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Jeff Budz with a pair of Merriams (a sub-species of the wild turkey) following a hunt in South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Jeff Budz.

Turkey hunter on an “epic” quest

May 16, 2013 at 10:14 PM

The State Journal-Register

By the time you read this, Jeff Budz should be sound asleep.

That’s because on Wednesday he finished a month-long, turkey-hunting odyssey that brought him within four states of bagging a tom turkey in 49 states..

“I’ve seen the sunrise every day for 34 days and had an average of four hours, 20 minutes of sleep for the past 31 days,” Budz said. “It has been an amazing journey.”

Budz, a professional hunting guide formerly of Springfield and now living in Florida, is known for turkey-hunting grand slams, defined as harvesting all four wild turkey sub-species (Eastern, Merriam, Osceola and Rio Grande). Illinois is home to the Eastern wild turkey.

Most hunters would be elated to be able to say they have bagged all four over the course of a lifetime, but Budz has done it numerous times — more than any other turkey hunter.

He hopes to reach 100 grand slams next spring.

His current goal is to harvest a tom in 49 states. The NWTF calls it the U.S. Super Slam. Alaska doesn’t have wild turkeys, but Hawaii does.

“Everyone always asks this, so yes, I went to Hawaii in 1999,” Budz said. “And there are more turkeys there than in any place I have ever hunted. There are no predators so they fly down in the pitch black. It is just phenomenal hunting.”

Budz was back in Springfield recently to visit relatives and hunt with his friend Dick McCormick in Cass County.

During one stretch, Budz had killed 10 toms in 10 states in 13 days. In all, he killed 22 birds in 16 states

Only circumstances and hunting season dates could slow him down.

“I had to wait two days for the season to open in West Virginia,” he said.

No matter. Brief delays provided opportunities for trout fishing and morel hunting along the way.

“When people ask me about doing all of the states, I think about so much more than the actual kill,” Budz said. “From this year alone I remember crayfish in Louisiana, crabs in Delaware, trout in West Virginia, morels in Illinois, muddy roads in Kansas, snow in South Dakota and walleye in Minnesota. This country has so much beauty to experience, and this quest has been a great excuse to enjoy it all.”

‘It’s epic’

P.J. Perea of the National Wild Turkey Federation said Budz will be in a small, select group when he finishes his super slam.

Before joining NWTF, Perea worked for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He has hunted with Budz in the years since both left central Illinois.

Budz also has racked up more turkey-hunting grand slams than any other hunter out there.

“He passed Dick Kirby who had been number one forever,” Perea said. “He passed him awhile back and now he’s the number one grand slam holder probably of all time.”

Kirby died in 2010 with 61 grand slams.

“Unless someone starts this in high school or college, they’ll probably never catch up with Jeff,” Perea said. “He’s definitely one for the record books.”

Budz started the year at 34 states, hoping to have 45 under his belt by the end of this week.

He said he’s up to 91 grand slams and hopes to reach 100 by the end of next year. Third place on the list has 41 slams. A few hunters have 21.

“It’s thin atmosphere in the double digits,” Budz said.

It’s hard to imagine anyone approaching Budz’s totals.

“To see the pace that Jeff keeps up, it is pretty unreal,” Perea said. “It’s epic.”

Visit Jeff Budz's Website:

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528. Follow him at

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