One job of the marketing people here at F+W Publications is to promote our magazines, which they do very well. But when promotions manager Dave Mueller came up with the theme for our annual Turkey & Turkey Hunting sweepstakes hunt, I just had to hassle him.
"What the heck is a Two-Timing Texas Turkey Sweepstakes?" I asked him.
"Well, the hunt is at Adobe Lodge in Texas, and the owner, Skipper Duncan, said you can shoot two birds there," Mueller said. "What don't you get?"
"Yeah, but 'Two-Timing?'"
"Do you have something better?"
I didn't, so I shrugged and let it go. Mueller went back to his desk, no doubt to dream up more silly names for other company promotions, and we never discussed it again.
But after a few days in Texas with sweepstakes winner Bill Mason of Sawyerville, Ala., it dawned on me that Mueller couldn't have named his promotion more appropriately. In fact, if anything, he'd undersold it.
Off to a Great Start
Our 2005 sweepstakes hunt started with a bang before my plane had even landed in San Angelo. Mason, a T&TH subscriber randomly picked from more than 1,000 entrants, had his first bird on the ground before I'd even met him. He'd arrived in San Angelo several hours ahead of me and headed out for an afternoon hunt with Jerry Peterson, owner of Woods Wise Products, our sweepstakes co-sponsor.
Mason had seen a pretty good show that afternoon, he told me. He and Peterson were working a gobbler with hens, but their opportunity was spoiled when three jakes came in and started interfering with the tom's attempts to keep his harem together. Then, three more jakes charged in and ran off the big bird. The hunters moved a short distance and called once. But they weren't greeted by gobbling; instead, they heard drumming from two birds that had drifted in silently.
When the closest bird dropped from strut at 32 yards, Mason shot ... and collected a Rio sporting sharp, curved 11/2-inch spurs. Mason said he'd hunted Texas a few years earlier, but he'd never shot a Rio with such great hooks. The 50-year-old catfish farmer quickly decided his trophy tom was going to the taxidermist.
It was a great start to the hunt, but it was about to get better. That evening, after a too-filling Texas-sized dinner, Duncan made an announcement that ramped up the excitement another notch: He had raised the camp limit to three birds per hunter for the season. There were 11 hunters in camp; if the birds cooperated, this was going to be one of the most successful sweepstakes hunts we'd ever held.
The next morning, Mason headed out with Peterson, who toted his video camera. Meanwhile, Gary Sefton, Woods Wise marketing manager, and I set up in a mesquite patch a couple hundred yards off a roost. As the sky lightened, I could make out dark blobs scattered throughout the upper limbs of a string of pecan trees that ran along a creekbed. When the gobbling started, I understood why Duncan had raised the limit; no fewer than 15 gobblers sounded off in waves up and down the little valley.
"And this isn't even the 'good' part of the ranch," Sefton whispered.
Even in the darkness I could tell he was grinning smugly when he said it.
(I later found out that this was the same place a former T&TH associate editor, Todd Whitesel, had killed his first turkey a year earlier -- also while hunting with Sefton. Whitesel's article on hunting at Adobe Lodge ran in the February 2005 issue.)
Several minutes later we watched as turkey after turkey flapped to earth. And then, except for the occasional gobble, all was quiet. In keeping with Rios' reputation, the hens had hit the ground ready to travel. It sounded like half the turkeys went north and half went south ... and despite our calling, none came west toward our hiding place in the mesquite brush. A half-hour later, one lone tom that apparently missed the train gobbled once. Sefton yelped a couple times and the bird gobbled again, closer. Moments later, the tom crested the little hill in front of us, eyeballed our decoy and took a few sideways steps before I stopped him cold.
I was thrilled to be "on the board," the big scoreboard that Duncan keeps in the camp garage. A meticulous detail man, Duncan records the location of each kill, plus the weight, spur length and beard length of each bird killed on his ranch or other nearby grounds he leases for his hunters.
Mason, hunting with Peterson on another part of the ranch, was also intent on getting on the board again.
"I can't even tell you how many birds were on the roost that morning. Too many to count," Mason said. "We set up a few hundred yards away in the mesquite and waited. We spotted three toms with hens in strut by a windmill about 150 yards off. But then three more toms came and ran them off.
