On the Trail of a Lone Star Gobbler
by T&TH Editor Gordy J. Krahn
I’ve hunted in the great state of Texas many, many times, but never get over how expansive it is — or how much of it is so changeless. On the drive to Canyon Ranch, just south of Sonora, where we’d be hunting the next three days, hunting buddy Josh Dahlke nailed it. “It’s like the Creator just kept hitting cut and paste, cut and paste, cut and paste.” But we both knew the endless miles of seemingly mundane terrain contained boundless secret honey holes where all sorts of critters hang out — including the long-legged Rio Grande wild turkey.
Another hunting buddy, Mike Stroph, met us at the ranch house, which sits smack dab in the middle of 20,000 acres of turkey utopia. He told us that we were big boys and we’d be hunting guideless during our stay. I can’t tell you much I love being turned loose on new property and became giddy as a school girl when I was told I’d have an entire section of Texas pastureland to myself. I’d hunted whitetails and axis deer on the Canyon Ranch and was looking forward to putting my boots back to the scrub-brush landscape. We quickly sighted-in our shotguns and headed afield for the last couple of hours of daylight to do a little scouting — and saw plenty enough turkeys to cause a listless night.
Smack Dab in a Turkey Sandwich
It was dark as the inside of a crow’s belly when I slipped right into a tom turkey sandwich the next morning — four hot gobblers just over the property line to the west and a single, tentative tom perched in a tree about 100 yards to the east in the pasture I was hunting. I had experienced a similar situation in the South Dakota Black Hills a couple of years ago, and had gotten the drop on a shy bird after sitting in quiet ambush for more than an hour, while ignoring his boisterous buddies several hundred yards away. I decided to go for the bird in the hand and sneaked in a little closer and set up … on the wrong side of a cactus, as it turned out.
The tom came in silent and sneaky — shielded by the cactus. And when he gobbled at 10 yards, I about jumped out of my skin. The tom jumped, too. And that was that. I’d made the right choice, but my execution lacked foresight. The rest of the gobblers cooled down after they came off the roost and I’m not sure if they ever crossed over onto my property.
Disappointed but determined, I went back to the ranch house for a quick bite and then headed back out. It was hot and windy, and I figured the prudent approach was to find a likely spot, maybe near water, and sit out the worst heat of the afternoon before working my way back toward the roost later in the day. I camped out for about four hours, calling periodically, and didn’t see a feather or hear a peep. Guess the turkeys were sitting out the heat, too. I did manage to get a short nap, and felt somewhat invigorated as I got to my feet and began slowly zig-zagging back to where the birds had been roosted that morning — feeling pretty confident that’s where they would end up just before dark. I wanted to be there ahead of them to throw out the welcome mat.
Calling sporadically as I worked my way west toward the property line road, it took me more than an hour to get to where I’d had the close encounter with the cactus tom. I was hoping the birds that had been roosted to the west had crossed the road sometime during the day and I could ambush them as they returned for the evening fly-up. I found a shaded spot with just enough cover — no cactus this time — and open shooting lanes, put out a single hen decoy, sidled up next to a bush and settled in. An hour or so later, I heard a gobbler sound off on my side of the road not more than 100 yards away. I threw a few yelps his way, but got no response. I shut up and waited.
Minutes later, I caught peripheral movement to my left. The sneaky tom — I hate those guys — had circled the call and come in backdoor, and was now making a beeline toward my decoy. I was in a bad position because of the thick bush to my left — guess I didn’t learn much from the cactus incident — and couldn’t turn to get a shot. All I could do was wait him out with hopes that he’d move to the right. He was doing just that when he seemed to spook from the decoy, and instead of giving me the three or four more steps I needed for the shot, turned on a dime and walked around behind me.
I could hear the tom shuffling about 10 yards behind me, but didn’t dare move a muscle. Finally, when I heard him walking off toward the road I swung around, hoping to get the drop on him as he walked away. Imagine my surprise when I spotted two other toms walking toward me from that direction. I was half way through my turn when they saw me and spooked. I was pretty sure the hunt was over for the day, but with a good half-hour of shooting light left I decided to sit tight.
Not five minutes later, a tom — maybe even the original tom — made a return visit from the left. This time he strutted right up to the faux hen, looking like a teenage boy who’d finally built up the courage to ask a pretty girl to dance. When he passed by me at about 7 yards he seemed to sense I was there and spooked. The bird had surprised me and my gun was in my lap. He picked up the pace as I slowly raised it to my shoulder — and sent an angry swarm of No. 6s at him before he could turkey trot out of range.
I let out a deep breath and then just sat there for several minutes, soaking up the events of the wondrous day, before getting up and walking over to check out my well-earned prize. For me, the coolest thing about hunting turkeys is the variety of honey holes where you find this most glorious of game birds. And now, having begun my 2016 season with a beautiful Rio Grande, anything else would just be icing on the cake.