High Plains Outdoors: Spring Turkey Gobbler Hunting

Apr 27, 2018

I believed I mentioned in a previous column that I was heading up to Knox County to hunt turkeys at Ranger Creek Ranch, one of my long-time favorite spots for enjoying a variety of outdoor activities. Well, I’m just back from a couple days of hunting spring gobblers at Ranger Creek with my good friend Jeff Rice. There are no photos of gobblers with 11-inch beards to accompany this week’s column but Jeff and I enjoyed a great time in the spring turkey woods and around camp the evening of the hunt! I did kill a fine eating Jake Gobbler (one-year-old bird) and spent two glorious days in some of the most ruggedly awesome country in Texas; the Cedar Breaks. 

Most accounts of spring gobbler hunts begin with the outdoor writer going into great detail explaining exactly how he use his box and diaphragm calls to emit the exact plaintive notes necessary to entice a boss gobbler out of the brush. His hen decoy was set in “just” the right spot so distant gobblers could spot it and “come a running!” Well, folks on this past week’s hunt, this old outdoor writer’s turkey hunting experience was a bit different!

You see, our hunt coincided precisely with the two windiest days of the year, so far. On day one, a northwest wind that averaged 30 mph. and at times reached 40 mph, blew continually. The wind subsided a bit during the night but come break of day, it switched to the south and soon reached the gale forces of the day before. Conditions could not have been worse!  Ask any veteran spring turkey hunters - the two worst conditions for bagging a spring gobbler and they will invariably reply, “High winds and hot temperatures”! My cell phone recorded an afternoon temperature of 98 degrees on day one!

But two old turkey hunters know how to make the most of a couple days afield, regardless of the weather conditions! I’ve hunted Ranger Creek enough to know that the chances of bagging a gobbler are pretty high, regardless of the weather conditions. We had some venison fajita strips that we could defrost in case one of us didn’t connect with a gobbler on the first day, but we had our pallets set of fajitas made from fresh wild turkey breast. And we did succeed in having fresh turkey meat, but to be truthful, my bird was not harvesting using conventional spring turkey hunting tactics. Oh, I was “using” conventional tactics to bring one in close, but with the howling wind and scorching heat, conventional tactics such as calling and decoys were simply not working. I must admit it, I sniped my gobbler as he slipped through the brush, heading down into the canyons of the Cedar Breaks, obviously to get some relief from the wind, my “expert” calling and decoy position had absolutely nothing to do with it! 

I was set up on the flat ranch land, a mere 30 yards from the far eastern edge of the Cedar Break country. From the position where I was backed up in some mesquites to call, the terrain dropped almost vertically into the breaks only 30 or so yards away. My decoy was set on a stake and spinning furiously, much like a weather vane. My loudest strikes on the old box call were instantly ripped away by the wind. I was set up not far from a corn feeder and there were turkey scratching and droppings everywhere. Possibly I could ambush a gobbler stopping by for a late afternoon snack. This wasn’t turkey hunting as I know it, but it was the only tactic I knew of to put those wild turkey fajitas in the skillet for the evening meal.

About an hour before dark, I noticed movement in the mesquites. Turkeys! Possibly they were coming to the corn feeder and possibly I could ambush one. My pulse quickened and I raised my shotgun to knee level. I picked out an opening in the brush about 30 yards out and had the turkeys been coming to the feeder, I would have had a perfect shot. I soon identified the flock of 5 turkeys as Jakes, I got a good look at their small two-inch beards and decided that a boss gobbler could wait until the next day. These were the best eating of all wild turkeys and I was not likely to get another opportunity this day. Devout trophy gobbler hunters would pass on these younger birds, but not me. I am all about “getting a gobbler, any gobbler” and later enjoying some of the best game meat in the woods!

I had my old 12-gauge loaded with a heavy charge of Hornady Heavy Magnum #6 shot. Last year, I cleanly killed a gobbler at a measured 62 yards with these loads. I waited, watching closely to anticipate the direction the flock was traveling.

The birds avoided the feeder entirely and crossed the clearing about 40 yards out. I had the shotgun barrel settled on the clearing and when the lead Jake popped into view, I needed only to adjust my aim a small amount to make the shot.  Turkey Fajitas forthcoming! I was a happy old turkey hunter as I hefted the Jake I had just shot. I guessed his weight to be about 18 pounds of prime turkey meat!

My buddy Jeff is a devout bow hunter and spent most of his time in a pop-up ‘tent’ blind near a feeder. He too had a hen decoy out in front, which was spinning madly in the high winds. He said at times he had to literally lean into the windward side of the blind to keep it from blowing away! The blind was also situated on high ground near the edge of the ‘Breaks’ and conditions were less than perfect for a turkey harvest.

We enjoyed a very relaxing evening back at camp, dining on some of the best fajitas either of us had ever eaten. The next morning greeted us with howling winds and we hunted together, both toting shotguns and headed down into the rough cedar canyons. We did hear a couple of gobblers answering our calls, but even in the seclusion of the protected canyons, the birds were simply ‘spooked’ by those high winds. I did have a 200-pound feral hog sow walk up on me while I was calling. The big hog was only 30 yards away and I thought of trying to harvest it with the heavy shotgun loads, but then I gave some thought of packing the meat out of that rough country and let it walk. My buddies kid me that I can turn a hunt for polar bear into a hog hunt. But not this time! For more information on hunting Ranger Creek Ranch, visit www.rangercreekranch.com

The Yantis Catfish Classic will be held May 5 at the Minnow Bucket at Lake Fork. I’ll be fishing the tournament both days with my friend David Hanson and will also serve as the Grand Marshal for the tournament and parade Saturday afternoon in Yantis. Late entries can sign up at the Minnow Bucket. Make sure and stop by and say hello!