I watched the Rio Grande turkeys all winter long around the Kerr County ranch, and it was frustrating. There were at least 25 long beards along with a handful of jakes in two flocks and all I could do was watch as they wandered around the ranch.
Although a turkey's behavior is always erratic, it was even more so this year with mild weather. One morning in December, I was sitting in a blind on the edge of a ridge. As the sun started to break in the east, birds were gobbling from the roost like it was spring. A month later I rounded a corner and there was a boss tom in full strut. I had to stop and watch.
Spring turkey hunting has always been one of my favorite hunts. Although the season is already open, it is too early for me to go. I don't shoot turkeys during the winter season or hunt them at the feeder during the spring. To me, turkey hunting is calling a long beard otherwise known as a mature bird into shotgun range. I have to play on their terms, and that is around the breeding season when birds are calling to each other. That does not normally reach its peak for a couple more weeks where I hunt.
This should be a good spring for Rio Grande turkey hunters in Texas. Based on what I saw, there are not many jakes, 1-year-old birds, in the population. Apparently that is the case in much of the state.
"Texas has a much lower harvest rate compared to many southeastern states and our toms live to a ripe old age," said Jason Hardin, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's turkey program leader. "There are not many jakes out there this year due to low recruitment associated with dry conditions these past two years, so the odds are in your favor that what comes in should be a mature bird."
Hardin added he also has heard early reports of gobblers strutting, and while it is early for them to begin pairing up in most of the North Zone, he said it would not be surprising to see breeding activity begin early this spring.
Spring turkey hunting is one of the most interactive types of hunting. The goal is simply to use a call sounding like a hen to bring an old tom within shotgun range. I shot one last year about seven yards in front of me.
The problem is, it is never simple. I had the old gobbler talking for 20 minutes or more, but he would never come down the hill he was on. As is the way in nature, he expected the hen to come to him. He was finally provoked by five jakes that came from another direction to investigate the hen they kept hearing.
My second bird last year was a completely different story. After unsuccessfully walking a mesquite flat in search of birds, I sat down and just began to call. Within minutes, a 2-year-old could not help himself and came running up to my location. Game over.
As well as those two trips worked out, there have been a whole lot more where I have come back empty handed even though I could hear toms gobbling. Sometimes they would gobble from the roost, never to be heard from again once they flew down. Sometimes they just go another way. Oftentimes that means they are with hens and do not want to alert other toms of what they have going on.
Some days they will come toward you, but stop for one reason or another. It could be anything that stops them, a creek, a fence or a rise in the terrain.
They may gobble the whole way to you or they may never make a sound.
When they are with hens, you may be able to call her to you to get a shot at him, or you may have to come back mid-morning looking for him after they split up.
A fear of calling keeps a lot of hunters from spring hunting, but with a box call and a little practice anyone can learn to do a yelp and cackle. Used sparingly, that is often enough. The key is not to over call or call too loud when working a bird. That does not mean you should not get a little more aggressive when conditions dictate.
With unbelievable eyesight and the ability to see in almost 360 degrees around them, hunters have to wear camo from head to toe and move as little as possible.
When it comes to guns, most use a 12-gauge, but I know others who use 20s and even down to .410s. The key is good ammo, and in the case of turkeys it does not require No. 2 shot. There are a lot of good turkey loads on the market and No. 5 or 6 shot is perfect for headshots using a full or tighter choke. Like with a rifle for deer hunting, hunters would be wise to pattern their shotgun so they know where to aim for a head shot.
A final tip is use bug spray. I always pretreat my clothing with a permethrin product and use a regular spray on exposed skin. Ticks are active during the spring season and as wet as it was during the winter, mosquitoes and gnats could be an issue early mornings.
The South Zone remains open through April 28 while the North Zone runs through May 12. There is a special one-gobbler season April 1-30 in Bastrop, Caldwell, Colorado, Fayette, Jackson, Lavaca, Lee, Matagorda, Milam and Wharton counties. The Eastern spring turkey season in open counties is April 22 and runs through May 14.