The long beard gradually worked his way back toward the point where he entered the field with his two hens, which had long since wandered away. Responding only to almost constant aggressive cutting, he gradually approached our set up, although moving too far to our right. Suddenly the decoys captured his attention and he headed straight for us. As he reached the decoys 15 yards away, he went into a beautiful full strut, showcasing the spectacular iridescent plumage of the Rio Grande turkey. Concealed perfectly in the blind and dressed in solid black camo, Rachel drew her Hoyt Carbon Element bow completely undetected and released the arrow as the tom strutted broadside. The Grim Reaper 1 3/4 inch mechanical broadhead passed completely through the bird, breaking his offside wing. After running a short distance, he collapsed and the prize was at hand! At 19 pounds with an 8 6/8-inch beard and 1 2/8-inch spurs, there was nothing left but shouting, high fives, hugs and a few tears of joy. Rachel had just become the youngest female hunter to complete the World Slam of Wild Turkeys—and she had done it with a bow, and before graduating from high school!
Rachel Barr’s quest began in 2011 when, at the age of 14, she decided she wanted to give archery turkey hunting a try. Her family has access to land along the Mississippi River with excellent turkey habitat and a good population of Eastern wild turkeys. She had taken several whitetails with her bow, and the Outdoor Channel convinced her that taking a wild turkey was certainly possible.
Rachel set up her blind on the afternoon of March 28, 2011 near where she and I knew turkeys roosted frequently over a slough. We were greeted at first light the following morning by several birds gobbling in the trees several hundred yards behind our blind. They responded initially to our calls, but after fly-down all was quiet. As the morning grew on, a hen appeared to our right and moved purposefully toward the decoys, closing to within grabbing-distance of the blind. Then, almost out of nowhere, the Eastern gobbler appeared, following behind and going in and out of strut as he closed the distance. The gobbler paid more attention to the decoy than to the real hen and, as it turned straight away from the blind in full strut, gave Rachel the perfect opportunity to draw. When he turned broadside, she made the perfect shot. Her choice of broadhead was a Guillotine, which was supposed to decapitate the turkey, however, the shot was slightly low. The result was the same and the turkey made it only a few yards before he became Rachel’s first turkey toward her slam. At 21 pounds with an 11-inch beard and 1 3/8inch spurs, it was not a bad start at all!
A youth member of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Rachel saw in its records that only one female had taken a World Slam with a bow, and she was an adult. It was time to raise the bar! Rachael’s goal was to complete the Turkey World Slam with her bow before finishing high school.
During the spring of her junior year, we booked three hunts: a Merriam’s in Nebraska, an Osceola in Florida, and a Gould’s in Chihuahua, Mexico. The Merriam’s hunt took place with Gobble N Grunt Outfitters near O’Neill, Nebraska at their Redbird Lodge. We hunted the early archery hunt, which was a bit early and cold with a few patches of snow still on the ground, but that did not hamper the gobbling activity. Being the only hunter in camp, Rachael took her Merriam’s on the first morning with the aid of her guide, Butch. To say there were a lot of turkeys would be a gross understatement. We had never seen so many turkeys in one area! That first morning it was difficult to guess how many turkeys were gobbling from the roost before flying down.
After several turkeys passed by, Rachel’s bird came straight in to the Pretty Boy decoy. Her Merriam’s weighed 20 pounds, 5 ounces and had an 8 2/8-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. She took it with a Hoyt Carbon Element bow that she pulls at 53 pounds. The broadhead of choice on that hunt was a 1 3/4-inch Grim Reaper. Although Rachael could have tried for another bird, we had to head home so as not to miss any school.
