Hunting Colorado’s Mountain Merriam’s (with The Colonel & The Fox) and Struttin’ & Cluckin’ at Rendezvous

Among hunter-conservationists the story of the decimation of wildlands and wildlife during the 1700s-1800s followed by a remarkable recovery during the 1900s-2000s is well known. However, a week prior to the start of the 2024 spring turkey hunting season Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) Habitat Watch Volunteer Rick Hooley forwarded me a new YouTube documentary (“The Colonel & The Fox”) about two of turkey hunting’s foremost protectors and proponents.[1]

During 2018 I wrote about “The Colonel” in a Colorado Outdoors story, “Hunting Colorado’s Mountain Merriam’s (& The Tenth Legion).” “The best-known book of turkey hunting’s poet laureate, Colonel (retired) Tom Kelly, is Tenth Legion. The title comes from the Tenth Legion of the Roman Army, a matchless military force that stood fast against barbarian hordes for centuries,” I explained. “Over generations, the soldiers forming the Tenth Legion’s ranks became a cult, a breed apart, and their feats have become a touchstone for unstinting commitment.”[2]

Like Colonel Kelly and the 23% of BHA members who are either active-duty military or veterans, I’m a student of military history.[3] And our BHA Armed Forces Initiative (AFI) volunteers, in particular, will appreciate the service-inspired turkey hunting observations in Tenth Legion. However, we’re all “Wilderness Warriors” fighting for “our wild public lands, waters, and wildlife” and the Tenth Legion ethos was baked into BHA from the start by the likes of BHA founder Mike Beagle, a U.S. Army veteran.[4]

Rick, a lifelong hunter-angler-guide, is also a testament to our BHA boots on the ground conservation ethos. His contagious enthusiasm for the hunt combined with a dogged dedication to Aldo Leopold-inspired ethics intertwined with a commitment to habitat conservation is the fuel that fanned the flames of BHA’s founding campfire and, subsequently, spread it like a forest fire across the continent.

“It took years of living and killing and maturing and hard self-examination to overcome the indiscriminate blood-lust so common to young males of our species, and to figure out that to be a real hunter means not just taking, but giving back as well,” Colorado BHA founder David “Elkheart” Petersen wrote in the Fall 2013 Backcountry Journal. “And a large part of giving back is simple self-restraint. Ask me today to name my top hunting hero and I’ll respond without hesitation: Aldo Leopold.”[5]

Leopold was a hunter all his life. Big game, small game, upland birds, waterfowl, snipe. Archery, rifle, shotgun.[6] I don’t know if he hunted turkeys, but Rick and I have teamed up to hunt toms many times over the years. During the first week of the 2024 season, however, Rick came down with pneumonia. “It looks like you’ll be solo,” Rick said. “I’ll spook every bird from the area with my cough.”

Hunt #1: Close Calls

After a long Sunday drive from Colorado Springs to southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, Monday (April 15) morning started at 4:00 am with a moonlit 3.5-mile hike, which put me in prime turkey hunting habitat by sunup. My first gobbler encounter (at about 7:00 am) turned out to be the only visual turkey sighting of the day, although multiple vocal toms and hens let me know they were in the vicinity.

This guy was gobbling his head off in a meadow on a nearby ridge. Tempted by my mediocre slate calling, he approached to just outside of shotgun range before determining that something was amiss. However, as the folks at Outdoor News said in their April 5, 2024, issue: “It’s the sound that makes the season—the gobble.”[7] Just getting this tom a gobblin’ and spottin’ his bobbin’ blue head before he wised up to my camo disguise was more than enough for a successful hunt, which concluded with 12.5 miles hiked/hunted in 9 hours.

Tuesday morning (April 16) started at 4:00 am, again, followed by multiple toms gobbling from the roost at sunup. In the same, aforementioned, meadow two toms sounded off and one closed to visual distance but just out of shotgun range. He hung-up on a nearby knoll, gobbling and strutting.

My slate calling, while eliciting enthusiastic gobbles, was not budging him while also contributing to rapidly freezing fingers. However, a car-sized boulder between us provided an opportunity to close the distance. Overcoming a gobblers highly honed avian eyes and ears is more often than not a fool’s errand, which was the case today.

