Name your favorite team sports.
Baseball? Football? Dog mushing?
To the top of that list, I’d emphatically add spring turkey hunting.
And just by chance, this weekend is the beginning of six great weeks of spring turkey hunting in Texas.
It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read this column — I love turkey hunting! I love the birds, the time of year, the challenges, the gear, the strategy, the heart-thumping moments as a huge old gobbler struts into hand-shaking distance at the behest of your call. I even love deep-fried turkey, on those days when everything clicks!
More than 50,000 Texans and thousands of visiting out-of-state turkey hunters agree and cherish these best days of spring.
After all, we enjoy a spring turkey season that runs six weeks and allows up to four gobblers per hunter. That’s at least twice the gobblers that most states offer.
That’s also where the team work comes in.
Turkey hunting is ideally suiting to two or even three hunters working together. Most of my favorite turkey hunts have involved getting birds for others, not for me.
First there’s the scouting, which dramatically improves your chances of success by giving your more than one flock of birds to hunt.
Riding the roads with a partner gives you more eyes for spotting birds, and more company to make the trip enjoyable. By splitting up, you can also cover more ground and increase you odds of finding more than one flock of birds, which is important if one tom won’t cooperate and you can switch to another group of birds nearby.
Once you’ve got a spring gobbler or flock of birds located, the fun begins.
Setting up before dawn for the birds to fly down, you want to plan who’s the primary hunter and who’s the caller. First and foremost is having everyone well camouflaged and with safe zones of fire defined. Ideally, if you know where the birds are flying down, you want to position the shooter in front and within 20 yards or so of a decoy that will draw the tom’s attention. The caller should be behind and able to see, but with absolutely no motion.
Obviously we’re talking about calling a bird into shotgun range, not hunting with a rifle, which is legal in Texas, but a tactical and safety challenge when hunting with partners.
If both you and your companions are actively hunting, your odds for success also go up. You can spread out a bit and if the turkeys come close, but try to circle out of range, often your partner can get a shot. I really like having two shooters, while I call. I’ll position one to the left and right of the decoy, while I’ll set up and call 15 to 20 yards behind. A bird focusing on the decoy and my calls will look right past the shooters until it’s too late.
Calling in tandem or even triplicate can also simulate a flock of hens far better than a single caller, even one switching calls. There’s no substitute for different calls coming from different locations.
Forget worrying about the perfect call, if one of your companions is a beginner or lousy caller. The worst calls I’ve heard have come from live turkeys. The rhythm is far more important than the exact sound. Sometimes they like it sweet, sometimes raspy.
One a Panhandle hunt, a friend once listened to my beautiful, but ignored, calls from my favorite slate, then asked if he could try his cedar push-button box. On his first call, a distant tom answered and came a running.
That was a 3-bearded bird too!
Sometimes no calling will work.
“If we can’t call ‘em, we’ll crawl ‘em,” turkey hunting legend Eddie Salter once said.
More than once I’d had to stage a crawling stalk on a tom that was in plain sight, but henned up.
Some purists might say that nothing but a called tom is acceptable, but this is turkey HUNTING, not turkey CALLING, so when a bird won’t come to you, sometimes you have to come to them.
If there’s no direct approach that works, getting ahead of a traveling flock of birds
This is where the teamwork comes in, if somebody on the team knows the lay of the land better and can map out a travel route that gets you in front of the birds’ likely route.
This sort of “run-and-gun” or “circle-and-setup” tactic is actually my favorite way to hunt turkeys, especially in the rolling hills and broken canyons of the Rolling Plains.
Once on the Terra Rosa Ranch in Collingsworth County, we struck out two days in a row with a big flock of hens and gobblers that would fly down right in front of us, but out of range, then ignore all calls and walk directly away, headed for a windmill a half mile away.
So the second day when they disappeared, we headed for the truck, circled ahead of the birds now out of sight in the brush, and set up near the windmill. I stationed Greg near the water, while Laine and I took cover further up the hill, to call, watch and head off the birds of they took another route.
They didn’t, instead strolling right to the water, with the leader a huge old tom that strutted and glowed in the morning light like a giant black diamond on the green grass.
Greg waited until the bird was near the water, then raised his 12 gauge and shot in one motion.
And missed at 15 yards!
Just because the ambush works doesn’t guarantee a dead turkey!
We, by the way “double-teamed” those birds another dawn, by splitting into pairs. My hunter and I set up almost under the birds, while our companions hit 100 yards down the travel route the flock had taken every day.
When the birds flew down, half a dozen big toms were within eight steps of Greg and me. He picked out the biggest strutting bird and flattened it. The rest of the flock ran straight past our companions and Laine collected his gobbler in a non-traditional but totally satisfying double-take.
When everything works, the big beautiful gobbler struts into range, and your child or friend draws down on and collects that trophy bird, it’s a payoff few other team sports can match.
And I’ll wager you’ll find, as I have, that’s even more fun than shooting that turkey yourself.
Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season runs from this weekend through May 14 in 153 Texas counties. The spring eastern turkey season is open in 42 East Texas counties April 1–30. Special youth-only weekends are this weekend and May 20–21.
Leschper’s outdoor column appears weekly in newspapers throughout Texas. Email him at email@example.com.
Name your favorite team sports.
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