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The Rio Round Up



Texas offered the perfect backdrop for author Gregg Powers to finish his grand slam.

All I needed was a Rio Grande gobbler — just one — to complete my first Grand Slam. So, when I got an offer from Mossy Oak last spring to come to Texas for their annual Rio Round Up, take a wild guess what my answer was.

Welcome to central Texas

After arriving at camp near Eldorado, Texas, meeting the group of industry professionals I would be sharing camp with and sighting in our Mossberg Turkey Thug Shotguns, Mossy Oak’s Ben Maki, Neill Haas and I piled in the truck and headed for turkey country.

I mentioned on the trip to the woods that I wasn’t fond of snakes, especially rattlers, so if the guys missed me, I most likely had seen a snake and would be back at the truck.

Ben and Neill laughed. I was pretty serious.

We hadn’t been out of the truck 10 minutes when we heard gobblers in the distance. As we walked, single-file, toward the action, I heard what I thought was a rattling sound. About that time, Neill turned to me with a “Is that a snake?” look on his face.

Yep. Coiled up next to a mesquite tree was our welcoming committee. Ben and Neill said the critter was about 6 feet long. I didn’t stick close enough to find out. We had gobblers to chase, and I was more than happy to get closer to the birds.

The gobblers didn’t cooperate, but we had a couple of giant jackrabbits circle us in a hurry on the way out.

A swing and a miss

The next morning was spent searching for birds we knew were roosted nearby. Apparently they were aware of my quest for a Grand Slam, flew down and went the other way.

We walked. We called. We went back to camp empty-handed.

“There birds here are a lot of fun,” Ben said. “They’ll make a lot of racket and you are just as likely as not to strike one while you are walking across a mesquite flat.”

After lunch, Ben, Neill and I headed to where other guides had seen birds. We heard one particular gobbler who was more than happy to announce his presence. After cutting the distance and setting up where we thought he was headed, the big Rio appeared and gobbled every step he took. Unfortunately, those steps were way out of range. The more Ben and Neill called, the more the big boy gobbled. But he wouldn’t come a single step closer.

When he disappeared in the mesquite, we closed the distance and waited. Still gobbling, he appeared and walked to my right. I held the gun up for what seemed like forever, focusing the red dot in the scope on his waddles, and finally squeezed off a shot when I thought he had ventured far enough in.

Nope. Clean miss.

I’ll bet that bird gobbled 100 times in front of us.

Slammed

The following morning, Chris Paradise from Mossy Oak joined Ben and me. The first order of business was to tell Chris about the bird I missed.

“I wondered if Gregg saw him,” Ben joked as he talked about the evening hunt. “I kept whispering for him to shoot.”

It was windy and foggy when we set out to hunt near a water hole. We hadn’t been in the woods long when Ben and Chris struck up a gobbler using a pot call and a box call.

The Rio came into view strutting and kept it up. He got to within 60 yards of us and stopped, still in full strut, looking for the lonesome hens somewhere in the wood line.

“He took his sweet time covering 100 yards,” Ben said. “I bet it took him 30 minutes.

He strutted the whole way. You could barely hear him at 50 yards. It was tough conditions this morning.”

The big boy slowly eased toward us as I stared down the barrel of the Mossberg until I couldn’t focus any more.

When I picked my cheek up off the gun and shut my eyes to clear my head, the tom turned like he was headed for the exit.

I could hear Ben behind me.

“Shoot him before he leaves,” he half whispered. “Shoot him.”

Finally I got myself together, peered down the barrel and pulled the trigger.

Grand Slam.

“As bad as the conditions were — 30 mile per hour winds — we got lucky,” Chris said. “This one was a gift.”

The big finish

After all the excitement that morning, I felt the pressure lift off of me when we ventured back to the field for the last evening hunt.

Ben, Chris and I went to a spot Mossy Oak Founder and CEO Toxey Haas told us about.

“You are hunting in my secret spot,” Toxey grinned as he told us about the birds he had seen there through the years. “Good luck.”

It turned out to be one of those hunts you tell folks about over and over. We knew where the birds had been roosting, so we set up at the roost tree, and about an hour before dark, birds were coming in from all sides.

Chris covered the left, Ben sat in the middle, and I was responsible for birds coming from the right.

With little calling, Chris nailed a bird that came in behind us, Ben took one at close range shortly after, and I finished my first Texas hunt with my second bird of the day, a 2-year-old Rio at about 40 yards.

“That was unreal,” Chris said. “I haven’t had a hunt like that in a long time. Doing your homework pays off.”

And, to put an exclamation point on what would have otherwise been the perfect day of turkey hunting, as darkness descended, I fell, hard, trying to navigate the rocky Texas ground — within sight of the truck.

“Hey, at least you didn’t fall empty-handed,” Ben laughed as we took three longbeards for a ride.

Gregg Powers

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