During my three-decade career as an outdoors writer, I have had the opportunity to travel to many places and spend time with some wonderful people.
This past week, I enjoyed a turkey hunt up in Palo Pinto County on a ranch that ranks very high on my list. Through the years, I have enjoyed some grand times hunting this ranch situated right on the banks of the Brazos River.
The ranch manager, Randy Douglas, became a great friend through the years, and on this recent hunt, we spent some time recalling some of the good times we shared there in these rugged hills, situated on the edge of the Palo Pinto Mountains.
In past years, I’ve set up a tent camp on the banks of the Brazos River just down from the lodge on the ranch. Douglas would usually join me for a camp dinner before heading to his home in Mineral Wells.
There is something very special about camping in solitude on the banks of a river, listening to the slow moving current gurgling through a skinny stretch of streambed with only the sounds of a night hunting owl or lone coyote out looking for dinner to keep one company.
On these camping and hunting trips, my tent was set several miles from the nearest human and when the night sky was clear, I would enjoy a ringside seat with an amazing view of the heavens.
This past week’s turkey hunt was a homecoming of sorts. It had been a while since I had the opportunity to visit with Douglas and become reacquainted with the ranch.
My goal was to enjoy a one-day hunt and hopefully harvest a long beard gobbler. The ranch is only a couple hours from my home and by getting up early; I can easily be hunting by the times the gobblers are on the ground and seriously looking for their lady love of the day.
I met Douglas at the gate and he informed me that he had already heard gobbling in a couple areas on the ranch. Through the 13 or so years that Douglas has managed the ranch, he has learned every creek bottom and cedar flat intricately.
As he dropped off me off in an area he had heard gobbling, he instructed, “Luke, I would start by setting the decoy up in this little clearing. I heard gobbling an hour or so ago on the little ridge over there, maybe you can coax a gobbler down within shotgun range.”
Some days, gobblers sound off immediately and come running in to a call and decoy. Other days, they do not. This was one of those other days.
After about 10 minutes of making those plaintive hen yelps on my old box call, I heard a distant response gobble, maybe 400 yards away up on the ridge Douglas had pointed to. Then, nothing – not another peep out of that gobbler.
I was hoping he would come in silent as gobblers sometime do, but after 30 minutes of occasional calling, all was quiet. In situations like this, I often get up and walk along slowly, stopping to call at likely places.
After covering a mile or so using this tried and true technique, I never heard a peep out of a gobbler. A text from Douglas told me the good news that he had heard two different gobblers in another section of the ranch.
We met at a crossroads and our next stop was a ridge overlooking a big creek bottom. Two hours of occasional calling to two different gobblers gleaned the same result: They simply were not coming in, possibly already with a hen.
For whatever reason both birds showed absolutely no interest in my calling.
My next spot to hunt resulted in one of those turkey-hunting stories that I am sure I will be telling the rest of my life.
I have had some downright comical things occur on turkey hunts. Maybe not comical at the moment they occurred, but in retrospect, comical indeed. Douglas stopped the truck and pointed me toward a high ridge with a pop-up blind and feeder nearby and instructed, “I know there are turkeys loafing during midday along the creek several hundred yards off this ridge. Stay put here and maybe you can coax one out with your calling.”
After getting settled in and placing my decoy on the edge of the wood line where it could easily be spotted from several hundred yards by a turkey coming up the ridge, I began my hen yelps.
After an hour of occasional calling, I heard two distant gobbles coming from down on the creek in the direction Douglas had indicated. They, just like the gobblers earlier in the morning, refused to come in.
So, I began closing the distance to them until I was within what I estimated to be 150 yards of the birds. They responded occasionally with a gobble, but I could not coax them out of the creek bottom.
Then began a sequence of events that involved employing a turkey-hunting technique I learned many years ago and a very cagey old gobbler. I began a slow walk back to my spot on top of the distant ridge, stopping every 50 yards or so to call. Sometimes this tactic makes a gobbler think a hen is on the move, walking out of his area and brings him in on the run.
I made it back up the hill to my original spot and began calling every 10 minutes or so. Nothing. I was getting a bit disheartened.
After setting in the blind adjacent a cedar tree for another hour, I picked up my box call and just as I was about to hit the box with the paddle, a very, very loud gobble broke the silence and made my hair stand on end. The gobbler was a mere 15 feet from me.
Obviously, he had heard my calling and using that built-in GPS unit that all gobblers possess, he had walked all the way out of the creek bottom to my exact position.
Needless to say, this old turkey hunter was a bit shaken. There was a big gobbler, gobbling his head off almost within spitting distance.
Mature gobblers usually don’t give a hunter long to make the shot and I had to do something and fast. I eased the shotgun barrel up and twisted around until I could see the outline of the gobbler through the brushy cedar limbs.
The next thing I heard was the turkey flying out of there, unscathed. At such close range, my shot pattern had centered a 2-inch limb on the cedar.
As I’ve always said, “Anything can and often does occur on a spring turkey hunt.”
For more information on the Dale River Ranch, visit daleriverranch.com.