On his third trip northwest from Abilene, Texas, determined cattleman Birch Lobban loaded his family by wagon, trailing his herd across the nation with Manifest Destiny in mind. It was 1906.
The old adage “Go west young man and grow up with the country” was never so true than through the westward expansion of homesteaders after Deadwood gold was discovered around 1876.
Destined for the Old West of Wyoming, his intention was to load a train set eastbound for the original Chicago Livestock Exchange. His family settled on ground 20 miles north of Hulett, Wyo., among the Black Hills shadowed by Devil’s Tower. After years of work for several big cattle companies, he bought up starving area homesteads in the 1930s and built his own ranch at the end of a gravel path that bears his name, Lobban Road, now an expanse in excess of 5,000 acres.
Fast forward to a recent early May morning, I found myself hunting Merriam’s on that same ground graciously guided by Lobban’s fourth-generation grandson, Lee Jay, the current ranch proprietor. It was day one of the ninth annual Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot (OWITS) held in Hulett, an exclusive fundraiser enhancing habitat through the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation and building community through the Greater Hulett Community Center.
Earlier that morning, I met my partner for the weekend, Dana Bonander from Casper, a hunter I had never met. OWITS hunters are randomly paired which adds to the sense of community inherent in the event. On the way to our hunt location amidst sunrise coffee and conversation, I learned Dana had yet to harvest a turkey of any species in his life.
As Lee set the decoys on the edge of a long prairie draw, we knelt down and whispered the game plan. I reached in my vest pocket and pulled out two Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS loads and handed them to Dana. “You shoot first,” I urged.
Nestled against a young pine tree with camera in hand, I had never heard a sweeter symphony than that from the roost ridge above. Lee started with soothingly soft tree yelps from a box call, and I noted just how soft they really were. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Lee was doing his part with the calling. I had high hopes Dana would do his part, too.
Hens called nearly nonstop for more than 20 minutes before fly down. Multiple gobblers occasionally answered in unison in an escalating chorus that sounded better than Beethoven’s 5th to me. Lee switched to a mouth call, mimicking the hens, cutting them off mid-yelp in a bickering ramped-up sequence. Lee later joked, “When girls argue in the bar, the boys always come running.”
And come running they did. From over 400 yards, the pacing fan of a tom first appeared over the hill and then disappeared. Below, two hens led the way followed by one strutter and then another. Slowly, their parade started our way, but curiosity got the better of these birds. A slow approach transitioned to a dead run. I did my best to follow them in frame.
But something wasn’t quite right. As turkeys do, they veered away just at what I thought was pushing the edge of shooting range. As I steadied my camera on the bigger of the two, a loud, startling boom from Dana’s 12-gauge sounded through the valley. I regained focus seeing flopping feathers. Bird down.
Lee ranged the bird right at 60 yards. A steady, clean shot. Dana was done. First-bird handshakes and smiles followed as we admired the gobbler’s fan and retold the story a few times afield.
Impressed by the hunt experience, I told the story to Federal Premium Communications Coordinator Jared Hinton later that day. For many years, Federal Premium has recognized the importance of the OWITS by sponsoring the event in multiple ways.
“When we head afield, we all want to close the distance and take the shortest shot possible. Federal Heavyweight TSS allows hunters the confidence that their ammo will not be a prohibitive factor should things go awry,” Jared said in our discussion. “When you need to make a longer-than-planned shot, TSS rounds will give you an extremely high pattern density and downrange performance, albeit a pellet diameter much smaller than what we grew up shooting.”
That was certainly true for the hunt I had witnessed earlier that morning. Dana was shooting the 12-gauge, 3-inch TSS loads in 9 shot. “The extreme high density of the TSS pellet allows the rounds to pack almost double the number of pellets in a load that maintains the same payload as more traditional 4 or 5 shot lead rounds hunters more commonly shoot,” Jared continued. “In fact, the 9 shot TSS loads have many hunters looking to move to a smaller caliber than they’ve typically used for turkeys. These rounds make sub-gauge turkey hunting safe and ethical, which is great news for youth or recoil-sensitive shooters.”
Winters are arduous where I live, and I thoroughly enjoy my personal westward expansion each spring in chase of Old West turkeys. “Go west young man and grow up with the country,” I tell myself. This year’s overwhelming success of the OWITS was impressive for the future of conservation and community in Wyoming, as was the guiding and calling prowess of Lee, Dana’s wonderful first bird and the effectiveness of the Heavyweight TSS loads.
If Roosevelt was a turkey hunter in this day and age, he’d probably say, “Call softly and carry the right loads.”
Wyoming Wildlife Foundation