Virginia man completes quest with Arizona gobbler

Don Martin/ Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Jim Ward (left) and Jimmy Wilhelm show the huge Arizona Merriams gobbler that completed Wilhelm’s quest to take a gobbler in all 49 states in the United States that have turkeys.

Don Martin/ Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Jim Ward (left) and Jimmy Wilhelm show the huge Arizona Merriams gobbler that completed Wilhelm’s quest to take a gobbler in all 49 states in the United States that have turkeys.

Many turkey hunters I know are zealots when it comes to the sport of hunting gobblers in the spring.

The thrill of a gobbler sounding off in the woods and the hope of luring him in close enough to take him with a shotgun is a challenge that hunters embrace passionately.

Now imagine having a quest to harvest a gobbler in 49 states.

That is exactly what Virginia resident Jimmy Wilhelm set out to do, and as fate would have it, Arizona would be the last state he would hunt in to finish that 12-year quest.

The conservation organization that keeps records of such accomplishments is the National Wild Turkey Federation. It is up to the hunter to provide the organization with irrefutable evidence for each and every bird that he or she takes.

In 1998, Wilhelm took eight gobblers in six different states.

There were four species (now five) of turkeys that were found in the United States. They included the Eastern, Rio Grande, Osceola and the Merriams. Now included in that group is the Goulds, which is only hunted in southern Arizona.

Wilhelm took an Eastern gobbler in his home state of Virginia and in Missouri, an Osceola in Florida, two Rio Grande gobblers in Texas, and a Merriams in Nebraska.

Then Wilhelm really started getting serious about completing his quest. In 1999, he registered two more birds that he took in two different states. One of his birds was taken that year in Hawaii.

In 2000, he took 12 birds in eight states, with five of them being in states he hadn't taken a bird in before.

I should note that many states allow hunters to take multiple birds during a season.

In 2001, Wilhelm took nine birds in six different states.

In 2002, the avid and well-traveled turkey hunter took 10 more gobblers.

After that, Wilhelm knew that his coveted goal of taking a bird in all of the states was within reach, but the task wouldn't be easy.

In a number of states, Wilhelm had to go back two or even three times in order to harvest a bird.

Sometimes it was the weather that messed him up, other times it was just bad luck that kept him from bagging a bird.

Then it came down to the last four states. Wilhelm needed birds from Arizona, Nevada, California and Utah.

Wilhelm came to Arizona on a self-guided hunt in eastern Arizona where he failed to score.

He made a trip to California and didn't get a bird either.

He got a turkey tag in Nevada with the help of a friend of mine, Kensen Lee. He bagged a big bird in Moapa, which is close to the shores of Lake Mead in southern Nevada.

I was able to get Wilhelm in contact with another friend of mine in California, who is an accomplished turkey guide, and this time he was successful.

Then it was off to Utah where on a cold snowy day north of St. George, Wilhelm finally bagged a Utah gobbler.

In 2011, I applied for a turkey tag on the Arizona Strip (Unit 13B) and suggested to Wilhelm that since he was going to be close by, he should try for a tag there too and if successful, I would give him a hand.

He applied and as fate would have it, drew tag No. 1, but that would be all the luck he would have.

Despite all of our efforts, the only opportunity Wilhelm had to shoot a gobbler was off of the roost.

While that is legal in Arizona, Wilhelm decided not to, which meant he would have to make one more 2,500-mile trip to Arizona to complete his quest.

I told Wilhelm that a trip to the San Carlos Indian Reservation in 2012 would be the way to go, as it has some of the best turkey hunting in Arizona.

Wilhelm, his friend Jim Ward, owner of Warbird turkey calls, and I applied for spring tags on the reservation and we all got them.

With the help of former state director for the NWTF, Jim Warren, we quickly located some areas that had a lot of birds.

I was lucky and bagged the first bird in camp. It was good gobbler that sported a 10.5-inch beard and weighed 20 pounds.

Ward took the second bird in our camp, and it was a monster! Weighing in at over 20 pounds, the bird sported a thick 10-inch beard and 1 1/8-inch spurs.

One morning, we spotted a pair of gobblers in a nearby roost when Ward and I started a "hen duet."

The gobblers liked what they heard, flew down and literally ran towards the plaintive hen calls we were making.

At 35 yards, Wilhelm picked off the race winner, a monster bird with a thick, bushy beard that measured over 11 inches long. His Arizona gobbler would weigh 19 pounds.

Wilhelm's lifetime quest was over. According to the NWTF, Wilhelm now joins a very elite group of sportsmen in America who have accomplished what he has.