tracks, hiking around at night and making crow calls, coyote howls, and owl hoots to get a “shock gobble” from a roosting Tom. The next morning, you sneak in as close as possible to the Tom’s roost tree and wait for “fly down” at first light. This method requires you to be out at 9 p.m., back around 10:30, and gone from camp again at 3 or 4 a.m. to get into position before the turkey wakes up.

I get it; it’s fun to catch the early bird landing and puffing up for his morning strut. Exciting, yes. But the process makes me tired just thinking about two days in a row of these late night, early morning shenanigans. Fortunately, there is another way! One that is fun and allows the hunter some sweet rest.

I enjoy hunting turkeys by hunting something else. I love hunting shed antlers. They are already out there on the ground, and they don’t mind if you pick them up at sunrise or in the middle of the day. The way I prefer to hunt turkeys is to sleep in ‘til 7 a.m., or even 8, enjoy a relaxing breakfast, then head to the woods. It might seem like a lazy man’s approach to turkey hunting, but it has worked as well or better than the crazy 3 a.m. wake-up-with-the-turkey method I have employed in the past.

Shed antler hunting requires you to cover miles and miles of south-facing slopes where the deer and elk have weathered the winter. These south-facing slopes are warm and pleasant in the early season. Turkeys also like south-facing slopes because they start growing grass before the cold north-facing slopes. I have rarely shed hunted in the Black Hills without crossing paths with a turkey. I simply spot and stalk the turkey when I hear it or see it while shed hunting.

The Black Hills have some dense pockets of forest, but primarily is very open compared the eastern states, hence the allowance for centerfire weapons. A .223, .22mag or 22-250 is a great firearm for “shed hunting turkeys.” One of my best Toms (a 10 1/8” beard) was harvested on a “shed hunting turkey” hunt. By the end of the day I had equal pounds of turkey and sheds – a “shed hunting turkey” day for the record books that I will never forget!

Finding sheds is not for the fickle – or the “truck hunter,” for that matter. I find on decent south-facing slopes I can pick up on average one shed antler for every two miles hiked. Be prepared to cover country. The benefits are many! It burns off fat stored up during the winter. I find new places and trails where I can hunt deer and elk the next fall. I explore so much ground I would not have otherwise ventured into. Sometimes I reduce the coyote population that seeks to eat deer and turkeys. I get better sleep than the early morning routine, and thus enjoy my experience much more.

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I get more conversation with hunting friends because of the more laid-back approach to hunting sheds and turkeys simultaneously. It’s less tedious and time-consuming than waiting for hours for turkeys to come into a call, and, best of all, I shoot just as many turkeys this way as I do when I’m sleep-deprived and miserable.

“Shed hunting turkeys” is not the most traditional or revered way to hunt turkeys, but it’s the way I find the greatest enjoyment. If I don’t get a turkey, I’ll probably have a few shed antlers (which I personally consider an even better treasure than a turkey). If I don’t find turkeys or sheds, I get a great calorie-scorching hike in beautiful scenery. It’s a win-win-win-win: more sleep, less stress, more sheds, and just as many turkeys!

Just be sure to thoroughly read each state’s regulations before choosing your firearm. God Bless and happy turkey hunting!

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Bruce Speidel is a professional artist and hunting guide writing from Sundance, Wyoming. Contact him at artistbrucespeidel@gmail.com or at www.brucespeidel.com.

Photo Credit: Bruce Speidel

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.