With 50 teams of 3 competing, the odds were stacked. Turkey hunters from far and wide for the 2016 World Turkey Hunting Championship, Hunting festivities got into full swing on April 11, 2016, infiltrated LaCygne Kansas and by the end of the week, there were few that went home empty-handed. From professional hunters to amateur gamers, this hunt was loaded with talent and outdoor enthusiasts. Though many Toms were spotted, only Eastern Tom Turkeys were eligible for the competition.
World Turkey Hunting Championship scoring for the teams was based on the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and measured by the weight of the bird, length of his spurs added together x 10, and the length of its beard x 2. Extra points were awarded for multiple beards and spurs and the weapon used in the kill, shotgun, compound bow, or Recurve bow.
Monday, the Traeger hunting team arrived in Kansas and set up camp for the week in the barebones tent that was onsite. The Traeger turkey hunting team consisted of Tyler Stark from our team, Josh Medlin, Traeger turkey hunt contest winner, and Josh Honeycutt from Realtree. Our turkey hunt contest winner, Josh Medlin won his way onto the Traeger hunting team by sharing his wild hunting story on Instagram. We set up our big orange Traeger tents and got to smoking and grilling chicken wings for the welcome reception where the hunting teams mingled, enjoyed a crawfish boil, and shook a tail feather.
The breakfast bell rang at 8:00 am on Tuesday and contestants came into the tents in full camo, ready for the land draw. Teams lined up to draw ping-pong balls for the picking order. The teams drew additional ping-pong balls to determine their regulator and land for the week. Each turkey hunting team was assigned a parcel of private land about 400+ acres to hunt on, any birds taken had to be from within the assigned team parcel. The Traeger land was 800 acres and was surrounded by beautiful grain fields and pasture with a creek through the center of the property and surrounding ponds. We received a greatly wooded spot, which is prime for turkeys to lurk.
Teams set out to begin bushwacking from 11 am to 3 pm; we couldn’t find any signs of turkeys so we returned in that evening to look for roosting birds. Turkeys roost in treetops at night and come down to feed during the day. After our evening scout session from 5 to 8 pm, we saw only two hens, so we retreated to refuel on some Traegered pulled pork. Hunters were rewarded with flavorful wood fired food and we demonstrated how to prepare a brisket for a long, overnight smoke session.
Wednesday was the season opener, turkey hunting teams were let loose to get their hunt on, our eyes were peeled and the competition was on! We left camp at 5 am to sneak into our parcel under the cover of darkness. We parked at the far end of our property and began hiking and sending out our turkey calls every few hundred yards. We heard some gobbles early on and headed toward them. Making our way to the back edge of the property we knew we were upon them. We set up our fan decoys and waited. Turkey’s have really great eyesight so when they see the tail feathers, they are drawn in thinking it’s a hen.
We talked back and forth with the turkeys for about an hour, thinking that they were getting closer. Then, BAM! Six shots rang out from the neighboring property and our turkeys scattered and we knew that we’d lost them. Not wanting to be skunked, we decided to make some bold moves and get away from the other competitors.
We took our team and drove 3 hours Northwest and started to scout Walk In Access land. We drove to 25 different properties, got out, and sounded our calls. If we heard birds, we set up our fan decoys and snuck around. Near the end of the day, we hadn’t shot at anything and were beginning to get discouraged. We drove to a new parcel, exited the truck and hit our box call--We immediately got a mean gobble back. Excited, we raced to get our gear on and started crawling across the field. The turkey was out about 100 yards away, so we set up a Jake decoy, concealed ourselves, and started calling again. The bird was angry and gobbling fiercely, soon we saw his fan peek through the brush. The strutter came within 75 yards and began walking to the property line. This Tom was a vocal bird; he didn’t leave the area so we waited in silence. Soon he reappeared on the private side of the property. We let out a few more calls to try and call him back to our area but he could not be persuaded. He made his way within 10 yards of us but was still, just on the other side of the fence. We retreated and determined we’d be back early the next day for him.
Back at camp, we refueled with a delicious dinner and live music by Leith Loftin, Roger Hodges, and Terri Jo Box.
Team Traeger rallied and left camp at 2 am to make the 3-hour drive back to the Walk In Access land. The fog was very dense, which made traveling on the dirt county roads a challenge, but we made it in before sunrise. We used the fog to our advantage to work our way to the back of an open cornfield into the timber patch where we set up our turkey decoys. We started calling for Toms at sunrise and were quickly surrounded by turkeys, at least 15 turkeys immediately came in. We saw our first birds strutting around, as they drew near it was apparent that they were Jake’s, young males that weren’t eligible for scoring. The Jakes thought our decoys were real and they even mounted them. We spent an hour talking with the birds waiting for the big Tom to appear, unfortunately, he never showed. We headed back to where we had seen birds the day before. We once again set up our decoys and waited. About 15 minutes into the hunt we heard a bird walking. He peeped his head around the knoll to check out the hen decoy and Josh Honeycutt from Realtree nailed him, Team Traeger was on the board!
As we approached the bird we were filled with adrenaline, but upon closer inspection, it appeared that the bird he’d shot had no spurs, which means it would receive a low score, but we were on the scoreboard. The team quickly packed up and headed out to the new land. As we were nearing the next property, a large tom ran across the road. We parked a mile down the road and hiked in and set up at the back end of the timbers near a clearing. Here we saw the bird strutting towards the decoys. Tom was eyeing the hen and gobbling like crazy with his fan in full spread. The Tom made its way wearily around the outskirts of our set up and avoided being in the open. As he neared Josh Medlin, we got excited, he was still 66 yards away when Josh decided to take the shot—HE dropped him dead with his Bennelli 20 gauge. It was a great 2-3 year old bird and had spurs and his turkey tracks were 4-5” wide! We packed up quickly, hoping to get one more turkey before we had to head back. Without any luck, we made it back to basecamp in time for the 10pm check in.
The nightly activities included a fish fry dinner and auctions benefiting the Catch a Dream Foundation. We cooked up some of the previous days kills for the crowd - Traeger smoked Wild Turkey.
Our final shot.
On the last day, it was a half day hunt, we decided to head back to our original land draw and left camp at the crack of dawn to get set up. We walked and sent out our game calls and started hearing some turkeys nearby. We heard a few birds that were near and then—BOOM! A shot rang out from the neighboring property and they got our Toms, foiled again. After a few hours of silence, we packed it in. Team Traeger got 2 birds but at least we didn’t get skunked.
For dinner ,we were treated with amazing BBQ pork butts and a concert by Aaron Lewis.
All-in-all, we had success and such a great time tracking and seeing turkeys.