“Unfortunately, turkeys, like most hunted game species, quickly learn to avoid you, dodge your tactics and even duct tape their beaks shut to elude your dogged pursuit,” American Hunter contributor Mark Kayser wrote (in the March 2024 issue). “Your pressures, combined with likely pressures from others … prods most turkeys into an unresponsive state of being.”[8] This tom is now a little smarter and, hence, more unresponsive and harder to hunt.

Although multiple other toms (and hens) were encountered during the morning, none would close. The hunt concluded with 13.9 miles hiked/hunted in 9.75 hours. “I would never win a calling competition, but some competition callers can’t kill a bird because they are not good woodsmen,” Jeff Budz explained (in the March 29, 2024, Outdoor News). “I travel light because I cover a lot of ground.”[9]

Jeff would likely agree that an affinity for travel, exploration, and learning (i.e., “Hunting For Experience”) is a definite advantage for maximizing both hunting opportunities and other life experiences.[10] Jeff, for example, has completed 110 grand slams (bagging all four subspecies of wild turkeys in the U.S.) and 1 super slam (self-guided), which is harvesting one wild turkey subspecies in every state except Alaska.[11]

Although I’ve been to all fifty states, 42 counties (and counting), and all seven continents during a lifetime of “hunting for experience,” I’ve only hunted mountain Merriam’s in Colorado and Nebraska. Someday I hope to chase toms in more states, like my friend Stu Osthoff (publisher of The Boundary Waters Journal) does. “Every April, I turkey hunt Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska,” Stu wrote in the Fall 2023 Boundary Waters Journal. “Someday, I plan to tack on another three or four states to this spring tradition, but for now this trifecta will have to do.”[12]

Rendezvous Struttin’ & Cluckin’

The original plan was to hunt Wednesday (April 16) morning too, but I returned to Colorado Springs Tuesday evening due to attending the BHA North American Rendezvous in Minnesota starting on Thursday. Some North American Rendezvous (April 18-20) highlights included a welcome reception at Unmapped Brewing in Mankato attended by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, a hunter-angler and U.S. Army veteran. See photos from the reception here.

There was also a Struttin’ & Cluckin’ Turkey Calling Contest. As detailed in a BHA contest promo: “The Struttin' & Cluckin' Calling Classic returns to Rendezvous! … This contest will feature turkey hunters from across North America in a calling contest aimed at finding the best public lands turkey caller in our ranks. This friendly competition is meant to be engaging, fun and lighthearted. Do you have what it takes? We want you to join us on-stage at the 2024 North American Rendezvous!”

And as BHA staff posted on social media during the calling contest (on 4/20/24), “Things are getting pretty serious over here at the Struttin’ & Cluckin’ Calling Contest (presented by @vortexoptics & @riverbrothersoutfitters).”[13] See one of the contestants, Col. Mike Abell, and his unorthodox and entertaining calling presentation (on Instagram) here. Also check out some contest photos here.

Colorado BHA was also proud to have two of our own chapter standouts win national awards at Rendezvous, with Randy Newberg (of “Fresh Tracks” and “On Your Own Adventures”) serving as master of ceremonies. Former BHA State Policy Manager Tim Brass received the Jim Posewitz Award and Colorado BHA Board/Executive Leadership Team (ELT) member Dan Parkinson received the Aldo Leopold Award.[14] See photos from the awards ceremony here.

Hunt #2: One Tough Bird

After returning to southwest Colorado (on April 29) I teamed up with Rick for more turkey hunting, although he had already filled his tag. Hence, Rick joined the hunt sans shotgun. “I was finally able to get out today for the first time since the season opened with the help of a few cough drops,” Rick said (on April 23). “I got into the area right at dawn and after a few coyote calls I only heard maybe three gobbles.”

“I worked my way up to where I could almost peak over into the upper meadow and did a few yelps. Immediately two hens came running and yelping over the edge. The gobbler stayed out of sight and gobbled a couple times and I could definitely hear him drumming,” Rick added. “The hens milled around a bit then went back to the tom. I belly crawled up to a tree on the edge and spotted him thirty yards out still strutting with the hens feeding away from me … When he turned his back, I was able to get the shotgun to shoulder and took him.”

On Monday (April 29) morning we encountered a flock of three toms and eight (or so) hens but couldn’t coax the gobblers away from these hens. Later that morning Rick convinced a solo tom to strut by, but a shot opportunity didn’t materialize. He was receptive but wary, circling us like an elk trying to catch our scent. The hunt concluded with 14 miles hiked/hunted in 9.5 hours.

