“I want Sydney to take a grand slam of turkeys before she graduates high school,” said Blake Shelby, eager to share special outdoor times together on a father/daughter adventure. “She got a Rio in Texas last year, but this Merriam’s will be a special challenge.”
“I had not a clue!” said Sydney Shelby, with all the youthful exuberance of a 14-year-old. “I thought it would be cold in South Dakota, but not snow. It’s 95 degrees back home in Louisiana. We didn’t bring waterproof boots or anything.”
Growing up on the Gulf Coast, her dad Shelby had a host of new experiences for his daughter providing much more education than any school day back home- a father/daughter trip through the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and first snow ball experience.
Learning on the Road
The camp was hosted by the Ken Byers family, including their two daughters Autumn, 23, and Katie also 14. Having other gals in camp no doubt made Sydney feel more comfortable and turkey tales filled the evening, including Sydney’s Rio attempts in Texas.
The Shelby’s spent a chilly night in a camping trailer as the skies cleared and temperatures plummeted into the 20’s. Before heading out, Dad admitted, “I brought four t-shirts and I’m wearing all of them,” beginning the day with a hearty laugh. The previous day’s six-inch snow fall was now a giant bowl of Captain Crunch. They headed toward a known roost tree, yet, knew they couldn’t get very close. As dawn broke and turkeys began gobbling, one tom sounded and seemed closer as dad called to the main roost. When a lone gobbler erupted at 100 yards, the father/daughter team ducked for cover as best they could in the blanket of white.
The gobbler thundered at 50 yards just over the edge of a steep hill, but as Sydney was re-positioning her shooting sticks and cocking the shotgun, a red head popped over the horizon and spotted motion. Alarm-putting, the tom moved away at a steady pace, wary, yet not exploding at our presence. “I never dreamed we’d call in a gobbling turkey in the snow,” said Shelby as they grouped for the next strategy. “April 16th should not be this cold.”
Next, the Shelby’s found themselves in one of these Merriam’s standoffs, where a flock was feeding in a wide-open plane, drifting toward a distant bluff which would allow a closer approach. Attempting to circle ahead of the birds, the duo moved along a steep creek bank until they ran out of cover with no alternative, but to wait out the turkeys. On a normal day, hunters would keep an eye on the movement and propose what-if scenarios, but not the Shelby’s. Heck this was recess. Shelby challenged Sydney to a dirt clod throwing contest, for accuracy at first which led to who could create the biggest splash in the creek. Then came a spitting contest that became the highlight of the day. “We gotta work on this,” laughed Shelby back in camp. “Sydney couldn’t spit past her shoes. So far, she’s had a snow ball throwing contest, a mud clod throwing and a spitting contest and lost all three,” then toasted, “these are the experiences that make a father/daughter relationship priceless.”
Later that afternoon, a big mature Merriam’s tom put on the show of a lifetime. “I threw every call but the kitchen sink,” dad remembered, “and finally one of the toms broke off and began strutting in front of us. The cover was pretty thick as it strutted and drummed closer and closer. “Take the shot any time now,” whispered dad. Fifteen yards and two more struts. “Any time now,” as dad’s heart was in his throat. Two more drums …Bang!!!
“It was strutting the whole time and drumming,” Sydney said enthusiastically, her big brown eyes on fire with excitement. “I was sooo nervous. I had missed two turkeys in Texas and was really scared it might happen again. The shotgun was on shooting sticks, but the turkey was behind a bunch of trees and I waited until it got into the open and really close. I put the red ring in the scope on its neck and squeezed– really slow.”
Happy Birthday, Dad
“This was so much fun,” Sydney said on the way back to the camp- Killing a turkey with my dad on his birthday. It’s all just fun, except for the cold,” which was extreme for mid- April even in the Great Plains. “I’d gladly do this again, even with the cold cause it’s so much fun.”
Dad was in the same boat, maybe even on a higher deck. “Sydney is one of those girls who loves to be with her daddy and we have hunted and fished our whole lives,” Shelby said proudly. “It is so much fun because there is so much action… very interactive and good quality time together. I have four more years with her and we are going to go until we get that grand slam together. It’s much more than a hunt, the good times together are priceless.”
Author’s Note: No state rolls out the camo carpet like South Dakota. For game regulations check www.gfp.sd.gov and South Dakota Tourism will help with all the details at www.travelsd.com