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.
We hunt Rio Grande gobblers in the spring from daylight until dark. We may come in at midday to eat lunch. Then, after lunch, we’re right back after them. That’s another thing that makes hunting Rio Grande gobblers different from hunting eastern gobblers. Rio Grande gobblers will gobble all day long. I believe the Rio Grande gobbler is the most vocal of all the races of turkeys. Rio Grande turkeys don’t seem to stay in a confined area like eastern gobblers do. Depending on where the food is, and where the hens are, a Rio Grande gobbler may make a 2-mile loop, during the day, before he returns to his roost tree. If we have the turkeys patterned, we often know where a gobbler will show up at three or four times during the day. So, if we don’t get a turkey during the morning, we can hunt gobbling birds all the way until dark.
One of the biggest differences that eastern hunters notice, when they come to the West or Midwest to hunt Rio Grande gobblers is that they get to hear a lot of gobbling. I don’t think we put as much hunting pressure on our turkeys as the eastern gobbler has had. I’ve had some eastern hunters tell me that in 3 days of hunting at Heart of Texas Bowhunting, they’ll hear more turkeys gobble than they’ll hear in one or two seasons of hunting in their home states. Also, eastern hunters often tell us that they see more gobblers, when they hunt with us, than they do in their home states.
Here are several reasons hunters see and hear more turkeys in the West than they do at home.
- The Rio Grande tends to gobble more than the eastern turkeys.
- Most Rio Grande gobblers establish well-defined routes they travel almost every day. Once you know the routes they take to food, water and strut zones, seeing gobblers isn’t that difficult.
- Water is much more important to turkeys in Texas than it is for turkeys in the East. Almost every morning in the spring, dew will be on the ground at first light. The turkeys get a lot of water from that dew. Because of rains, lakes, streams and creeks, eastern turkeys generally have more water to drink than turkeys in the Southwest and in some portions of the Midwest. Turkey feathers are black to brown in color, and they absorb heat, requiring turkeys to drink a lot of water. Rios will go to stock tanks and any little streams they can find to get water, especially in the later morning all the way through the late afternoon.
- We also put out feeders for turkeys in the spring. But like the roost tree (see Day 1), we don’t hunt over the feeders. We’ll take stands on the trails that lead to and from the feeders, usually 200- to 500-yards away from the feeder.
- We have a tremendous amount of knowledge at Heart of Texas Bowhunting, because we live on the property year-round. We know where turkeys roost, where they travel, where they feed, where they like to meet their hens, and where they like to get water. Oftentimes, we have much more knowledge about the turkeys on our ranch than hunters have about the turkeys on the lands they hunt in the East. Since eastern hunters usually see and hear more turkeys at our ranch than they do in their home states, this is one reason we have quite a few eastern hunters coming to Texas every year.