On Tuesday (April 30) morning I called in two toms traveling together and shot one at 30 yards. He flopped down on the far side of a downed tree and appeared to be in his death throes. While approaching, prepared for (but not anticipating) a follow-up shot, I noticed a tom off to my right trotting away at about 35-40 yards. “Was that the second tom?” I thought. “Why didn’t he run when I shot his partner?”

After reaching the downed tree and finding only feathers, I realized my tom had shaken off a less-than-lethal shotgun blast and was now long gone. In disbelief, I circled and searched the area for thirty minutes before finally accepting that that was one tough bird! And that’s why they call it hunting. The day concluded with 15 miles hiked/hunted in 9.5 hours.



Wednesday (May 1) was an “all talk, no action” day. I had upwards of a half-dozen different toms talking throughout the morning, with some closing to just outside of visual range, then going silent and/or heading in the opposite direction. They were happy to chat from afar, but not face-to-face. This day concluded with 11.5 miles hiked/hunted in 6.75 hours.

After returning home to Colorado Springs Wednesday evening, on Friday (May 3) I joined the Colorado BHA “Meeker Fence Removal and Lek Viewing” (May 4-5) crew.[15] We met up at Smoking River Brewing Co. in Meeker Friday evening, then early Saturday morning visited a greater sage grouse lek with some 90 birds putting on an engaging mating display.

Fence pulling followed with a mile or so ultimately removed by the end of the weekend along with another grouse (sharp-tailed) lek visited Sunday morning. The event was orchestrated by Briant Wiles (BHA Colorado Habitat Stewardship Coordinator) and Brian Holms (Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist). See photos from the sage grouse lek viewing (on May 4) here.

Hunt #3: Avian Elk

We’re now into late May and the end of spring turkey hunting is fast approaching. Enroute to southwest Colorado I joined the Colorado BHA crew in Gunnison for our Second Annual (May 17-19) Public Lands Day Bash (“Beers, Bands, and Barbwire Strands”), which included a Friday evening wild game potluck and Saturday public lands fence pull(s) followed by live music, great prizes, vendors, food, beverages, bonfires, and second-to-none camaraderie.[16]

Photos from the Gunnison State Wildlife Area fence pull (one of three on May 18), including llama logistical support, are posted here. On Sunday (May 19) I returned to the San Juans for a final round of turkey hunting. “Spring turkey seasons revolve around the act of luring a tom to you utilizing turkey vocalizations, oftentimes paired with decoys,” Mark Kayser added. “When it works, the experience is unforgettable.”[17] Although this third hunt resulted in more unforgettable experiences, mature toms were noticeably absent from the action.

On Monday (May 20) I hunted two locales with very little turkey sign and no action. The day concluded with 9.5 miles hiked/hunted in 4.5 hours. Tuesday morning (May 21) Rick joined me, and we encountered a group of three jakes and several hens not long after sunup. However, there were no mature toms among them. Later, we encountered another group of two jakes and hens, but (again) no mature toms.

Although I’m not opposed to putting a jake in the freezer, during the always heart-thumping encounters with a mishmash of turkeys in close proximity I wasn’t able to discern if any of the jakes were sporting beards. Colorado regulations require a visible beard. The day concluded with 8.5 miles hiked/hunted in 7 hours. That afternoon I returned home with plenty of time to ponder the challenges inherent in hunting wary mountain Merriam’s (aka, “avian elk”).

“Although I’m, at best, a mediocre caller and don’t have any grand slams or other impressive accolades to bolster my turkey hunting credentials, the most important element of any turkey hunt boils down to just getting out there and trying your best day after day and year after year,” I wrote in “Hunting Colorado’s Mountain Merriam’s (& The Tenth Legion).” “With some dedication and persistence, you will gain admittance to the Legion …”[18]

 And don’t forget to watch the excellent Mossy Oak turkey hunting documentary, their first ever feature length film, about “The Colonel” (Tom Kelly, author of Tenth Legion) and “The Fox” (Fox Haas, father of Mossy Oak founder Toxey Hass). This film celebrates the life and legacy of these men and the rest of turkey hunting’s greatest generation. And if, by chance, you’ve not yet read Tenth Legion, it’s a turkey hunting classic considered by many to be among the best works on the wild turkey ever written.


