It has been a dozen years, and Zoe Caywood maintains her unique standing in the outdoor world.
She is the only person to score a World Slam in hunting wild turkeys using a muzzle-loading shotgun. Her feat is even more amazing because her gun was a flintlock, not a percussion cap firearm.
Caywood lives at War Eagle, now retired from managing the landmark War Eagle Mill. In 2000, she racked that World Slam by taking all six species of turkeys — Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Osceola, Gould’s and Ocellated. The first four are United States birds and the last two Mexican and Central America birds.
Caywood’s interest in turkey hunting hasn’t diminished even if she reached the peak of success in that field. It hasn’t declined either because of the drop in turkey numbers in Arkansas and in many other states.
"I killed a turkey with three beards in Missouri," she said. "Those beards were 10 1/2 inches, 8 1/2 inches and 6 1/2 inches. I got a really big turkey this spring in Missouri – 26 1/2 pounds and an 11 1/2-inch beard."
Turkey hunting is often regarded as a person versus a bird, but Caywood has years of hunting with relatives, close friends and celebrities, the latter including former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
She has hunted 44 years with her brother, Gerald Medlin. He’s several years older and let Zoe tag along when she was a teen. A long-time companion in muzzle-loader hunting has been Phyllis Speer of Buffalo City, now retired from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Working with a call is a vital part of turkey hunting, Caywood said. She uses several different types — the box call which may be easiest for beginners, slate and glass calls and diaphragm calls used in the mouth.
"I still use a box call that my brother made," she said.
Of the six varieties of turkeys she has taken, the Eastern is the most challenging, she said, because it is the most wary.
"The Eastern turkey lives in woods and has all sorts of predators. The western turkeys, Merriam’s and Rio Grande, live in more open country," she said.
For hunters wanting to get into the pursuit of turkeys, Caywood said there are some basics. First, have patience. Turkey hunting is not easy and not a sport with high percentages of success. Turkey hunters may go days and even entire seasons without getting a bird.
"Don’t have great expectations when you go out," she said.
The hunter has to locate turkeys then use that patience to get into position and to try to lure a gobbler within shooting range. Caywood said the hunter has to be prepared for discomfort. Sitting motionless can be a problem for some people. This means not raising a hand to brush off a mosquito, not wiggling because an ant may be crawling up a pant leg.
"There is the challenge of audio," she said, meaning the hunter has to talk to the turkey by means of a call then has to listen to see where the turkey may be moving.
"You have to be willing to change," she said, noting that a hunter that does not find a turkey one place should move to another spot or change techniques, including calling.
Another tip is to scratch leaves, she said. This can often bring action when the calling won’t. A hen turkey may come to see what is going on, then a tom turkey may follow the hen.
Caywood’s flintlock shotgun is a special item. Made by Charlie Caywood, it’s a thing of beauty as well as efficient in the field.
Flintlock weapons were used for several centuries in bygone times. These were what the American colonists and British fired at each other, what Andrew Jackson’s bunch used at New Orleans and what the Texans and Mexicans had at the Alamo. Percussion cap firearms were developed in time for the Civil War and were more reliable, especially in wet weather, over the flintlocks.
But flintlocks can be potent in the hands of a competent shooter. Zoe Caywood has the evidence.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.