Making all the right calls is key to a successful turkey season
If there’s one creature that represents springtime in Texas, it’s the Rio Grande turkey. Their showmanship and vibrant plumage is arguably second to none, as few animals rival the breathtaking display of emotion these birds exhibit. Combine this with their unmistakable, thunderous gobble and gorgeous tail fan, and it’s no secret why so many hunters become addicted to pursuing long beards during their breeding season.
Male turkeys have many nicknames and are often referred to as Toms and gobblers. A young male turkey that hasn’t lived long enough to develop into a mature bird is called a jake.
Regardless of what name they’re given, the actions of male wild turkeys are what make the spring season so much fun. The strutting show they put on as they vie for the attention of hens is something that every turkey hunter lives to experience up close and personal. It’s a scene that can be enjoyed across the Lone Star State.
This regular springtime occurrence was almost destroyed when over-hunting significantly reduced the amount of Rio Grande turkeys in Texas during the late 1800s. By 1920, much of the population had been removed from its original range. In those days, there were few restrictions and regulations on harvesting the species, plus little was known about the bird’s biology and habitat requirements. Luckily for hunters, restocking and restoration efforts combined with the implementation of harvest restrictions have helped wild turkey numbers rebound throughout the many eco-regions of the state.
While competing for a chance to pass on their genes to future generations, Toms willingly wear their hearts on their sleeves. This can be seen in their actions and heard in their gobbling calls, and calling is what spring turkey hunting is all about.
Hunters can use a variety of calling techniques to mimic the sound of a hen to lure a trophy gobbler within shooting range. The most popular and effective types of calls are diaphragm calls, slate calls and box calls. Diaphragm calls are small and can be used in many different situations and scenarios. Slate calls will help seal the deal because they can produce extremely subtle and finesse-like sounds. Box calls deliver loud, echoing noises that can be heard from long distances, making them the perfect calls during windy conditions when other calls just won’t do the trick.
All of these styles of calls can be used to emit a combination of yelps, cuts and purrs. A yelp is the sound of a hen casually flirting with a Tom nearby, while a cut is a more aggressive call from a dominant hen that means she’s ready to mate. Purrs are subtle calls made by hens that are content while feeding or traveling in an area.
Hunters should gauge the mood of gobblers and choose what type of call will be the most effective based on how the birds respond to a variety of sounds and cadences. If a Tom immediately responds after every call with a piercing gobble and seems to be getting closer, then he obviously likes what he’s hearing. When this occurs, sometimes the best thing to do is remain silent. Giving a long beard the silent treatment often drives him crazy and makes him speed up his approach. Hearing a fired up gobbler close the distance in a hurry, with his gobbles becoming louder and louder amongst the serenity of the turkey woods, creates an adrenaline rush like no other.
Setting up to hunt turkeys can be done in a variety of ways. Using a blind in an area where the birds regularly travel through is one option. Donning camouflage from head to toe and reserving mobility on foot is another productive strategy. Either way, turkeys have phenomenal vision and hunters must stealthily conceal their presence to fool a gobbler’s eyes.
Using lifelike decoys is another way to bring a mature Tom in close for an unforgettable encounter. Some of the best turkey fakes on the market are manufactured by Dave Smith Decoys. Their realistic appearance has helped me score many a long beard over the years.
Now is the time to begin scouting hunting areas to find out where the birds are roosting and where they are traveling to feed throughout the day. The south zone spring turkey season runs from March 16 through April 28, and the north zone season is open from March 30 through May 12.
From the changing colors of their heads and necks, to the drumming of their strutting dance, Rio Grande turkeys can provide hunters with a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience this spring. Just as sure as the wild flowers are blooming, gobblers are sounding off in a roaring cacophony. Chasing thunder has never sounded so good.