Mississippi Turkey Hunter becomes 15th to reach prestigious milestone
Chip Davis had no intention of landing a Super Slam when he started hunting as a teenager in the late 1980s. Killing a wild turkey in the 49 states where they exist seemed like “sort of a dream of pie in the sky,” Davis told MeatEater. But by “munching, one state at a time,” the Mississippi native just became the 15and hunter in the story to do just that.
The road has not been easy. When he was a child, Davis’ father and grandfather taught him to hunt squirrels and white-tailed deer, but Mississippi’s turkey population was not established enough to attract the popularity that turkey hunting door today.
“We had so few turkeys in the early ’80s that it wasn’t a thing here,” Davis recalled.
But birds still fascinated him so he set out to learn for himself. He “read everything I could get my hands on” about turkeys, he said. He read books like “Tenth Legion” by Colonel Tom Kelly and “Old Pro Turkey Hunter” by Gene Nunnery and he learned to call the turkey from tapes.
Davis’ greatest teachers, however, were the turkeys themselves. “I spent a few years messing up turkeys in every possible way,” he laughed. “The turkeys were my mentors. What I learned from the little I know about turkeys is turkeys.
All 49 birds were mature gobblers, and he pocketed his first in Mississippi. A few years later, Davis learned that Missouri had a healthy turkey population, so he decided to pursue a bird out of state. He got one there in 1992 and fell in love with hunting turkeys in places unknown (although he still gets his bag 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 this network to scout and secure 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 United States).
“Shortly after shooting my first Grand Slam, I said, ‘This is so much fun, I think I’d love to chase one in every state,’” Davis said. “It seemed like an insurmountable goal, but it was only eliminating one state at a time, bit by bit.”
Over the next three decades, he did. Some years he traveled to a state. Other years he traveled to multiple states, including this year when he pocketed gobblers in Hawaii, Arizona, Virginia and West Virginia. He sought properties near state lines to maximize his time, and he almost always traveled alone to focus on hunting.
This year, he made the deal on private land in West Virginia on the second day of the turkey season. “It was a bittersweet thing, to be honest with you,” he 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 they have been in contact with Davis and are verifying his kills.
Never give up, know your career
Speaking with Davis, it’s clear that despite his massive accomplishments, he’s not looking for attention.
“I’m not a super turkey hunter at all. 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 for someone else to be encouraged, 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. Last year, he sniffed around West Virginia and Virginia on prime real estate he thought was sure to contain turkeys. He never found any.
While hunting in Minnesota, he didn’t find any turkeys until the very end of the first day and stayed within 100 yards of a gobbler the next day without getting shot. But he went on and pocketed that gobbler 15 minutes into his third day.
This perseverance marked his journey through the 49 States. “Whatever you try to tackle, you don’t always get it right the first time. You have to learn and be flexible and bounce back, not give up,” he said.
Preparation is the other key to its success. Before traveling to a new area, Davis conducts extensive research on state wildlife management areas and other public lands. The early days saw him consulting paper maps. Later it moved to online information and it has been used on Xmaps for three or four years. (He said if he had had onX since he started hunting, he could have won the Super Slam in half the time.)
Once he lands in an area, his first task is to “ground check” his research by looking for and listening to engulfers. Next, his top priority is to determine the local herd’s point in the breeding season. He listens for calls that could help him determine if the gobblers are still establishing a pecking order or if they’ve fallen apart. Once he has found a herd, he tries to observe their behavior if the terrain permits.
Davis claims to have identified 17 unique segments of the turkey breeding season. He didn’t divulge those details, but he did offer an overview of his appeal strategy. If it’s still early, he uses aggressive calls to trick gobblers into thinking he’s a rival. If the bucks are already trained, he uses soft hen calls and concentrates on establishing a good shooting position. If it is late in the season, it intensifies its hen call to attract a gobbler who may not have seen a hen for a few days.
“I’m a sponge that absorbs what the turkeys teach me,” he said of his hunting strategy.
Davis said he used all types of calls, but a spoken call is his favorite. It’s not so much about producing the right sound as it is about using the right rhythm and cadence.
“Some people may mistake me for a good caller,” he said. “I call well enough to get them 30 yards out. But calling is my favorite part. It has so much more to do with rhythm and cadence. It has more to do with language than sound.
Make it happen
Davis went into this year’s turkey season with the end in sight. He combined a turkey hunting trip to Hawaii with a 25and anniversary with his wife (the nice one, Chip) and returned to Arizona to catch a turkey on a Native American reservation.
Davis’ trip no doubt strikes many hunters as a dream come true, but when you sink $12,000 on a trip to Hawaii, it’s stressful too.
“When you go to a place like Hawaii, it’s down to the wire. There are expensive plane tickets. You feel like you have to do it while you’re there and it’s a shame because it takes away turkeys,” he explained. “I’m proud of what I accomplished, but there was pressure to make it happen.”
His last trip to Virginia and West Virginia was a long one, where he had been skunk the year before. He bagged a bird in Virginia on opening day and hung out with friends in North Carolina while waiting for West Virginia’s opener.
When he arrived at the property in West Virginia, he knew it was going to work. “I thought it was going to happen here. There are turkeys here, this is the right property,” he said.
His predictions came true. He spent opening day waiting for a winter storm and reflecting on the hunts in the other 48 states. The next day, after a short chase, he pocketed his Super Slam bird.
“I didn’t cry, I didn’t scream, or do anything. I just got up and walked over to him and knelt down and just looked at him,” he said. “I spent a few moments being really, really grateful for the past 30 years and felt humbled to have been allowed to do this and for the wild turkeys.”
When asked what his favorite thing to do with turkey meat, Davis replied, “Eat it!” His best dish is fried turkey breast, which he prefers to eat rather than rib eye.
Davis’ Super Slam is a historic personal achievement, but it’s also a testament to the efforts of hunters and conservationists. Only 1.3 million turkeys roamed the United States when the NWTF was founded in 1973. Today there are nearly 7 million turkeys, and Davis has just become the 15and hunter to prove that every state except Alaska has a population of birds that can be hunted.