Turkey trees

Spring turkey hunting can be challenging under good conditions. Throw in spring thunderstorms and strong winds and it can become almost impossible. (Steve Knight/Staff)

CAMP VERDE — I knew better. I had been down that road before, but you often forget lessons learned if they don’t kill you.

My goal Saturday morning was to call in a Rio Grand turkey, kill it shortly after sunrise and call it a day. Storms were forecast for the area, and in fact most of Texas, so early morning success was really the only option.

Because of the lay of Camp Verde Ranch, my best option was an early morning stroll from the front gate to the back of the lower pasture. It was about a two-mile walk that fortunately was not all uphill.

I left the house about 5:45, an hour and 15 minutes before daylight. I used a good portion of that getting to where I was going. Fortunately the caliche road shown bright in the moonless morning and while I could not see any rattlesnakes that might be in my path, at least I did not wonder lost across the 1,300-acre ranch.

During the walk, I experienced the first of four weather seasons I would feel by noon. It was summer hot, about 62 degrees when I started walking, and because of the humidity I was a ball of sweat halfway there.

I had not sat down long before I heard the first gobbling. It was coming from the trees surrounding the spring blind. It was named for the obvious reason, there is a spring on that portion of the ranch. During deer season, a blind there is a good spot to sit.

It changes after season when the feeders run out of corn. Some deer still come in for the free-choice cottonseed that is put out there and other feed stations around the ranch, but the main draw for turkeys is it is a good roost and nesting area for hens. And of course the hens attract the gobblers, which is what attracted me.

I listened to those birds, and another bunch to the south. A lot of their gobbles were shock responses to thunder that was rolling through the region.

With a lack of hiding spots I was a good ways from the roost, but attempted to call anyway. I was not very confident, and for good reason. I had seen a hen in the area while scouting the afternoon before and knew if the gobblers had roosted with them, the odds of me calling them away at sunrise were near zero.

I had not been calling long when I felt the first drops of the morning. I knew the birds had flown down from their roost and were headed the other direction, so I headed to the deer blind to wait out the rain. It was then I saw a gobbler strutting up a steep road that ran alongside the blind headed to the top.

I sat in the blind during a light rain. OK, I took a nap and was awoken by a tom gobbling down below me. I looked, but never could find the bird. It was hidden by the trees and brush and eventually wandered off.

The rain had quit and I was now ramped up and ready to go. I had a plan, but first checked three weather apps on my phone before starting to walk. It looked like I had a 30- or 45-minute window, which seemed like it would be enough to make it back to the house dry.

The skies were still grey and the thunder continued across Kerr County. I should have known better, but I could hear distant gobbling. The last time I tried something like this was a spring hunt in Nacogdoches County years ago. I hunted until the last second then tried to beat the rain and lightning back to the truck. I had a shocking experience feeling the effects of a nearby strike coming down the wire as I opened a gate.

Never again I said then, but here I was. Calling as I worked my way down the road, with one eye on threatening clouds and lightning. Then the skies opened. Hard and cold, like a fall rain. It was the second weather season that morning.

I was soaked and cold, but not shocked.

It was the same storm that later that morning destroyed parts of Franklin, Alto and other communities. The worst we got was a steady 20- to 30-mph wind that lasted the rest of the day and night. A strong spring wind, and suddenly it was the third season of the morning.

The next morning I was back at spring blind. It was a winter-like 40 degrees. I moved in closer. How the turkeys roosted in a tree with that wind I don’t know.

Early attempts to call a turkey didn’t work, but I did not move. About an hour after sunrise, a mature tom worked his way back into the area. We called back and forth for a half hour. He came within 30 yards, but would never come out of the trees. My best guess was he still had a hen with him.

Eventually the tom walked off for good, and I walked back to camp swearing never again to sit out in the woods during a storm.

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