A couple of weeks later, we were off to Florida to a friend’s private ranch to try for an Osceola. The Osceola, or Florida turkey, was named for a Seminole Indian Chief and is slightly smaller but similar to an Eastern except for being much darker color with an abundance of black feathers. With only a day and a half to hunt, we were pressing our luck, but just after noon on the first day we had a chance. A nice Tom came in gobbling to the decoy, but Rachael rushed the shot a bit and missed at about 25 yards. That was our last chance, so we headed home the next day to get ready for our next adventure, a try for a Gould’s arranged by Brad Fulk and Mike Murray of Rio Sonora Outfitters hunting out of Casas Grandes in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.
That area is truly beautiful country although somewhat chilly at an altitude of about 5,000 feet in the Sierra Madres. In my opinion, the Gould’s is probably the most beautiful of the Gallopavo species with an abundance of white feathers–even more so than the Merriam’s. After a long flight and bus ride we arrived at camp. After a quick practice session with her bow, we were off to hunt the first afternoon. That was all it took as Rachel scored with a 19-pound bird with a 10 2/8-inch beard and 4/8-inch spurs. The spurs on the Gould’s seem to be a bit shorter due to the rocky terrain. This turkey was especially gratifying since he responded to her calling with no help from Dad. Rachael made a great shot at about 20 yards and Turkey #3 was in the books.
Since Kansas has a late season lasting through the month of May, we decided to take one more quick hunt for the year to try for a Rio after the school year ended. The weather did not cooperate, as sometimes happens in the spring, and we were unsuccessful, seeing only one lone hen. Still, 2013 was certainly a success, getting two of the subspecies. Three down, three to go! Rachael was half way home.
The year 2014 was the year Rachel “got it done.” We started with a Valentine’s Day trip to Campeche, Mexico, to the five-star Yukkutz Hunting Lodge owned and operated by Manuel Olaguibel. The Oscellated turkey was Rachel’s fourth of the slam. The Oscellated is the only turkey of the Melleagris oscellata species and has no beard, but exceptionally long spurs. The male does not gobble but “sings.” We hunted this smallest but most beautiful of the turkeys from a blind on the edge of a large milo field. We had several opportunities, but Rachel had a bothersome eye infection that prevented her from wearing her contact lenses. Having to shoot with glasses altered her release point, resulting in a few misses. After adapting to this major change, Rachael finally connected on the second day of the hunt, arrowing an 11 1/2- pound bird with 1 1/2-inch spurs. The shot was at 25 yards, this time using a two-inch Rage broadhead. The only hiccough in this hunt was difficulty getting the trophy on the airline back in the US. We ended up renting a car and driving five hours to get home, but that was really a small price to pay for a really memorable adventure.
Next we were back to Florida for another try for the Osceola. We were fortunate enough to be invited back to the same private ranch for a second year and were there for opening day. Dad drove in a day early to do some scouting, and set up a blind, while Rachel flew in after school on a Friday. We saw and heard very little turkey activity on opening morning, so we moved to a different location for the afternoon. Soon after arrival at the blind we started to see hens. About 5:00 PM a group of jakes came by the setup followed closely by two longbeards. Rachael’s first shot at 15 yards missed, but fortunately did not spook the second tom that was more interested in the submissive hen decoy. Rachael’s 25-yard shot was true and the Rage broadhead did its job. The turkey flew about 50 yards before crash landing by the edge of a creek bed. Although the turkey fell out of site from the blind, Rachel easily spotted the Luminock on her arrow. Her Osceola weighed 18 pounds, 6 ounces and had a 10-inch beard and l 1/8-inch spurs. Now Rachael had one subspecies left to go–the Rio Grande–which we initially thought would be the easiest. Boy, were we wrong!
It took two weekends in early April to finally get a Rio, but thanks to the tireless efforts of Tommy Ryno, our outfitter from Kerrville, Texas, Rachel realized her dream. The truck ride home from Texas gave us plenty of time to reflect on just what an exceptional feat Rachel had accomplished: The World Slam with a bow before graduating from high school! The bar (Barr) had been raised–and Dad was tired.– J. Larry and Rachel Colleen Barr