Fishing & Boating News

Turkey Talkin'- One Time...

by: Michael Banks, DDS,

Photo by Michael Banks, DDS
Photo by Michael Banks, DDS
(Apr. 04, 2014 - Jacksonville,TX)

I have come to realize when old men are telling the traditional hunting or fishing stories, the tales usually begin or include "One time...." - "One time back in......", One time over at......", "One time we had......"

You history buffs will recall that Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as the national emblem rather than the eagle. I am glad Franklin did not prevail as there could have been hunting restrictions on our national emblem!

There are three subspecies of wild turkey now in Texas - the Rio Grande, the Eastern and Merriam's Turkey. The Rio Grande exists basically on the line of, say, Interstate 45 to the west. The Eastern turkey is being reestablished in areas to the east of that line. The Merriam's Turkey occurs in Texas only in the mountainous regions of the Trans-Pecos region.

The Eastern turkeys were hunted out of existence for sustenance in the early part of the twentieth century in East Texas. The change in habitat with the upstart logging industry about that time did not help the Eastern turkey to survive. After several failed stocking attempts, recently the Eastern has been reestablished in portions of East Texas.

I had the good fortune to have a hunting lease east of Alto, Texas, where Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocked Eastern turkeys brought to Texas from Iowa in 1988. We entered into an agreement to protect these birds until a huntable population was established.

The land was ideal turkey habitat - hardwood (acorn producing) bottoms with open understory; fields (bug producing) with small pine seedlings; and creeks (water). The openness is important so that turkeys can spot predators before they attack.

We could not hunt turkeys but we had a lot of fun with them. In the spring, we would call them - just messing with them. What fun that was! We would listen for gobbles in the evening to see where the toms went to roost. They gobble just before flying up to a tree branch for the night, usually in a very tall tree. The turkey used several roost trees around our cabin.

In the morning at daylight, the toms gobble before they fly down to start the day.

You can stimulate them to gobble using locators which are mimics of owls, crows, coyotes, or other gobblers. Sometimes even the slamming of a truck door will work.

One time we located the roost of a gobbler. The next morning my son and I went to mess with him. We called simulating the sound of a love sick hen. My son counted over 100 gobbles from that gobbler looking for that pseudo hen!

My first turkey hunting experience happened back when I was in dental school. One time some of us were invited by a class mate to go hunting for Rio Grande turkey near his hometown of Brady, Texas. We camped along Brady Creek and spent that spring weekend hunting turkey.

Harvesting a turkey that weekend began my quest to understand the hunting techniques for probably the most difficult game species to hunt in Texas. Turkeys have amazing vision and hearing. Their speed in running and flying to escape when pressured is a survival asset. Since most turkey are harvested with a shotgun that means a hunter must get within the effective shotgun range of 40 yards or less.

The weakness of the male turkey (tom or gobbler), as with most animals and humans, is he becomes vulnerable during breeding season. The breeding season for turkeys is between the middle of March until the middle of May. Prior to breeding season, the toms establish dominance to become the boss bird by fighting. Sometimes this fighting will result in death.

One of the three measurable characteristics in determining a trophy tom is the length of his spurs. Spurs are sharp projections from the back of each leg above the foot. These spurs are used in fighting for dominance. Spurs of trophy toms are usually over 1 ? inches in length. You don't want to come in contact with these spurs either by his intent or your negligence - they are sharp.

The other two characteristics of a trophy are weight and the length of the beard. A trophy usually weighs over 25 pounds. The beard is a coarse projection of hair from his chest which continues to grown longer until maturity. A young tom, called a jake, usually have a beard shorter than 5 inches. The beard of a trophy is usually 10 inches or longer. Some toms can have multiple beards but that is unusual and notable. It is impressive to see a dominate gobbler's beard close to dragging the ground as he walks. You know then he is a trophy.

Since the presence of a beard is the criteria for harvest by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, a bearded hen is legally harvestable while other hens are not legal game.

My only Eastern turkey harvest happened at my lease in Cherokee County. It was the second year (1994) hunting was allowed after the stocking in East Texas. One time I had roosted a gobbler in a large oak tree near a box stand and oat patch I used for deer hunting. I was anxious to get back to the location the next morning. It was pitch dark. As I approached, the gobbler gobbled at the light from my flashlight. I set up a hen decoy and a jake decoy about 80 yards from him and 30 yards from the box stand and got in the stand.

With the sun rising and a few gobbles beginning to sound from the roost, I used a mouth call to produce a soft "cluck" of a hen. That's all it took. The gobbler had a subordinate gobbler with him who knew exactly the direction of the cluck. The smaller gobbler came directly toward the stand until he saw the decoys and changed his course. The boss gobbler came down the road strutting all the way to the decoys. The boom of my Browning 12 gauge put the tom down in his tracks. The other tom, which had been in the midst of the decoys, disappeared.

I was told months later by the local game warden, Paul Gluck, he heard my shot at 7:30 that morning. It is a requirement that harvested Eastern turkey be taken to a check station for data on the bird to be recorded. The only check station I knew about was a convenience store in Jacksonville. When I went in and told the attendant I had a turkey, she said when they sign up as a check station they were told they probably would never have a turkey. I helped her with the paper work to meet the requirement.

My bird weighed 28 pounds, had 1 1/2 inch spurs and a 10 inch beard - a true trophy.

I made a necklace from the spurs and beard as a reminder of this magnificent bird.

One time last spring I had the opportunity to turkey hunt with two friends from high school days. We were hunting on the Rafter Ranch in Coleman County, Texas. The Rafter Ranch is a working cattle ranch of over twelve thousand acres, and we were hunting a 6,000 acre part of the ranch.

The wildlife of Texas suffered most from the drought of 2010. But nature compensated with good hatches the next two years. The result was an over population of turkey for the carrying capacity of the ranch, so the owner used supplemental feeding and hunting as management tools. A mature long bearded gobbler was just not around but I did harvest a young bird.

The gobbling sound from a wild turkey tom is one of the most distinctive sounds in nature. The sight of a strutting wild turkey gobbler with its fan fully extended is one of the most impressive sights in nature.

Traditional fairy tales end with "they lived happily ever after" but the ending of old men's hunting and fishing experiences is the memory lives ever after.

Till we put in again,

Michael Banks, DDS
Friends of the Neches River
606 Brookside Drive
Jacksonville, Texas 75766

Photo by Michael Banks, DDS
Photo by Michael Banks, DDS