World Slam has a nice ring to it if you’re a turkey hunter.
It means you’ve joined the rare group who have successfully hunted all four subspecies of the wild turkey found in the United States, the Gould’s bird in Mexico and the Ocellated wild turkey found in the same southern neighbor’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Richard Pauley and son Michael, both of Buchanan, have been on their quest for a World Slam for three years, and this spring they joined just 226 other hunters who have completed that quest and registered it with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
It is symbolic of their longtime interest in and passion for spring gobbler hunting.
But the Ocellated turkey is a different breed, and the pair of hunters found out there’s nothing simple about finalizing a World Slam by bagging one of these jungle birds—literally.
In fact, Richard Pauley considers it the toughest turkey hunt he’s been on—not because the Ocellated is the most wary of the six subspecies, but because it’s the toughest to get to geographically and because the only place to hunt them is in the jungle.
This particular jungle—a recognized biosphere and the largest uninhabited area in the Americas, including the Amazon, with heat, humidity, insects, monkeys, snakes, pumas and the like—is just what you saw in those Indiana Jones movies and gives you a picture of the conditions.
Toss in some unexpected gun-toting visitors and orders not leave camp without a shotgun and it makes you wonder about scheduling such a trip.
But there were the centuries-old Mayan ruins that had been swallowed by the jungle, the huge variety and colors of flora and fauna, the sixth highest scoring Ocellated turkey ever recorded, the knowledge that a father and son team combined on such a rare feat—together—and the sheer knowledge that you could survive what can be best described as an ordeal.
The Herald has recorded this odyssey since 2008 when the Pauleys set out for the Midwest, Florida and Texas to complete their first slam, the Grand Slam when they bagged an Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Osceola all in the same spring.
In the spring of 2009, they finished the Royal Slam in Yecora, Mexico where they successfully hunted Gould’s turkeys.
The last leg of this journey to complete the World Slam began more than a year ago when the planning started. Just the logistics of getting to the Yucatan took 24 hours and four flights, meeting with Spanish-speaking guides, then a 3-1/2 hour drive in a Suburban to the end of the road—so to speak. That was followed by a two-and-half hour ride in an open jeep on a grown-over jeep path into the jungle where the guides had a camp near a freshwater stream that had its headwaters in a limestone spring.
It was mid-April and both Pauleys said the heat was oppressive—100 degrees and upwards each day, with jungle humidity and all the biting insects, spiders and snakes you’d expect.
Michael said it was like camping on Craig Creek, where his family has spent some summer days and nights, “except there were monkeys, alligators, snakes, and it was thicker and 100 times extreme.”
They concurred, too, “When it’s dark in the jungle, it’s dark.”
The jungle canopy covers everything, and, according to Richard, makes it easy to get lost or disoriented.
“I learned the value of why people there have machetes,” Richard noted. A flashlight was a must-have, too.
Richard recounted one morning hunt when he was following his guide, Alejandro Cruze Sosa Sr., on their pre-dawn hike to locate an Ocellated gobbler. Alejandro hacked a path through the jungle, and Richard said it was so thick if you wanted to fall to the ground you couldn’t.
That’s why hunting the Ocellated is so much different from hunting the five other subspecies.
Spring gobbler hunters are accustomed to locating a gobbler, making ready by setting up a place to call from, then using any number of a variety of turkey calls to lure in one of the bearded birds.
That’s almost impossible with the Ocellated, Michael said. They’re hunted in the trees because their habits are different from the other subspecies, and they don’t have beards.
They do have extraordinary “spurs” though—like long thorns that can grow to over 2 inches.
Ocellated gobblers begin “singing” from their roosts high in the jungle canopy. The trick is locating one then getting close enough for a shot while it’s still in the tree. That’s easier said than done because of the jungle itself.
Michael said the only other way to hunt them is by ambush at a water hole or along the jeep path when they cross. He said he’d like to try calling them the way it’s done here, but the jungle undergrowth is so dense it’s almost impossible to see the birds on the ground.
The Ocellated’s singing is much different than the gobbling the other subspecies use when they’re trying to attract a mate. The cadence was like a drumming grouse, their voice more like a crow’s call.
Michael was the first of the two to complete the World Slam on the first morning they hunted. Just like spring gobbler hunters here, they headed out in the pre-dawn to find an Ocellated gobbler.
They sat down on a log to wait. “It was so dark, the guide was a foot from me and I couldn’t see him,” Michael said. Then the jungle started coming alive. “(The guide) jumps up and says, ‘Pavo,’ turkey, and starts macheteing his way through the jungle.”
They went about a quarter mile. “That’s a long way there because you have to whack your way through.”
When Michael heard the “singing” he said the sound was different than what others had described. “I’d heard so many try to imitate them, and none did,” he said.
His first Ocellated gobbler was a decent bird. It had 1-1/2” spurs, but he wanted one bigger.
His second was. It had one spur that was 2.25”, ranked the second longest in the record books. Its weight was 12.125 pounds and ranked 17th. Overall, it is No. 6 in the record books—a world class Ocellated that he killed on April 13.
Richard completed his World Slam a day later when he bagged a gobbler that’s spurs ranked eighth in the record books and its 11.75 pounds was 23rd.
The jungle heat had already been tough on Richard. At 60, he said it was the first time he’d felt old.
“One thing that was pretty evident when I got the World Slam, there was no sense of elation,” he said. He did think of his late father and how he would have enjoyed this adventure, then added, “You know, the beauty of life is in ‘the doing it.’ Then compound that with doing it with your son and that’s pretty special.”
The most satisfying part of this hunt came on the last morning before they had to leave. Richard had a second tag to fill and hadn’t had another opportunity. “It was like two out in the ninth inning,” he said.
Alejandro, Michael and he were able to locate an Ocellated gobbler before daylight, and together they got close enough to the bird for Richard to take a shot, and he connected.
“Alejandro worked hard, was patient and proud,” Richard said of the Mayan guide.
“The guides didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Spanish. We spoke hunting,” Richard said of how they communicated during the five days they spent in the jungle.
He said the guides had great respect for the dead Ocellated gobblers. They picked up all the loose feathers and carried it like a baby, he added.
The Ocellated are the most colorful of the six subspecies. They have powder blue heads and their feathers are “indescribably beautiful, like Faberge jeweled eggs,” Richard said.
Michael also successfully hunted the Great Curassow, the male and female. It, too, is a large bird.
The camp cook did a good job of preparing those birds for dinner, as well. “The Ocellated turkeys, curassows and guans are all good to eat,” Richard said. In fact, the Mexican camp food was all good, he added, including the fish they pulled from the nearby stream.
For Michael, the World Slam was no longer the dream of a sixth grade student at Botetourt Intermediate School. He said the first time he saw all six subspecies of the wild turkey was on a field trip at the Smithsonian. “I told my classmates, ‘I’m going to kill all of them.’”
He said it was a dream then, but when he finished college, he made it a goal.
“What triggered us to do this was Dad’s cancer,” Michael explained. Four years ago, a tumor had developed on Richard’s thighbone. In an ironic twist, he was hunting when the pain appeared in his leg that led doctors to find the growth (he’s cancer-free now).
After discovering the cancer, “(Dad) said we needed to get on with it.” So they did.
Richard noted there are 12 Virginians on the NWTF World Slam list, and of those one-quarter—four of them—are from Botetourt: Gerald Austin of Buchanan, Bob Nave of Cloverdale and the two Pauleys.