"There were countless birds moving everywhere. We'd move, yelp, listen and try to get in front of birds as they traveled. By 10 a.m. we'd followed one group of birds in a big loop."
The hunters set up again and readied the video camera. Their next calls were answered by a new round of gobbling.
"It had been fairly quiet, but suddenly there was lots more gobbling," Mason said. "Next thing I knew, I had one bird in full strut coming in from the left and another straight out in front of me.
"I shot the closer bird at about 35 yards and looked back at Jerry's camera. 'It doesn't get any better than that,' I said."
But the other gobbler wasn't ready to leave. Instead, it ran to Mason's dead bird and attacked it. Mason encouraged Peterson to shoot the tom, but Peterson didn't want to stop filming, so he told Mason to shoot again. Mason killed the aggressive gobbler and then turned to the camera as if he'd been practicing for this moment his whole life.
"Now that's what you call a Texas two-timing turkey hunt," he said with a grin.
As the hunt progressed, "two-timing" became a theme, not an exception. Gary Cunningham of New York killed two birds with one shot on his first morning out. A day later, Mike Haverty of New Jersey did the same. And Craig McCullock of Vermont shot two birds less than an hour apart on the back side of the property Sefton and I hunted.
Henry Konow, a retired game warden from Connecticut and friend of the Woods Wise gang, really pushed the multiple-bird theme to the limit. Right after flydown on his first morning's hunt, Konow whacked a huge tom. As he walked out to retrieve his kill, he saw movement in the thick grass several yards beyond his dead bird. There he found a jake flopping and, a couple more steps past that one ... another!
Konow's hunt was over, but he graciously offered to show me the location of his three-for-one, because he'd seen two other longbeards strutting there. Sure enough, Konow's advice was good. At first light the next morning I was thinking "Double!" as I drew a bead on a tom strutting a mere 12 yards off my gun barrel while his buddy strutted several yards to the side. But you shouldn't think about shooting a second bird before you've shot the first one. To forever burn that fact in my greed-addled brain, I clucked, the tom raised his head ... and I missed him cleaner than clean.
Back at the truck, Konow laughed mercilessly as I related my tale of woe. I deserved nothing less. We drove over to a hilly section of a neighboring ranch and met up with Zig Kertenis, a Woods Wise pro-staffer from Connecticut who was having a good morning -- he'd killed a 11/2-inch spurred gobbler just before we got there.
Kertenis has hunted at Adobe several times, so he knows his way around. We hiked a two-track road along a sidehill, Kertenis pointing out the lay of the land. The plan was that he'd come back and pick me up at the end of the day. Just as he and Konow turned to leave, a gobbler bellowed from the bottom of the hill. Someone yelped, and the bird gobbled again. We stuck a decoy in the ground and dove for cover. I ended up leaning back into some sort of spiny sticker-bush, while my impromptu guides tried to get small in the shadows of a stunted tree behind me.
We traded yelps for gobbles for a few minutes and, finally, I saw the tom marching in. Too easy, I thought, even though he was still 150 yards away. Suddenly, the "easy" bird shut up, turned and walked back the way he'd come from. I glanced to the left and saw two more gobblers walking straight at him. They weren't gobbling or strutting, but apparently they intimidated the bigmouth enough to send him packing.
My partners threw out a few more yelps and the buddy birds did a U-turn and started up the hill. Once they were inside 40 yards, I drew down on the lead bird. With my earlier stunt still painfully fresh in my mind, this was no time to think about shooting a double. But darn it, if those two birds were any closer together they'd have been attached. I kept my aim on the front bird, and when the back one's head moved to within inches of the other's, I fired and collected my first two-for-one kill. Under the circumstances, I couldn't think of a more appropriate way to end my hunt.
By the time we were ready to head to the airport Tuesday morning, Duncan's scoreboard told an impressive story. Of the 28 toms our group had recorded, 20 of them were at least 3 years old. Considering the many squadrons of jakes we saw running rampant on the ranch, good times at the Adobe should be the rule for a while.
For Mason, the hunt was everything he'd hoped for -- and then some.
"This was a real treat for me," he said. "When I told my wife I won something, she said she hoped it was the Florida lottery. I didn't tell her that what I won was better, but really, if I was going to win something, this is what I wanted it to be."