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Ray Sasser: Texas hunter achieves goal of completing World Slam of wild turkeys

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

Mandy Murski fulfilled a 28-year dream hunt in late March when she bagged an ocellated turkey gobbler, completing a World Slam of wild turkeys. She will join the National Wild Turkey Federation's list of World Slam hunters, which currently includes 30 women.

A World Slam requires one each of the six North American wild turkey species: the Rio Grande, the Eastern, the Osceola, the Merriam's, the Gould's and the ocellated.

Murski, 59, owns Murki Breeding Sales, a sporting goods sales representative business. She was hooked on spring turkey hunting in 1983 when she tagged two Coleman County Rio Grande gobblers. It was the first time she'd ever been hunting.

When she moved to Tennessee in 1988, Murski pursued eastern turkeys, which are more difficult to hunt than the Rio Grande species. She got two gobblers her first year and two every year thereafter until she moved back to Texas.

"I love the anticipation and the back-and-forth dialogue you can have with a wild turkey," she said. "I love the whole process of getting ready for the hunt, all the variables that make every hunt unique and just sitting on the ground by myself with the possibility of harvesting a beautiful gobbler."

The ocellated turkey, a neotropical bird of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, certainly fits the bill for beauty. Its colorful fan resembles a bobbed-off version of a peacock's tail feathers. Its call is not a gobble but a hauntingly melodic song. The bird's bright blue head is dotted with eponymous orange bumps. "Ocellated" is Latin for "markings that resemble an eye."

Murski hunted ocellated turkeys in the Mexican state of Campeche, about a three-hour drive from Merida. Hunting from a pop-up blind placed on the edge of the jungle alongside a soy bean field, her Mayan guide used a recording of the turkey's song to call a gobbler within shotgun range.

She had two turkeys on her license and the second hunt was more exciting. She and her guide got to their blind very early -- about 4:45 a.m. Just after daylight, Murksi spotted two turkeys feeding. This time, the recorded call did not work. As the birds started moving away, her guide began whistling the turkey's song and attracted the younger of the two gobblers. The bigger one followed.

The guide called the second bird a "grande." The guide whistled for 15 minutes, drawing both turkeys toward the blind. When the younger bird began to get nervous at 15 yards, Murski connected on the big bird with a 40-yard shot.

Ocellated turkeys don't have a beard and they are the smallest of the North American turkey species. They're judged by their spur length, and this one had spurs just shy of 2 inches each. It was the biggest turkey taken by that particular group of hunters.

They were hunting with Tall Tines Outfitters. In 2005, Murski hunted Osceola turkeys in Florida with the same outfitter. In 2016, she hunted Gould's turkeys with the outfitting company owner Ted Jaycox in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Sonora, Mexico.

"We had roosted what we both knew was a mature gobbler, and we got in the blind early the next morning and waited for the sun to come up," she said. "The gobbler announced himself more than 75 times before flying down. It was incredible. I've never heard one gobble that much on the roost.

"The turkey started feeding away from our blind, but Ted's calling turned him and I was able to get a great shot on a terrific gobbler to complete my Royal Slam [all the turkey species except the ocellated]."

A Grand Slam of wild turkeys consists of the eastern, the Rio Grande, the Osceola and the Merriam's. Murski got her Merriam's turkey in New Mexico, where she crawled through cactus to a position where she managed to call a mature gobbler away from a flock of hens.

Murski figures she's taken about 45 to 50 turkeys in her hunting career. While married to her late husband, Ray Murski, Mandy became a big-game hunter and an upland bird hunter, but she's a turkey hunter at heart. After hunting all six North American species, the Rio Grande turkey remains her favorite.

"I guess that's because it's my home-state bird," she said. "I still consider it a huge success when I get one, because it's not easy. You get lucky sometimes, but there are so many things that can go wrong when you're sitting on the ground, trying your best to be invisible to a flock of hens and a big gobbler."

CALENDAR

SATURDAY, APRIL 15 -- Eastern turkey season begins. Check county listings in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department "Outdoor Annual."

THURSDAY, APRIL 20 -- 36th annual Banquet for the Dallas Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association, 5:30 p.m. at Frontiers of Flight Museum, 6911 Lemmon Ave., Dallas, honoring Temple Fork Outfitters Chairman Rick Pope as Conservation Sportsman of the Year. Tickets and details at ccatexas.org/chapters/inland/dallas.

SUNDAY, APRIL 30 -- 2017 season of the Toyota ShareLunker program ends.

SUNDAY, APRIL 30 -- Spring season for Rio Grande turkeys ends in the South Zone.

SUNDAY, MAY 14 -- Spring season for Rio Grande turkeys ends in North Zone and eastern turkey season ends in East Texas.