Other days it is like being lost in a fog.
The first two days of the season that opened last Sunday were a little of both.
Moved to a mid-month start to ensure as many hens as possible would be bred before hunting started, this season’s opener had the potential to being something of a new frontier. History had shown it shouldn’t be an issue. A later-starting season in East Texas had always resulted in higher harvests since hunting was renewed in 1995. It wasn’t until 2005 that the beginning date was moved to early April.
I have hunted the Graff Ranch enough over the last seven years to know where I needed to go. There are places on the 5,000-acre Red River County property I haven’t been on during the spring season, but successes and failures in recent years have honed the choices to a reasonable amount of country.
With the fear of a fast-approaching front bringing heavy rain and wiping out opening morning, ranch owner Stan Graff and I opted for a block of woods only a mile or so from the house. Two other hunters, outdoor writers Ray Sasser and Mike Leggett, headed into an adjacent area that has been a gold mine in recent years.
Hunting Eastern turkeys in Texas is nothing like hunting Rio Grande turkeys. Even in the best locations numbers are still low. Also, where Rio Grandes have traditional roost sites Eastern turkeys will fly up whatever tree they are standing next to at sunset. It is rare to find them exactly in the same tree two days in a row. Rios also gobble more, giving up their location.
More importantly, feeders are off limits. Magnets for Rio Grande turkeys when the go off each morning, Eastern turkey hunters are left to their own devices, or in some cases, demises.
Graff and I parked far enough away from where we intended to call so as not to disturb any birds that were roosting nearby. It was already breaking sunlight and starting to mist when he finally climbed the ridge to the place we wanted to call.
We backed out and headed to another spot. A shot in the dark.
With no creek or fences to stop them from coming, we sat and called. But something was wrong. We kept hearing occasional gobbles, but it was clear it wasn’t in response to our yelps.
After a half hour or so we gave up and moved out of the woods. It would be a good starting point the next morning.
The forecasted rain brought an end to the day’s hunt, but when we returned to the headquarters Sasser and Leggett reported hearing four toms in two locations. They weren’t able to get a shot at either despite the fact the birds were definitely hot and responding to calls.
The next morning’s plans suddenly changed. They would return to the woods where they started and I would go to where they had heard the other bird. He had come to their call twice, and since they hadn’t disturbed him there was no reason to think he wouldn’t again.
I waited and waited. I heard Canada geese flying overhead. Crows cawing back and forth. Mourning doves looking for mates, but not a turkey.
It wasn’t until I heard a distant shotgun that I decided to get aggressive. I eased through the woods yelping with no response. I thought about the rain the day before and wondered if the tom had holed up in different country. I wondered about the affect of the fog.
It wasn’t until later I learned the shot was Leggett taking a 22-pound, 2-year-old tom with a 10 ½-inch beard. A trophy of an Eastern tom.
Surprisingly that bird and another had roosted in the exact tree they had been in the day before. While they didn’t gobble as much as they had opening morning, they did respond to Leggett’s call and came close enough for a shot.
The good news was when they got to the check station there were three others there with birds and another had already been checked in. A good start.
I haven’t taken an Eastern tom since 2005, but I have been on plenty of wild goose chases and now lost in the fog.
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