First Rio, On the Ground.
Last weekend I accomplished something that I've been looking forward to for quite a while. As far as I can remember, some of the first hunts that I can recall were hunting turkeys in western New York state. Up there, the gap between deer season and turkey season is long, 5 months. To any hunter(especially this one), 5 months is practically an eternity, so when May finally rolls around you can bet that everyone planning on hunting is more than ready to roll. Per the usual terrain in the Northeast, if you're not hunkered down on the edge of a cornfield, then you're settled in at the base of an old oak tree surrounded by thickets and saplings. So naturally when I kicked off my hunt last weekend in south Texas, I was in for a different game with much different terrain than ever before.
Having grown up hunting Eastern's, getting my first "real" glimpse of a Rio was simply incredible. Sure, I've seen Rio's driving in the truck, but hadn't ever had the opportunity to hunt them until this season. I was hunting down south on a ranch down in Yancey, TX. There terrain in Yancey is quite unique, as it's practically the turning point where the mesquite of South Texas begins. Thus, you have the ability to hunt some great areas where one side of the property are scenderos and the other half are lush grass fields, incredible.
Once I arrived at the ranch, I caught up with Joe, the Ranch Manager and someone who I can now call my good friend. We caught up since the last time that we saw each other, which was last deer season. After settling in, we got to work and jumped in the machine to go look for birds. As we rolled around the corner into the first field, 2 birds were out about 300 yards in the middle of this hay field doing their thing. Given the fact that it was about 2:30p, we decided to back out and flank them from the other side of the field. Joe dropped me off and I went into ambush mode. I can't lie about it, I used to hunt turkeys I think a bit more than I hunted deer and then for the last few years I just haven't gotten after them as much. So needless to say, at this point into the hunt, I was on a mission and the addiction had once again begun.
I settled into a patch of small trees, set the Avian-X decoys up about 20 yards ahead of me and retrieved a couple of slate calls from my vest. After calling for about 35 minutes, those same two birds finally started making their way across the field and over my direction. The eased into gun range heading toward the decoy when I noticed that one of the birds was a jake and the other one had a beard that was about 6 inches. After thinking about it for a second(while of course my heart was in my throat), I put the Remington back on safe and let them walk. Now wouldn't you know, these two birds hung around for the next hour walking circles around my location, gotta love it.
After thinking about another game plan for the rest of the afternoon and talking it over with Joe, I headed over to a location that was very unlike South Texas, a grassy field, large oak trees and a fair amount of shade. It was early, probably too early, but can one every really be too early to a spot? I settled into this spot and begun to call. To give you an idea of what this place looked like, I had a dirt road coming from the left hand side of my setup and a 100 yard grass field straight ahead of me. We've all been flanked by gobblers before and I had a strange feeling that it could happen again today. It was a while before I even heard the slightest sound of a gobble, probably around 2 hours. Then off in the distance was a bird calling, which also seemed to be moving in my direction.
Nothing like the sound of a bird hammering that gets your attention again and 10 minutes later, there he stood.
A monster bird all fanned out at the opposite side of the field, sun in his eyes. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this bird was literally lit up the way the sun was hitting him, absolutely stunning colors. As he began to continue his cautious approach, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Lo and behold three jakes were coming down the road which fed right into my location. So here I am, gun on my knee thinking "these damn jakes are gonna blow this whole setup and that big gobbler isn't going to make it here in time". Like clockwork, they made their way to my two decoys, circled it for a minute and then walked off toward the bigger bird which now stood about 75 yards from me. Speechless, I was literally speechless watching him hang up that far out. However, I continued to call, using a copper friction call and a mouth call.
He ducked into the brush, leaving the jakes behind and went silent. Not knowing if he was heading my direction or not, I called softly and kept my head down on my gun toward the decoys out in front of me. For what seemed like forever was probably only 3 minutes when he reappeared much closer to my setup, coming in from the side. As he made his ways all strutted up toward my decoys he started to turn away from me which wouldn't really leave me with any shot. I decided to pull the trigger and although the shot opportunity wasn't picture perfect, I've seen worse. Somehow I missed his big ol' head, not once but two times and as I rolled over to take one last shot as he was now behind me I drilled him in the back of the head. With an empty gun, I let it rest on the ground, got up and ran over to this bird. I just couldn't stop myself from laughing as I picked him up by the feet. "How did I nearly blow that?" I kept saying to myself. Who knows, but as much as I would love to blame it on the gun and ammo, we all know it wasn't, just me!
What a bird he was, 30 pounds when we hung him back up at the ranch with a 10 inch beard, a great bird, especially for my first Rio.
I'll stop my rambling now, but I must say that my absolute love for turkey hunting was brought back alive again this season and cannot wait to continue calling more longbeards in the Lonestar state. Huge thank you to my friend Joe for putting me on such great birds right from the get go! #TurkeyHuntingTeamwork
Happy hunting y'all.