When you feel like banging your head against a tree because you clucked one time too many, and that incorrigible Eastern gobbler worm-holed to a different part of the universe, it is during this time when you realized God created Rios just for us. Hunting Eastern wild turkeys anywhere within their range is the ultimate challenge in skill, patience, and spur-of-the-moment (pun intended) decision making. Coming from South Carolina and having moderate to not-dismal success with the local gobbler breed, I can confidently tell you to never turn down an offer to hunt in Texas. With a booming Rio Grande turkey population, Texas is THE spring turkey hunting destination for hunters seeking a buff-tipped gobbler to complete their Grand Slams, as well as those of us who eagerly try to escape the drudgery of trying to outsmart Easterns and actually put their vest-full of turkey calls to use. You can hear the excitement in my hunting closet when my calls learn we’re heading to the Lone Star State. Follow these tips for hunting Rio Grande turkeys and jump start your Texas hunting experience next spring.
You only need the Non-Resident Spring Turkey license (type 118), which costs $126 (per the 2017 regs). This allows you to hunt the open spring turkey season statewide. You do not need to buy the upland game bird endorsement regardless of what the salesperson behind the retail counter tells you. If you have any questions, call TPWD at (800) 792-1112.
Be prepared for any kind of weather
Pack your warm-weather camo and your cold-weather camo. You just never know what’s going to happen in the early season. It can be 60-degrees one morning and 30- something the next. Dress in layers so you can adapt to the quickly warming day. Take at least two bottles of water if you’re planning an all-day hunt.
Two items you should never leave at home are your snake boots and a Thermacell. As you’ve probably heard, everything in Texas sticks, pricks, stings, or bites. This is absolutely not an exaggeration. Their butterflies have inch-long fangs and 2-inch stingers. Really! An added comfort item would be a turkey lounger chair, like the ALPS Outdoorz Turkey Chair, to give your backside a buffer from the prickly stuff.
Match your camo to the area you’re hunting. If you pack a set of Mossy Oak Obsession and either Mossy Oak Bottomlands or Brush, you’ll be covered. I often mismatch my pants (going with a drabber pattern) and tops (opting for a greener pattern) to help me blend into the mixed habitat. Call your outfitter ahead of your hunt to see what they’re using at that particular time.
Bring all of your calls
Seriously, this is the one place on the planet where you cannot overcall to a turkey. Rios love to talk, and they talk all the time. A good box call, a couple of pot calls, and your choice of diaphragms will finally get the workout they deserve. Don’t be afraid to give them yelps and cutts all the way to the gun barrel. If a bird hangs up, a gobble on a box call might just do the trick, especially later in the morning.
Be prepared to travel
Rios are nomadic turkeys. They move around all day and can cover some serious ground after fly-down. Having an ATV or side-by-side, such as the Can-Am Defender, will give you the ability to quickly move around the property to glass fields and roads for lone strutters. If you pass a gobbler in a field, keep moving. They don’t typically spook unless you slow down or stop. Drive by without slowing until you’re a few hundred yards away, park, and then circle around to try to call him in.
Dealing with henned-up Rios
There are two tactics that work well with henned-up Rio gobblers. The first is to aggravate the boss hen to the point she wants to kick your butt. When she comes in for the prize fight, she’ll likely have the trophy in tow. The second tactic, and my all-time favorite, is to sleep in and wait until the competition has left for the morning. A late morning or even early afternoon hunt can be as productive, if not more so, than a roost hunt. One bird I killed this spring on an SOE Hunts property in Uvalde, Texas, was at 1:15 p.m. Call and glass along shady spots, like creek bottoms or oak hammocks, during the heat of the day.
Loaded for bear
One thing about turkey hunting in Texas is the birds can come from anywhere. With so much cover, one can be right on top of you before you know it, or you might watch one strut across a 100-acre field for 30 minutes. Having a turkey load that provides flexibility is the best option. I use Federal’s 3RD Degree in my 20-gauge Savage 220 Special Order Shop bolt-action turkey gun. Its specially designed triplex load of No. 5s, 6s, and 7s creates a wider pattern up close, while it carries a core of dense pellets to reach out to 40 yards.
Bring it home
One of the best parts of hunting in Texas is that you’re nearly guaranteed success. With so many turkeys and other critters available for harvest, make sure to bring a cooler. I flew back with an NWTF-logo’d LiT Coolers TS-400 camo-top packed with the breasts, legs, thighs, beards, spurs, and fans of the two birds I killed. Using the cooler’s integrated ice legs, my turkey perishables made it through an overnight hotel stay and an all-day flying adventure back to South Carolina and were as solid as when I took them out of the freezer. It’s an investment, but well worth it if you travel and hunt. Even the airlines couldn’t break this thing, so I’ll give it two thumbs up for durability and performance, plus its design, integrated lights, and logo make it stand out among the competition.
The National Wild Turkey Federation
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