The spring Rio Grande turkey season begins next weekend across South Texas, and there will be no shortage of birds as our state has the highest population in the country.
However, any seasoned turkey hunter will tell you that despite your best scouting and calling efforts sometimes it seems there aren’t any birds in the whole county. That being said, there are more than a few things that can swing things in your favor, regardless of which turkey hot spot you’re hunting.
Here are four aspects of turkey hunting in Texas to think about if you plan to head out for a sit on a glorious spring day.
Turkey hunting tactic No. 1: Sleep in, hunt later
The mystique of getting in early under cover of darkness to find roosting turkeys cutting up and then setting up nearby is exciting. However, for all the times I’ve been a part of an excursion that started with this scenario and ended with an anchored tom, I’ve been a part of twice that many that were unsuccessful. In the early season, before turkeys have been pressured and heard a variety of fake birds making noise, the easiest thing to do is find a roost tree, set up a couple of hen decoys nearby, get concealed and cut out some sweet hen talk. Typically, any old boss tom will come straight to your setup and give you an easy shot.
That being said, once they figure out the deal, you may as well get a couple of hours more sleep and roll out for a mid-morning or early afternoon hunt. During breeding season toms will be seeking out hens, but since most of those females will be more apt to be on or near nests as the day progresses, it improves your odds of being able to call in a lonely tom.
One of the most memorable hunts I’ve been on took place in the early afternoon in the eastern Panhandle. My father and I set up in a thick oak motte but didn’t plop out decoys. We had seen groups of birds that morning but were unable to call any of the toms away from their hens. However, we began calling as soon as we set up and within 10 minutes we already had a bellowing response. It took another 15 minutes of delicate calling to bring the bird in but when it did it came right up a rolling hill to our location and I was able to snap off a shot at about 10 yards.
It’s likely the bird traveled hundreds of yards and pinpointed our exact location even though we weren’t calling that loud, which still amazes me.
Turkey hunting tactic No. 2: Break out more decoys
Even with awesome technological advances in realism, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s all a matter of tailoring your setup to the situation that arises. I’ve harvested birds with and without them so there’s no hard-and-fast rule about their use. However, turkeys are social critters and more often than not you can’t go wrong with setting out as many decoys as you can, especially when birds are more aggressive.
On a spring hunt a few years ago, we broke out three decoys, a tom, a jake and a hen to try something different during the middle of the season since the birds were quiet and seemingly would not come to any kind of call. For whatever reason, the change in setup coupled with slight calling brought in a pair of toms and ended with a filled tag. The birds did little talking at all, but strutted and showed aggression toward one another and the fake birds, which again proves that turkey behavior can change almost day to day during the spring. However, if you stay flexible and are willing to try new tactics you often will find success.
Turkey hunting tactic No. 3: Take a buddy
It’s tough enough trying to harvest a turkey without calling, but when you’re focusing on luring a bird in and then squeezing the trigger it sometimes can be impossible. Many folks enjoy going solo, but setting up with one companion or more doing the calling and another focusing on shooting is the easiest way to hunt these critters.
The key to the two-man play is setting up so that the caller is far enough away from the shooter so that bringing birds in will make for easier shots. If you set up together, you may not be as successful as if the caller is 20 yards or so behind the shooter, especially if birds are somewhat call-shy and may be spooked a little and stay farther out from your setup.
The biggest thing to consider in this scenario is line of sight. You want to be able to see through a variety of lanes and angles, and more importantly be able to shoot through them, while maintaining your concealment with little effort. You also want to consider setting up so that birds that come in without talking won’t spot you easily, something I’ve learned after multiple miscues, especially during the middle of the season.
Turkey hunting tactic No. 4: Focus on food
In drier years it’s easier to pinpoint when and where turkeys will be after coming off the roost, especially as breeding activity winds down. Male turkeys, much like whitetail deer, pack on the weight ahead of the breeding season and then don’t eat much as they focus on their harems. After they’ve bred, which could be early or later in the spring, they’ll look to recharge, which means heading for a variety of vegetation or crops.
Turkeys are equal-opportunity gourmands and will gobble up just about anything they can find later in the season, even corn from a feeder, which is a legal way to hunt Rio Grande birds but not easterns. While that isn’t the way I prefer to hunt there are other ways to focus on food when hunting this time of year. If range conditions get dry, look for water sources including streams and even windmill tanks to draw in birds, too.
There are sure plenty of young males (jakes) running around this spring, but with a little effort and time, there also should be plenty of older birds skulking around ready to fire up to your calling.
Sometimes you’ve just got to think outside the box call.