Southwest of Hondo that April morning, the entire landscape was colored a foggy, soft gray. I had called once on a slate after hearing a distant gobbler shortly after daylight. There was no responding gobble. I waited. After a few minutes, I drug the striker across the slate, again, making a series of raspy yelps imitating the call of a willing hen turkey. Nothing but silence. Disappointed, I sat in the fog figuring the gobbler was “henned up and happy.”
It had happened to me before. If a gobbler has already found his love for the day – or at least for the morning — it’s hard to call him away from her. It’s the turkeys’ variation of the old adage of “a bird in the hand beats two in the bush.” Or something like that.
I slowly rotated my head from side to side, scanning the foggy veil in hope of seeing anything of interest. A small speck, slightly darker than the fog, appeared on the morning’s grainy canvas. At first, it was nothing more than a water mark on a gray tablet. As I curiously watched for the next few seconds, it grew a little larger and a little darker. Suddenly, I realized that the bobbing motion of the now larger speck was a turkey gobbler coming right at me through the fog. It was no more than a first down away.
I was well camouflaged under a leaf-like tarp. I had been taught that proficient calling was not nearly as important as being camouflaged and able to sit still. I froze. My nose itched and I needed to cough. But the goal of the hunt helped me persevere.
The bird turned to its right and bobbed right in front me, now five yards away. I stared straight ahead, not even moving my eyeballs. It went into a half strut, then abruptly recovered and began walking a little faster as it passed me. With it no longer looking directly at me, I raised the Remington 12 gauge. The camo rustled as I did. The gobbler’s suspicions were confirmed and it broke into a run. It disappeared behind a bull mesquite tree. My pounding heart sank.
Then, a surprising thing happened. Thirty yards away, its head and part of its neck reappeared from behind the tree. Big mistake. Curiosity was about to kill the cat. I fired hastily without really aiming. The gobbler fell, flopping to the ground as little flakes of mesquite bark floated down.
Sometimes gobblers answer yelps all the way in. That’s what you want. Some, like this one, sneak in silently. That unpredictability is one thing that makes turkey hunting such great sport.
Rio Grande turkeys are legal game until January 5 in the northern zone; January 19 in the southern zone. Four south Texas counties close the 23rd. But most turkey hunting is during the spring season when gobblers are more vulnerable to mating calls. In most counties, that season is March 29 – May 11; March 15 – April 27 in South Texas. Eastern turkey season (28 East Texas counties) is open April 15 – May 15.
New Gear (and a recipe)
It’s open season for a sharp-eyed turkey gobbler when you’re sitting in a tree stand, naked to the turkey’s view. Any movement alerts the bird, and it’s all over. Hunter’s Specialties has recently introduced the “Easy Fit Tree Stand Skirt” to add some elevated concealment. It fits most one and two person blinds equipped with a shooting rail. It is made from Realtree Xtra and has a back cloth to help hide from gobblers advancing from the rear. Velcro attachments make set-up easy. And it also contains a gear pocket for accessories … or a coffee cup.
Outfitter Greg Simons, at Wildlife Systems, says in 25 years of guiding turkey hunts he has never seen anything as effective as the Hazel Creek Decoys, which are mounted, real, taxidermy turkeys. Murray Burnham, former owner of Burnham Bros. Game Calls, showed a film once using his taxidermy turkey, and apologized to the women in the audience about it being pornographic. His decoy worked well. Apparently the Hazel Creek birds do, too. Gary Roberson, at Burnham Brothers, says they no longer carry decoys, just calls.
And speaking of calls, the box call is the easiest for a beginner to master, and Hunter’s Specialties has a new zombie-themed call to help keep gobblers from coming back to life. It’s called the simply the Zombie Box Call, and is waterproof and doesn’t need chalk applications to sound genuine.
For those who have never cooked a wild turkey – or haven’t liked the way they did – Texas Parks and Wildlife turkey biologist, Robert Perez, offers this recipe:
Turkey and Venison Sausage Gumbo
Retain breast bone and preferably upper legs. Boil together to make stock (can add a little celery/carrot/onion to pot) and strain.
Lightly dust breasts cut into 4 equal sized pieces with flour and lightly brown in skillet (do not cook through).
Remove and let cool, then cube into ½ to ¾ inch pieces.
Make a roux. A basic roux is one cup oil heated up to which you add 1 cup of flour while frequently stirring until it turns dark brown under low heat. Add stock and your choice of vegetables; cook about 30-45 minutes then add cooked, sliced deer sausage and turkey breast cubes. Continue to cook about another 30 minutes and enjoy.