“I hunt with regularity and delight in the company of a good many men who are inept turkey hunters. They can’t yelp. They get lost in the woods. The best day they ever had they couldn’t tell north from straight up,” Tom Kelly wrote in Tenth Legion. “But they do the one really important thing and they do it exactly right. They go … the only final and absolute rule that must be followed to achieve membership in the Legion. All in the hell you have to do is try.”[19]


 Hunt Numbers/Totals/Misc.

After seven days of hunting covering approximately 85 miles during 56 hours, I had seven mountain Merriam’s tom close encounters (i.e., within visual range and approaching or in shotgun range) and one shot was taken (on April 30). With each of these close encounters you can flip a coin to determine if the hunter gets the drop of the gobbler or vice versa, which is why they call it hunting. Gladly, it’s a “win either way” scenario for mountain Merriam’s turkey hunters. All you have to do is try.


-April 15: 12.5 miles/9 hours (1 close encounter).

-April 16: 13.9 miles/9.75 hours (1 close encounter).

-April 29: 14 miles/9.5 hours (2 close encounters).

-April 30: 15 miles/9.5 hours (1 close encounter/1 shot).

-May 1: 11.5 miles/6.75 hours (0 close encounters).

-May 20: 9.5 miles/4.5 hours (0 close encounters).

-May 21: 8.5 miles/7.0 hours (2 close encounters).

-Totals: 7 days/85 miles/56 hours/7 close encounters/1 shot.


-April 13-May 31: Colorado Spring Turkey Hunting Season.

-April 18-20: BHA North American Rendezvous in Minneapolis.

-May 4-5: Meeker Fence Pull And Lek Viewing.

-May 17-19: Gunnison Colorado Public Lands Day (CPLD) Bash.

-May 18: CPLD Fence Pulls.



Related Information/Resources

-Mossy Oak (4/3/24). “The Colonel & The Fox | A Mossy Oak Documentary.” This film chronicles the story of turkey hunting history and the revival of the wild turkey.

-“Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Board Member Dan Parkinson Receives Aldo Leopold Award.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/29/24.

-BHA North American Rendezvous Awards Ceremony photos at/from the Minneapolis Convention Center with master of ceremonies Randy Newberg and Colorado BHA Board/Executive Leadership Team (ELT) member Dan Parkinson receiving the Aldo Leopold Award (4/20/24).

-“Mountain Merriam’s Therapy (& Botched Shots).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 5/18/20.

-“Hunting Colorado’s Mountain Merriam’s (& The Tenth Legion).” Colorado Outdoors: 5/2/18.

-“Backcountry Hunters & Anglers State Policy Director Tim Brass Transitions To Colorado Department of Natural Resources.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 7/5/23.

-David “Elkheart” Petersen (founder of the first BHA state chapter, here in Colorado, and a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) books. Also see his “On the Wild Edge” documentary at:

2024 BHA North American Rendezvous (Minn.) Photos

-Welcome reception at Unmapped Brewing in Minnetonka with Governor Tim Walz (4/18/24).

-North American Rendezvous at the Minneapolis Convention Center (4/19/24).

-Turkey Calling Contest at the Minneapolis Convention Center (4/20/24).

-Awards Ceremony at the Minneapolis Convention Center with master of ceremonies Randy Newberg (4/20/24).

-North American Rendezvous at the Minneapolis Convention Center (4/20/24).


Meeker (Colo.) Fence Pull And Lek Viewing

-Meeker area greater sage grouse lek viewing (photos) with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologist Brian Holms (5/4/24).

-Patt Dorsey, David H. McCord, Ryan Bronson, and Mia Anstine. “Colorado, Western U.S. are at a crossroads for the fate of the greater sage grouse: ‘Good for the bird, good for the herd’ philosophy is key as BLM looks at changes to how it manages the millions of acres of habitat.” The Colorado Sun: 5/14/24.

-Thomas Plank. “BHA, Coalition Express Support for New Sage Grouse Plans, Sagebrush Habitat Improvement.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 3/15/24.

-We Can (7/19/16). “The Sharpest Tale in the West.”

-The Sagebrush Sea:

-“What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.” –John Gale, former BHA Conservation Director


Additional Information/Resources:

-“Hunting For Experience: Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Oral History Project.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 3/28/24.

-“The Patron Saints of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 3/12/24.

-“Stalking Wildness: BHA’s Wilderness Warriors.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 2/13/24.

-“Public Lands (& Freedom) Unite Our Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Tribe.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 1/5/24. 

