My First Rio Grande Turkey
By Carol Rose Heughan Ah, spring turkey season. It does not get any better. I’m hooked on it. Nice weather, lots of exercise, and good friends. Two years ago while at the deer lease, I heard some turkeys behind our camp. It was during the springtime. The gobblers were so close. This is when I decided I had to hunt turkeys. I have hunted whitetail, dove, ducks, pigs, and just about anything else Texas has to offer. I had never hunted the famous Rio Grand turkey. During the first year of our turkey hunting, Texas was still in a drought and the turkeys were in survival mode. We did not see or summon up very many gobblers during this time. Since Paul and I were both new to hunting a turkey, he decided to call (no pun intended) in a professional turkey guide to show us the ropes. We invited “Turkey Man” to hunt with us. Turkey Man has won many turkey calling contests. He has 22 confirmed turkey kills by his clients just this spring season alone. On our first hunt we found the area where we knew the turkey were. Like sneaking presents under the Christmas tree, we set up our decoys early in the morning in an open pasture. At daybreak Turkey Man got a response to his call. The conversation, or turkey talk, went on for at least an hour. The turkey would not make the commitment, though. We finally gave up when we realized the turkey would not come in our direction. Later in the morning we walked the lease and would just stop and call. About mid-morning we finally got an immediate response. The gobbler was close. We circled around far to the left from where the response came from and set up in a ravine. Turkey Man got the gobbler in close, within gun range about 30 yards. This was the closest I have ever been to a gobbler. He was so loud and resounding. His wings went whoosh as he puffed up larger than life and began his glorious mating strut. Magnificent bird. I aimed at the neck, but unfortunately when I shot, I only ended up with a pile of feathers. It was like shooting a feather pillow. The turkey flew away faster than you can say fried turkey legs. Paul said, “It’s hard to eat a pile of feathers.” I was very disappointed. I was truly shocked my 20-gauge with turkey load did not do the trick. Turkey Man had tried to warn me. This year Paul and I hunted a few times during the spring season. While walking the lease we ran across axis herds, groups of pigs, and lots of rabbits. It’s just so cool to be on the ground and not in a stand. We hunted around the area of the roosts, water troughs and creek beds. Paul used the owl call to wake up the turkeys and get their attention early in the morning. They would gobble back almost immediately. We could hear them flying down from the roost early in the morning. Their wings sounded like helicopter blades. Paul changed to a slate call and got a good response from a gobbler. Almost a commitment, but I guess it was a limb hanger because the Tom never headed our way. He just kept talking turkey back to us but he never came closer. When we heard the hens clucking, purring, and cackling, we tried to copy it. Hens also yelp to let the tom know their location. Copying the hens call worked well but we just could not get this gobbler to come in closer and make the commitment. “Mr. Tom” did not want to join the party. Our first two years of turkey hunting has been a great learning experience. I learned not to hide in the thorn bushes or moving bushes. I hid behind a cedar bush once and the limbs kept moving. They moved back and forth, like they were waving, “Here I am.” Paul learned to carry more than one call in his turkey vest when the slate call stopped working properly. He uses the box call, mouth calls, and the slate call. The box call is a reliable call, but Paul uses the slate call the most. He has really mastered the slate call. He got good responses with this call, and had two confirmed kills this year. I finally had a good shot at one on the very last weekend of turkey season. Paul used a slate call and got an immediate, loud resounding gobble. The Tom was close. We decided to head towards the creek where the return call came from. We set up on the bank of the creek bed. The bank of the creek supported my back and the cedar bush I sat behind was good cover. It was a perfect position to be in. Looking across the creek bed we saw a hen strutting by on the top of a ridge. Paul and the gobbler continued to exchange “pillow talk.” We then saw the gobbler about 40 yards away on the ridge. He was following the hen with love on his mind. As soon as the gobbler cleared from behind a small tree I aimed my 12-gauge at the base of his head and fired. Finally—success! Turkey down on Heartbreak Ridge—my first Rio Grande turkey. It took a lot of time and patience, but it’s well worth it.