Mastering the ‘slam’: South Carolina turkey hunter works hard at his craft

John Sloan of Charleston, S.C., took this Ocellated gobbler in Central America to qualify for one of his two World Slams.
(Photo courtesy of John Sloan)
John Sloan of Charleston, S.C., took this Ocellated gobbler in Central America to qualify for one of his two World Slams. (Photo courtesy of John Sloan)

Turkey season has begun in some states, and John Sloan of Charleston, S.C., is probably chasing them somewhere with his bow.

After earning a Associates of Science degree in X-Ray Engineering from the University of North Florida's School of Radiologic Technology, Sloan in 1987 founded CMS Imaging, which provides medical imaging sales and service in 12 states.

In 2001, Sloan purchased Avreo, Inc., which provides customers with state-of-the-art software to read, manage and store their digital images and reports.

Sloan, a Cherokee citizen, is dedicated to providing high-quality healthcare to Native American communities. To that end he founded Gen 7 Healthcare, which serves Native Americans living in rural areas.

"Some of worst health care in the USA is on reservations," Sloan said. "Then the next, poorest delivery of health care is in rural areas. This country was built on the back of rural America, and now they're being forgotten."

Gen7 Healthcare is Native American owned and operates in partnership with the Centers of Excellence, Sloan said. Gen7 Healthcare hospitals' performance is based on highest level of treatment outcomes.

As hard as he works, Sloan works just as hard at turkey hunting. Turkey hunting is demanding mentally, physically and emotionally. There is no such thing as a casual turkey hunter. It's "all in" or nothing.

Sloan's passion for turkey hunting takes him all over North America and Central America in pursuit of the three major Slams recognized by the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The Grand Slam entails bagging in one year the four major turkey subspecies indigenous to the Lower 48. They are the Eastern, the Rio Grande, the Osceola and the Merriam's. The Eastern subspecies inhabits the area between the Atlantic Ocean and roughly to the western edge of the Ozark Plateau. The Rio Grande inhabits the southwestern United States into California. The Merriam's inhabits the Rocky Mountain region and its foothills. The Osceola inhabits a small portion of south Florida.

The next level up is the Royal Slam, which requires bagging a Gould's gobbler in addition to the other four. The Gould's inhabits the mountainous areas of northern Mexico and some areas of the southwestern U.S.

The ultimate level is the World Slam, which requires bagging all five North American subspecies as well as the Oscellated turkey, which inhabits southern Mexico and portions of Central America. It is the most colorful of the wild turkeys.

Sloan has registered seven Grand Slams, two Royal Slams and Two World Slams. He has earned all but one of his Slams with archery equipment. He uses modern compound bows, recurve bows and longbows.

"I do make my own arrows but not my bow [yet]," Sloan said. "It kind of gets you back to when they [Native Americans] were the original stewards of the land, doing it the way they did a thousand years ago."

When he started turkey hunting 26 years ago, Sloan initially used a shotgun, but the thrill of calling a turkey close made him transition to archery equipment.

"The shotgun got kind of boring, so I went to the bow," Sloan said. "When I started, I stalked them."

Over time, Sloan adopted a stationary style of hunting predicated on waiting out reticent gobblers. He said he gets the most satisfaction from the gobblers that take a long time to commit to a call. Hunting from a ground blind enables him to sit in one place for as long as it takes.

"Hunting out of a blind is one of my favorite things to do," Sloan said. "There are so-called 'purists' that say hunting out of a blind is cheating. I don't see it that way. It means I've scouted and found a good spot. I make a commitment to that spot and can't move that blind during a hunt. I think it makes you a better caller. It makes you think more about strategy."

Sometimes Sloan hunts in the open using a leafy suit for concealment.

"One of the best days of my life was when I figured out a turkey doesn't know what a chair is," Sloan said, laughing. "I sit in a regular folding chair in the wide open. I wear a leafy suit, and I sit next to a tree. The turkeys don't care if you're sitting in a chair or on the ground, so I sit in a chair! My thought is if I'm comfortable, I can sit still longer."

Again, Sloan's objective is to call a gobbler close.

"I put my decoys at eleven steps," Sloan said. "When they circle my decoy, they're at eight steps. I video them. Sometimes I don't even shoot. I just watch and learn."

Experience brings higher standards and expectations, but Sloan has never lost the thrill that comes from working a gobbler close.

"It's just seeing them coming and strutting," Sloan said. "I've never shot long distance at them. I love the excitement of how close can you get them. Sometimes they'll come running in at you. Sometimes you have to finesse them. Sometimes they just won't do it. The animal has a survival instinct that's second to none."

Having taken his share of wild turkeys, Sloan feels compelled to give back to the bird that has brought him so much joy. He is heavily involved with the National Wild Turkey Federation, but he also provides turkey habitat on his own property.

"I have a deep appreciation for the habitat," Sloan said. "I have managed my property for turkey for the last 15 or 20 years. I've got more turkey than ever. I make sure they have food year round."

Despite a landowner's best preparations. wet weather during the springtime can obliterate a year's turkey reproduction.

"We've had dry springs the last four years, and we've had incredible hatches," Sloan said. "Last month, I counted ninety longbeards. That's nine-oh!"

Also, Sloan loves to introduce new hunters to the wild turkey. Taking youngsters is especially rewarding.

"I have some pretty special hunts doing that," Sloan said. "I've got one of those houses that all the kids grew up in, you know? All the neighborhood kids were always at my house. I took them all hunting and fishing. Now they're bringing their kids by, and I get to take them hunting too!"

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