North Zone Rio Grande turkey season opens Saturday

STEVE KNIGHT/ THE SPRING TURKEY SEASON for Rio Grande turkeys in Texas’ North Zone opens Saturday. A good way to be successful is to spend the evening before finding the birds’ roost.

I admit that the opening of the spring turkey season is one of those dates I have circled on my calendar.

Since the first time I went turkey hunting in Sutton County and even more so since I killed my first tom in McCulloch County I have been hooked. I have hunted in summer-like heat, snow and rain, as Texan never know what to expect this time of year.

I came to the sport not long after Texas’ first spring season in 1969, and I have not missed many. I have chased the birds through timber in East Texas, the Panhandle, West Texas and the Hill Country. Saturday, when the season opens in the North Zone, I plan to be in Brown County. I have hunted there on opening day for several years and have been successful less than half the time.

The tract is only about 300 acres in size, but it holds Rio Grande turkeys, at least most of the year. Come opening day it is like they have a calendar because more times than not they are over the fence and off to other grounds for the bulk of the breeding season before returning home again.

I am always surprised to find how few Texas hunters participate in the spring season. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department the number is usually just over 50,000, a total that is less than half the number of duck hunters in the state.

Like deer hunters are to rattling or duck hunters are to calling, it is the interactive nature of turkey hunting that makes it exciting. That feeling was reinforced two seasons ago sitting alongside a ridge in Kerr County when I watched four 2-year-old gobblers come more than 200 yards in response to my call.

I was backed up to an old oak and was really hoping to work one of the three or four toms that were strutting in the valley below. I was running late that morning and the birds had already left their roost and were gobbling alongside a creek that ran through the ranch. Either those birds were already with hens, didn’t want to come up the hill or were spooked by my truck that I left parked too close behind me when I initially came across the birds.

But they continued to gobble and I continued to yelp in response until I heard and saw the foursome come around a bend in the road far to the north. Knowing the ranch I expected the birds to continue up the road into a draw leading off in another direction, but quickly changed positions when they dropped off the road into the field and began coming my direction.

I continued to yelp at them several times and they continued my direction. At one point I lost sight of the birds as they moved under a rim about 50 yards away. I hit the box call one more time, softly. Immediately they popped back up 15 yards away on a beeline to me. Within seconds they had shortened the distance even more and I took my shot.

I would like to say I would have been just as happy without having taken the shot, but I would be lying. Any wild animal I can get to less than 10 yards away by calling I consider a trophy. Getting a shot was a great ending to the whole sequence.

I admit I am not a great caller. I leave that designation to the guys that can use the mouth calls as well as a box call or some other device to get the birds in close. I only use a box call, and admittedly I use it too much. There is something addictive to doing a yelp or cackle and getting the woods to turn on with gobbles. At times it is like thunder rolling through a valley with one gobble causing another then another and another from birds hundreds of yards away.

The good thing about turkey hunting is that if you have a place to hunt that has birds it is not that expensive a sport. Most hunters have a shotgun and camouflage. It is just a matter of fine-tuning that to turkey hunting and adding a few more components.

Here are a few tips to get started.

Buy a call and learn a few of the basics like the yelp, cackle and purr. The easiest to use is a box call, but it has its limitations such as wet days. You also have to put it down to take a shot.

Now that you know how to call, quit it. The biggest mistake most hunters make is not the sound of their call, but calling too much. Once you know a bird is committed to your location, put down the call and pick up you shotgun and get ready.

Know your shotgun. Hopefully your shot will be at seven yards, but it could be 35 or even 50. Full or extra full chokes are best, and some people are now using a scope for turkey hunting.

Like rifles not every shotgun is going to pattern every load the same. It requires a few practice shots at the range to figure it out.

Most hunters like 12-gauge shotguns for spring turkeys, but like archery equipment shotguns, chokes and ammo have improved for turkey hunting. That brings a 20-gauge into action for a lot of people.

Get the right shot. It is a turkey, not a bull elephant. You don’t need No. 2 shot to kill one. A good No. 5 or 6 in a specialized turkey load is better because you put more pellets down range.

Decoys are a personal preference. Sometimes they work to perfection and sometimes they can cause a bird to shy away. If you like gadgets, get one, or four. They have really become sophisticated with some that move and there are others you are supposed to be able to hid behind and move in on the bird.

Camo from head to toe is a must. Turkeys may not be able to smell danger, but they can sure see it. Not only can they see well, but with a 270-degree range of vision they can see behind them. Blend in and don’t move.

Bug spray is another requirement and to be safe go one step beyond the topical brands and spray your clothes before you go with a permethrin spray.

Yes, snakes do exist and depending on the weather they may be active. Be careful, don’t step over brush piles or clumps of grass where they can be hiding, and keep an eye out as you walk in the dark.


- Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at Texas AllOutdoors and on Twitter @txalloutdoors.



Recommended for you