Chip Davis didn’t set out to win a Super Slam when he started hunting as a teenager in the late 1980s. Killing a wild turkey in all 49 states they exist in seemed like a “heavenly dream,” Davis told MeatEater. But by “cutting back, one state at a time,” the Mississippi native just became the 15ththe hunter in the story to do just that.
The road was not easy. Davis’s father and grandfather taught him how to hunt squirrels and whitetail when he was a boy, but the turkey population in Mississippi was not established enough to attract the popularity of turkey hunting today.
“We had so few turkeys in the early ’80s that there was nothing here,” Davis recalled.
But the birds still fascinated him, so he set out to learn on his own. “I read everything I could find” about turkeys, he said. He read books like Colonel Tom Kelly’s “Tenth Legion” and Gene Nunnery’s “Old Pro Turkey Hunter” and learned to call turkeys from cassette tapes.
Davis’s best teachers, however, were the turkeys themselves. “I spent a few years ruining turkeys in every possible way,” he laughed. “Turkeys were my mentors. What taught me what little I know about turkeys is turkeys.”
All 49 birds were mature gobblers, and he caught the first one in Mississippi. A few years later, Davis heard that Missouri had a healthy population of turkeys, so he decided to look for a bird from another state. He got one there in 1992 and fell in love with chasing turkeys in unknown places (although he still has his hunting limit in Mississippi every year).
His work as a farmer and later as a farm equipment auctioneer gave him contacts with landowners across the country, and he used that network to explore and obtain permits. It wasn’t long before he achieved his first Wild Turkey Grand Slam (killing one of each of the four subspecies of turkeys in the US).
“Soon after I shot my first Grand Slam, I said, ‘This is so much fun, I think I’d like to chase one in every state,'” Davis said. “It seemed like an insurmountable goal, but I was only taking out one state at a time, little by little.”
For the next three decades, that’s what he did. Some years he traveled to a state. Other years he traveled to various states, including this year when he bagged gobblers in Hawaii, Arizona, Virginia and West Virginia. He searched for properties near state lines in order to maximize his time and almost always traveled alone to concentrate on hunting.
This year, he sealed the deal on private land in West Virginia on the second day of turkey season. “It was kind of bittersweet, to be honest with you,” she said.
The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) has yet to list Davis on its Super Slam page, but a representative from the records department confirmed to MeatEater that Davis met the Super Slam criteria.
Never give up, know your quarry
Talking to Davis, it’s clear that despite his enormous achievement, he’s not looking for attention.
“I am not a super turkey hunter by any means. I don’t want this to be a pat on the back for Chip. I want my message to be a message of encouragement,” he said. “My goal is to get someone else excited, whatever their passion.”
He’s also not afraid to talk about his mistakes. He had to repeat hunts in Maine, Ohio, Idaho, Virginia and West Virginia. Just last year, he snooped around in both West Virginia and Virginia on prime real estate that he thought for sure contained turkeys. He never found any.
On his hunt in Minnesota, he found no turkeys until the end of the first day and stayed within 100 yards of a turkey the next day without being shot. But he went with it and bagged that gobbler 15 minutes into his third day.
That persistence has marked his journey through all 49 states. “Everything you try to tackle, you don’t always get it the first time you try. You have to learn and be flexible and bounce back, not give up,” she said.
Preparation is the other key to your success. Before going to a new region, Davis conducts extensive research on the state’s wildlife management areas and other public lands. The early days saw him consult paper maps. Later he moved on to online reporting and has been using onXmaps for the last three or four years. (He said that if he had had onX since he started hunting, he could have won the Super Slam in half the time).
Once you land in an area, your first task is to “ground the truth” of your investigation by looking for and listening for gobblers. So his top priority is to determine the point of the local flock in the breeding season. He listens for calls that could help him determine if the Devourers are still establishing a pecking order or have chickened out. Once he finds a flock, he tries to observe their behavior if the terrain allows.
Davis claims to have identified 17 unique segments of the turkey-raising season. He didn’t divulge those details, but did offer a bird’s-eye view of his calling strategy. If he’s still early, he uses aggressive calls to make devourers think he’s a rival. If the males are already animated, he uses soft hen calls and focuses on getting into a good position to shoot. If it’s late in the season, he increases his chicken call to attract a gobbler who may not have seen a chicken in a few days.
“I am a sponge absorbing what the turkeys teach me,” he said of his hunting strategy.
Davis said he has used all kinds of calls, but a mouth call is his option. He doesn’t focus so much on making the right sound as on using the right rhythm and cadence.
“Some people might mistake me for a good caller,” he said. “I pay well enough to take them 30 yards. But calling is my favorite part. It has much more to do with rhythm and cadence. It has more to do with language than with sound.”
Make it happens
Davis launched into this year’s turkey season with the end in sight. He combined a turkey hunting trip to Hawaii with a trip of 25the wedding anniversary celebration with his wife (nice Chip) and flew back to Arizona to fish for a turkey on a Native American reservation.
Davis’ trip no doubt strikes many hunters as a dream come true, but when you spend $12,000 on a trip to Hawaii, it’s also stressful.
“When you go to a place like Hawaii, it’s right to the end. There are expensive plane tickets. You feel pressure to do it while you’re there and that’s unfortunate because it takes the turkeys out of it,” she explained. “I am proud of what I have achieved, but there was pressure to do it.”
His last trip to Virginia and West Virginia was a long one, where they had left him the previous year. He caught a bird in Virginia on opening day and spent time with friends in North Carolina while waiting for the West Virginia opener.
When he arrived at the property in West Virginia, he knew it was going to work. “I thought, it’s going to happen here. There are turkeys here, it’s the right property,” she said.
His predictions came true. He spent opening day waiting out a winter storm and reflecting on hunts in the lower 48 states. The next day, after a short chase, she bagged her Super Slam bird.
“I didn’t cry, I didn’t scream, I didn’t do anything. I stood up and walked over to him, got down on my knees and looked at him,” she said. “I had a very, very grateful time for the last 30 years and was humbled that I was allowed to do this and for the wild turkeys.”
When asked what his favorite thing to do with turkey meat was, Davis said, “Eat it!” Her best dish is the fried turkey breast, which she said she would rather eat than the ribeye steak.
Davis’ Super Slam is a historic personal achievement, but it is also a testament to the efforts of hunters and conservationists. Only 1.3 million turkeys roamed the US when the NWTF was founded in 1973. Today, there are almost 7 million turkeys, and Davis just became the 15ththe hunter to show that every state except Alaska has a population of game birds.