TRICKAM — It may have been the best spring hunting day ever in which a gobbler was not killed.
Sure, the ultimate symbol of success is the kill, but there are times — like fly fishing for redfish or bonefish — where just getting a fish to look is something of a victory.
Maybe the same can be said for spring turkey.
This wasn’t just any turkey hunt. I have guided a lot of hunters during the spring season over the years with different degrees of success. This year I was guiding my daughter-in-law, Mary, on her first turkey hunt.
The Whitehouse native is an avid hunter. She hunts dove and ducks, has taken a deer with her bow and also likes to bowfish.
But for the most part those are all East Texas activities. For turkey hunting we traveled to Central Texas.
The tract we were hunting isn’t big, but two months before the season there were six gobblers coming to the lone feeder. As has happened in the past most flew the coup by opening day, but that was enough.
The hunt started perfect. It was in the mid-40s and the storms and 20 mile-per-hour winds of the day before had subsided. Hunting with my oldest son, Tristan, we eased down the ranch road in the dark, getting near where we wanted to be just minutes before the 6:58 legal shooting time.
We stopped in the road and I owl hooted to see if I could shock a gobble out of a tom roosting in the towering oaks along the now-dry creek bed. Instantly a tom responded, but it seemed like a half-hearted gobble. Maybe a jake.
Then a second bird joined in. He was to our east just beyond a struggling wheat field.
In the dark, we rushed through the brush ignoring the possibility of rattlesnakes to find someplace to hide alongside the field. With them hunkered up against a tree, I sat down a few yards behind working the call and every time I yelped he responded. Once you could tell he turned around in the tree, but he continued his rumbling call.
Still dark he flew down and immediately went into a full strut, not even coming out of it to gobble.
He was quickly joined by five hens that flew down from nearby roosts. Four of them quickly split off and headed to a feeder. The fifth, it turned out, would become a nemesis the remainder of the day.
The gobbler must have strutted 150 yards, maybe more, in our direction, but as he got closer the hen started showing interest, first yelping back at my calls and then coming between the tom and us.
Actually that is how it is supposed to work early in the season when the hens are with toms and haven’t been bred. The gobbler isn’t going to leave his harem, so the next best move is to call the hen and have her bring him in with her.
The hen moved down the field and was eventually standing within five yards of the hunters. The tom was 20 yards behind her and for more than 10 minutes she would yelp and he would gobble at every call I made. Unfortunately he would never present a shot. He stayed at full strut and profile to our stand.
Unable to find the adversary she was looking for, the old boss hen eventually walked off. He followed, but continued to gobble, a sign he was an unwilling participant in the walk off.
We retreated for lunch and were back on the ranch by 2:30. The temperature had climbed almost 40 degrees. I told Mary and Tristan if we could get him to gobble again in those conditions we could kill him. It was a promise I should have refrained from making.
Back on the road where we had started that morning, I aggressively yelped and he gobbled. It was game on again.
We backed into the brush and found places to hide. I sat out a hen decoy and continued to call as the tom closed the distance. Then she started up again. Staying in front of him she led him through the brush that separated the wheat field and the road.
She brought him on a path farther back than I anticipated, but with each call came a gobble and a yelp. We could see him again in full strut.
Then she broke the cover, heading first toward the hunters, and then turning away. He stayed just back in the brush, gobbling and strutting, but again never presenting a shot.
She crossed the road to the decoy, didn’t like what she saw and backed off, taking him west away from us.
He continued to gobble. All we could do was watch in amazement. Twice in a day we had a gobbler in full strut within easy shotgun distance. Twice no one got off a shot.
But Mary got the full-meal-deal when it comes to spring turkey hunting, watching a bird from the roost to in range. It is something a lot of hunters have never seen. Amazing and frustrating at the same time.
It was somewhat unsatisfying because there wasn’t a shot, but still fascinating to see that kind of interaction with a wild animal.
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