"LAST CHANCE FOR TEXAS TURKEYS" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton Eldorado, Texas- Being handed the keys to the gates of one of the best turkey hunting ranches in the Texas Hill Country is quite a privilege, especially for a couple of die hard old turkey hunters like my friend Bob Hood and myself. Sam Henderson and his family own Mesquite River Outfitters (www.mesquiteriveroutfitters.com), and offer deer and turkey hunting on over 20,000 acres in Schleicher County, situated on the far western edge of Texas game rich Edwards Plateau Region. Ive hunted the region for many years, often with Sams neighbor Kerry Joy, also a hunting outfitter, who first introduced me to Sam several years ago. To a turkey hunter, these well managed ranches are close to Utopia. In the winter, I have set in a deer blind and watched flocks comprised of hundreds of turkeys walk by late in the afternoon, heading to their roosts. There might be places on the planet with more turkeys but youd have to show them to me. Spring turkey hunting here is, to a devout turkey hunter, as good as it gets. Im coming to you today from the ranch, thanks to a lap top computer and air card to transmit the signal back to headquarters! Photo by Luke Clayton Before our hunt, while visiting with Sam on the phone, he stated that his hunts were wrapped up for the year and Hood and I were welcome to the use of the lodge and would have the run of the entire ranch. Ten thousand acres each to hunt! We didnt have to think long before packing our turkey hunting gear and heading deep into the Texas Hill Country. I could write a book on simply being IN the Texas Hill Country in the spring when the cactus is blooming and the hills are green and lush. This country is rugged and can get pretty dry during the summer, but God smiles on it each spring and adorns it with a smorgasbord of colors. I could spend a few days each spring in the hills here just soaking in Nature. Give me a bow or shotgun and the opportunity to hunt turkey and Im about as content as a hunter can be. There is nothing in the outdoors as exciting as listening to an old gobbler respond to your calling and then watch him pop up out of the brush within shotgun or bow range. Photo by Luke Clayton Hood and I knew that even with the astounding number of turkey on the ranch, our late season hunt could be challenging. But, challenging is what turkey hunting is all about. Hood has been hunting turkeys for well over forty years and I have logged in about a quarter century in quest of longbeards. We looked at this hunt as a great way to put past experiences in the turkey woods to use and try to outfox some gobblers that we figured would be nearing the end of their annual breeding season. The peak of the breeding season was over but we calculated that there would still be some breeding activity occurring. Competition for the hens should be high and we planned to put this bit of knowledge to our advantage. On the first afternoon of the hunt, I heard very little gobbling in response to my calling. Hunting gobblers that wont announce their location by gobbling is far more challenging than hunting vocal birds. During the afternoon hunt, I didnt have a single gobbler within shotgun range. The birds simply were not active. Had I not hunted the ranch before, I might have wondered where all the turkeys had gone, but I knew better. I was hunting in the middle of one of the highest concentrations of Rio Grande turkeys in the world. It was time for me to decide the best way to hunt them. Sam had told us that the gobblers were responding to calling by gobbling back but many of them were reluctant to travel far to come to the call. I took the hunt to the turkeys late in the afternoon and set out on foot, walking a few hundred yards along a ranch road, then stopping and giving a series of hen yelps on the box call. There was absolutely no response to my calling. This WAS going to be a challenging afternoon hunt. Late in the day, my walk took me to a gate, beyond which I noted something very colorful. Upon closer inspection, I identified two strutting gobblers with two hens close by. These birds were obviously deeply engrossed in the courting ritual. Its next to impossible to call a gobbler away from hens, especially hens that are receptive, as these two appeared to be. The conventional way to hunt spring turkeys is to first locate the birds, set up a decoy or two and call them within range. This is the CONVENTIONAL way; there are other options! Its extremely difficult to stalk within shotgun range of ONE turkey. The situation at hand was made even more challenging by four sets of eyes, each with binocular quality vision! I quickly looked the terrain over and developed a plan that would, hopefully, get me within 40 yards of the gobblers. There was a big patch of cactus between the birds and myself and some low growing cedar bushes. I belly crawled, scooting my Tri Star Arms 12 gauge auto along, thankfully the shotgun had a camo pattern and blended well into the cactus and cedar. I had the gun loaded with my favorite turkey load, 3-inch Winchesters with a heavy dose of #4 shot. When about 30 yards from the cross fence, I spooked one of the hens and watched her trot over the hill into a nearby draw. The gobblers were in full strut and so preoccupied that they never noted her departure. The other hen became nervous and walked a few yards away from her suitors. My cover played out about 10 yards from the fence. The two gobblers appeared to be 40 yards on the other side. I had confidence in the full choke I had in the Tri Star and the heavy Winchester turkey loads. I guessed the distance to the birds at close to fifty yards. One of the gobblers walked a few yards from the other and strutted. I took the safety off the shotgun and centered the front bead on the birds head. KABOOM! I had my bird on the ground, a three year old with one inch spurs and a 9.5 inch beard. Ive killed bigger turkeys but none more challenging. I paced the distance at 54 yards; a tight choke and heavy load will do the work at extended ranges! Photo by Bob Hood The next morning, Hood and I were back in the hills at first light. We both walked and called, thinking that covering a good bit of territory would eventually put us within hearing distance of a gobbler. A bird responded to my calling, he was obviously on the side of a hill, across a long stock tank with a fence on my side of the pond. He responded loudly to my hen yelps and I quickly stabbed the stake to my decoy in the tight, rocky soil and hid behind a cedar. Every time I called, the gobbler responded with a resounding gobble. Then, on the far side of the water, I spotted the brightly colored heads of TWO gobblers. At that point, they stopped responding by gobbling and went silent. I watched them heading toward the end of the pond, hopefully they would walk around the pond and head through the live oaks toward my hen decoy. I ceased my loud calling and occasionally gave a series of soft yelps. Then, about sixty yards out, I watched two big gobblers walking toward my hen decoy. The wind was blowing hard and just as the birds were about to make their final approach the wind blew the decoy over. This was more than the wary approaching gobblers could take and I watched them gallop back in the direction from which they came. Hood had a likewise experience. He was closing the gap on a couple of gobblers that proved to be closer than he thought. They spotted Hood before he saw them and quickly disappeared into the hills. We still have another day to hunt but, because of deadlines, I have to cut this weeks column a little short, time go head back to the hills! For more information on hunting with Sam Hendersons Mesquite River Outfitters, go online to www.mesquiteriveroutfitters.com or call Henderson at 325-853-1543. The ranch offers excellent white tailed deer hunting and the Hendersons New Mexico ranch is a great spot for hunting mule deer. Want even more of Luke's hunting/fishing tips and tricks, wild game recipes etc? Listen to Outdoors With Luke Clayton for a new show each week at www.catfishradio.com and check out the new fishing videos at lukeshotspots.com Contact Luke at firstname.lastname@example.org The BOC has a virtual library of Luke's stories right here on the forums; just about anything you could want to read about the outdoors. Click here to see a boat load of information!