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DR. JOHN RHENEY COLUMN: The Texas turkey two-step

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My hunting buddy Glen Hutto and I have been to quite a few states hunting turkeys. Illinois, Missouri, South Dakota, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia have given us many memories ... some good ... some not so good depending on the outfitters we employed.

Glen has always wanted to try Texas, and I admit the videos of hundreds of turkeys and liberal bag limits have caught my attention. Bagging a turkey is not the top of my priority list; rather seeing new land, meeting new people and traveling with Glen always make the trips memorable. Even on the rare hunts where the “outfitter” turns out to be a guy who has access to land where he once saw a turkey, we make the best of it and enjoy each other’s company.

Texas hunts can be really expensive. We prefer the non-guided hunts where our hosts point us in the right direction and let us go. Many hunts are fully guided, which means to me I have to entertain some guy sitting in a blind with me all day. I’d rather not go.

Glen connected us with JM Ranches about 45 minutes south of San Antonio in Pleasantville, Texas. The ranch is basically a cattle operation that augments its income with deer and quail hunts. They have four ranches that they can move hunters around on. Turkey hunting is somewhat new to them but the reviews of people that have used them were positive.

DR. JOHN RHENEY COLUMN: This ole gun/part 3: Quite a man

After I got my obligatory first weekend hunt done with my wife Breta, we took off to Texas the second weekend of April. We spent the first afternoon doing the River Walk in downtown S.A. I was more interested in the Alamo just across the street than watching people drink, so we moseyed over there for a well-spent hour.

I knew a little about the history of the battle and that James Bonham and Lt. Col William Travis (both from Saluda), along with five other South Carolinians, had died there. I was not prepared for how small and unimpressive the walls to the church yards were. No wonder the 150 defenders were overwhelmed by Santa Ana’s 4,000 soldiers!

Later that afternoon, we took the maps Zane (our guide) had sent to Glen and drove out to a couple of the ranches. Satisfied we could find it the next morning, we checked into a hotel and enjoyed a cerveza or two before bed.

Up early we met Zane at the gate the next morning. We hopped into a farm truck, and as we headed out into the twilight, I remembered I had forgotten my stool (so as to not sit on cactus) and I told Zane to go put Glen out at the far end of the ranch and I would met him back at the gate after I retrieved the stool.

As the light came up, I heard multiple gobblers in the trees on an adjoining pasture. When Zane came back, I told him I wasn’t really interested in killing a turkey, I would just slip over the pasture and watch the birds. He asked me why I wasn’t going to shoot one, and I responded that Glen and I were staying in hotel rooms, we had nowhere to store the bird, we couldn’t carry it back on the plane with us, so there was no reason for me to kill an animal I couldn’t use. He told me he would take the meat if I took a bird, so we made a pact.

DR. JOHN RHENEY COLUMN: Walking with friends

I eased through a pasture and by a tank (pond) while it was still somewhat dark. The two pastures were separated by a long pushed-up windrow of dead mesquite trees. As I looked through the wind row, I could see three groups of a total of maybe 75 turkeys.

Obviously, I couldn’t go into that pasture, so I found a tree large enough to lean against and settled in. There were a couple of gaps in the wind row, and I reasoned that any bird that got interested in my calling could easily walk through these gaps. It is not easy getting the attention of a flock of birds making as much noise as these were, but I tried.

Over the course of the next half hour, I could tell that they were moving closer to the other side of the wind row. One gobbler came through the gap to my left. He was an okay bird with a scraggly 10-inch beard but small spurs and he walked behind me to my 7 o’clock to within 10 yards before he saw me. He saw me and clucked a little but with the noise the other birds were making, it didn’t matter.

After he moved off, I saw a group of birds moving in the direction of an opening to my right. A nice gobbler with a thick but short beard stopped in the gap and looked around. I couldn’t see his spurs but my guess was that he was a 2-year-old bird. When he didn’t see a hen, he retreated back around the windrow to join his group.

I had now been sitting about 45 minutes and the clamor was dying down in the pasture. The birds were starting to disperse and go about their daily business. It was now or never. I picked up my glass call and gave a long series of high-pitched yelps. I put the call down and a few minutes later was about to pick it up again when I saw a movement in the gap 20 yards to my left.

It was a bird in strut. He was looking directly at me, or so I thought. He looked like a good bird, but I wanted to be sure. As luck would have it, he didn’t see me wrapped up in the mesquite tree, and he proceeded to walk into my opening. He also stopped at my 7 o’clock position about 15 yards out when I figured this couldn’t go on much longer.

I shifted my butt on the low stool a little to take the bind out of my back. When I did, he stopped and periscoped his neck. I raised the gun quickly and lined up the sight and pulled the trigger. He was down. He proved to be a nice bird with inch-and-a-quarter spurs and a long, thick 10-inch beard. Zane came and picked me up, and we cleaned the bird and waited on a call from Glen. The TS Ranch mount will look good on my wall.

DR. JOHN RHENEY COLUMN: This ole gun/part II: 'Sweet 16'
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Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.

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