-“A Hunter-Angler (Hell-Raisin’ & Habitat Savin’) Guide To Winning: Colorado BHA Examples (Browns Canyon & Camp Hale).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 10/23/23.

-“Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: Mission, Issues & Actions (Triads).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 8/17/23.

-“Minnesota BHA North Country Icebreaker (‘Stoke The Fire,’ But Don’t Burn Out!).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 3/11/23.

-“Armed Forces Initiative Helps Veterans Hunt … And More.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 8/17/22.

-“It’s All About The Meat.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 2/17/22.

-“Conservation (& Conciliation).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 9/15/21.

-“Colorado BHA State Chapter Leadership (Triad) Structure.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 7/26/21.

-“Hunting For Experience: At BHA’s North American Rendezvous.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 7/9/21.

-“BHA State Chapter Development (Recruiting/Retaining Leaders & Avoiding Burnout).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 6/1/21.

-“The ABCs Of LTEs: Writing Letters To The Editor.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 2/5/21.

-“Empowering Leaders: It’s In BHA’s DNA.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 1/7/21.

-“A Letter from CO Co-Chair David Lien.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 12/18/20.

-“Where Hope Lives: A Brief BHA History.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 11/30/20.

-“Colorado BHA Habitat Watch Volunteer Program History & Training.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/6/20.

-“Looking back, looking forward: A brief history of BHA.”


-The Jim Posewitz Digital Library.

-The Jim Posewitz Digital Library: Required Reading for Conservationists.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/3/20.

-BHA’s Podcast & Blast:

-Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Backcountry College.


-Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (9/26/22). “Why BHA? [Colonel] Mike Abell.”

-“2021 Rendezvous Recap-Campfire Stories: Hal Herring.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 9/1/21.

-“The future of the American public lands is as important to our nation as the Bill of Rights or the Constitution itself.” –Hal Herring, Field & Stream contributing editor, host of BHA’s Podcast & Blast and BHA’s 2016 Ted Trueblood Award recipient.[20]

[1] Mossy Oak (4/3/24). “The Colonel & The Fox | A Mossy Oak Documentary.” This film chronicles the story of turkey hunting history and the revival of the wild turkey.

[2] David A. Lien. “Hunting Colorado’s Mountain Merriam’s (& The Tenth Legion).” Colorado Outdoors: 5/2/18.

[3] Travis Bradford. “2023 BHA Membership Survey Results.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 9/29/23.

[4] David A. Lien. “Stalking Wildness: BHA’s Wilderness Warriors.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 2/13/24.

[5] David Petersen. “Maintaining Tradition.” Backcountry Journal: Fall 2013, p. 4.

[6] Chris Madson. “The Hunting Philosopher: Aldo Leopold and the ethics of hunting.” Backcountry Journal: Summer 2019, p. 57.

[7] Staff. “Shock The Tom: 3 Types of Locator Calls Every Turkey Hunter Should Use.” Outdoor News: 4/5/24, p. 15.

[8] Mark Kayser. “Stalk Your Way TO a Frustrating Tom.” American Hunter: March 2024, p. 26.

[9] Dan Small. “A quick chat with Jeff Budz.” Outdoor News: 3/29/24, p. 7.

[10] David A. Lien. “Hunting For Experience: Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Oral History Project.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 3/28/24.

[11] Dan Small. “A quick chat with Jeff Budz.” Outdoor News: 3/29/24, p. 7.

[12] Stuart Osthoff. “Grand Slam Spring/Summer 2023.” The Boundary Waters Journal: Fall 2023, p. 30.

[13] Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (9/26/22). “Why BHA? [Colonel] Mike Abell.”

[14] David A. Lien. “Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Board Member Dan Parkinson Receives Aldo Leopold Award.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/29/24.


[16] Bryan Jones. “Beers, Bands, and Barbwire Strands 2024 (May 17-19).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 3/20/24.

[17] Mark Kayser. “Stalk Your Way TO a Frustrating Tom.” American Hunter: March 2024, p. 26.

[18] David A. Lien. “Hunting Colorado’s Mountain Merriam’s (& The Tenth Legion).” Colorado Outdoors: 5/2/18.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Will Bostwick. “The New Documentary ‘Public Trust’ Is a Call to Action: By highlighting three potent public-lands battles, the film asks audiences to take a stand in a political moment that threatens the future of American conservation.” Outside: 2/19/20.

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