with Kevin Burleson
Editor’s Note: Mossy Oak’s Kevin Burleson, one of Mossy Oak’s THUGs, guides at Heart of Texas Bowhunting near Brady, Texas – both bow and shotgun hunters – for turkeys each spring. In Texas, hunters can hunt and take Rio Grande gobblers. If you’ve been hunting eastern wild turkeys all your life, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven, if you have the opportunity to hunt Rio Grandes on a ranch that has plenty of birds like Heart of Texas Bowhunting does. We’ve asked Kevin to tell us some of the major differences between hunting eastern gobblers and Rio Grande turkeys.
Although you usually see and hear numbers of turkeys and get in places where gobblers show up, a Rio Grande turkey hunt won’t be an easy turkey hunt. One of the problems we have with Rio Grande gobblers is the really-open terrain. The gobbler expects to see a hen when he hears a hen. If he’s within 50 or 60 yards of a hen, he thinks that hen should walk to him. So, we’ve had Rio Grande gobblers hang up and not come within gun range for as long as 2 hours, although they’ve gobbled good for maybe 15 or 20 minutes before shutting up. You may think they’ve left the area, but after another 10 or 15 minutes, those birds will crank back up and start gobbling again. You know that gobbler isn’t with hens, because he doesn’t leave the area. He’s like that proud young man, who’s been pumping iron. He’s really impressed with himself. He’s convinced himself that the girls should be coming to him, instead of him making an effort to meet them. We’ve learned that by being persistent, calling a little and waiting a lot, we can often bag the gobblers that don’t come in quickly.
Rio Grande turkeys aren’t nearly as reluctant as eastern turkeys to walk under or fly over fences. Here in Texas, gobblers walk under and fly over fences all day, every day. So, fences stopping gobblers never has been an issue, here in Texas. If there’s a hole in the fence or one part of the fence is higher than another part of the fence, and the turkey can walk under the fence without bending over, then more than likely, they’ll come through the hole in the fence. The same is true for creeks and streams. The turkey has no problem flying over a creek or a stream or walking through it.
In the East, if you’re calling to a bird, and a herd of cattle walks between you and the gobbler, you may not see or hear from that gobbler the rest of the day. But here in the West, Rio Grande gobblers are around cattle all day, every day. The turkeys may scoot off a little ways from a herd of cattle. But they won’t leave for an hour or two or vanish completely, if cattle walk between you and the gobbler that you’re trying to call. Often our hunters will get frustrated, when they’re working a bird and a herd of cattle walks between the bird and the hunter. But cattle aren’t a real issue to prevent a hunter from calling in a gobbling turkey in Texas. The same is true if a herd of goats passes between the hunter and the turkey he’s trying to call.
In the East, a hunter normally won’t set-up next to a watering hole, because turkeys have plenty of places to get water. But in the West, where water is often scarce, those cattle trails and deer trails that lead to a stock tank can be a great place for a turkey hunter to set-up and call a Rio. Some of our best hunting areas are on the trails heading to water troughs. However, we never set-up too close to the water. Then the gobblers don’t associate going to water with danger.
The same is true of taking a stand close to the spin feeders that we have on our ranch. I don’t let my clients hunt within 150 yards of the feeders. We don’t want to stop the turkeys from going to the feeders. We want to intercept them long before they reach the feeders. We know that the turkeys will come to the feeders. So, we want to look for the trails they take to get to the feeders, and we hunt the trails.