Occasionally a turkey hunt begins as a hopeful journey to an unfamiliar and exciting place. Then the hunt develops into an event with so much fast paced action and success that it is never forgotten. The details are fondly relived often. The days during such an event pass like minutes. The stars, moon, sun, and the bead of the shotgun all properly align, and hence, big gobblers are felled, and the hunt is forever forged into memory. These special days are filled with joyous sights and sounds of spring in God's splendid and perfect creation. It was my good fortune to enjoy such a hunt, three fabulous days chasing Rio's in spring of 2014 at Bill and Ellen Carter's Texas Hill Country wonderland, Apache Springs Ranch.
Our gracious hosts for the hunt, Mr. Bill Carter along with his daughter Lori Carter, and Apache Springs game manager and grandson, Travis Carter, and Travis' friend Ricky Root, welcomed me and my wife Angie for what Bill calls a Texas Hill Country "kick-back"weekend. From the moment we arrived it was "Texas hospitality Carter style". This can only be described in superlatives. Simply the best! I have spent many days over the last 28 seasons chasing trophy whitetails and big Rio's all over Texas, taking my own personal dream buck in January 2013 at Bill Carter's Sombrerito Ranch, an 11,000 acre slice of big buck fantasy land in the Golden Triangle. So I am no stranger to the gracious down home hospitality that is found inside the friendly confines of a Bill Carter owned and managed ranch. There may be no guarantee of hunting success at Bill's ranches, after all hunts there are fair chase, and success rates do run close to 100%. But Carter Country Ranches offers much more than the opportunity to take a trophy beast. You might arrive at Bill Carter's as a guest, but you will leave as a friend, no doubt! That's the Carter motto!
The winding approach to the Apache Springs Ranch lodge is a picture book of the hill country spring. A paved driveway designed by Bill traverses multiple spillways over which clear water flows. The Apache Springs water drains for miles below the rocky bluffs from which it continually seeps. Sheer and jagged lime rock walls fall vertically from the bluff lining one side of the sparkling aqua green channel of the Apache Springs drainage. This waterway highlights the winding path all the way from the gate to the ranch lodge and headquarters. Once at at the lodge around noon, we wasted no time getting ready for some fast pace Rio gobbler action. The sky was clear and blue. It was a warm Hill Country afternoon. A typical hill country mid afternoon gusty breeze blew across the undulating thorny mesquite hills and live oak groves of Apache Springs Ranch.
Around 4:00 PM Bill and I headed to a remote corner of the ranch where a huge triple bearded boss gobbler had been spotted several times in the last couple of weeks. And, no doubt, there were also plenty of mature secondary targets that could certainly trip my trigger if they were enticed into shotgun range. Bill gave me a brief overview of the lay of the land. And I was on my own, hunting gobblers my favorite way, alone, in unfamiliar prime country - no decoys, no blind, no fancy choke tubes or gobbler fans, no seats, just a plain shotgun, camo, a turkey call, and my own rear end on which to sit - simple, old school spring gobbler hunting.
My late afternoon hunt began by walking a ridge top road paralleling a dry creek bottom. The terrain on each side of the ravine were lined with mesquite and cedars, perfect Rio country. There were huge gobbler tracks in the road, and drag marks of strutting gobblers crisscrossing the road. No doubt gobblers were close and working the area frequently. Within minutes I accidentally bumped into two mature gobblers. They saw me and quickly disappeared. My plan from that point was to work through the hills along the ridge-top road more carefully, calling periodically along the way hoping for a serious response.
My first series of calls was answered by the immediate unmistakable spit and drum of a gobbler that was already close. This gobbler sounded as if he was already inside 75 yards. I quickly sat at the base of the first available large mesquite with my shotgun propped on my left knee. Only my eyes moved to search for the source of the drumming. Seconds passed when two bright red and blue heads appeared bobbing through the brush. These two glowing hot iridescent birds emerged from the brush and strutted only 15 yards away in the low evening sun. Unfortunately both were young gobblers with rounded spurs, short beards, and staggered tail fans, both juveniles. Neither of the jakes ever gobbled, and the pair strolled down the two track road and out of site.
Once the two youngsters were out of the picture I floated a series of louder more aggressive calls down the ravine and received an immediate and forceful response from a mature gobbler that sounded about 200 yards out. Five minutes later, and after an additional answer from the big bird, he was closing in. This hot long beard strutted into view at around 100 yards, walking the road, his distance steadily closed with each step. This gobbler, a great Rio Grande trophy, was "walking the walk". This walk I thought was his last.
I waited with safety off, the bead of my shotgun on the gobblers glowing head. The butt stock of my 12 gauge was firmly planted on my right shoulder, the fore end of the gun on my left knee - this was going to hurt. But for some reason I cannot explain this bird looked directly at me and alerted at about the same time I squeezed off my shot, a shot that amounted only to noise. The hill country monarch quickly sought refuge in the thick and rocky cover of the nearby ravine, a clean miss. Shortly afterward I met Bill back at our prearranged meeting spot just before dark. I was embarrassed. What could I say? This was not the first time I've been in that position. It likely will not be the last.
At daybreak the next morning several "Apache Spring alarm clocks" began their morning ritual of nearly continuous shout up and down the creek next to the lodge, only to be challenge by even more gobbling in the distant hills that flanked the Apache Springs waterway. We were in for a fun morning. From the lodge Travis and Ricky Root chose their route of attack, and I took off the opposite direction. For nearly an hour lone gobblers and groups of gobblers made moves in all directions trying to catch up with willing and available hens. At this point, although several birds answered my calls regularly, none were approaching or showed any sign that they were locked in on me. There were plenty of hens on hand and gobbling in all directions. It was time to make a move.
I headed for the hills behind the lodge and along the way I could see Travis and Ricky a few hills in the distance making a move on a particularly mouthy old bird. The problem, not known to Ricky and Travis, was that in the somewhat open terrain the gobbler also saw them. I watched the bird quickly depart the premises. After wandering short distance and with the sunrise gobbling serenade waning, presumably as the big boys reunited with the ladies, I continued to wander and call. I eventually ran into Bill who as he was out for a morning ride in the Mule.
Bill relocated me a mile or more into the hills. We encountered four lone mature gobblers along our short drive. Eventually I bailed out of the Mule and doubled back to take swing at any of the old birds that we had just passed. Any of the four gobbler we had just encountered would work. one of the gobbler that might be willing. Almost immediately my call was answered and I quickly closed the distance by another 100 yards or so in some fairly thick cover and then hid. Two big gobblers came into view and passed slightly out of range, around 50 yards out. But distant gobbles of two more big Rio's convinced me to stay put, call, and watch the open meadow.
About ten minutes later two more trophy gobblers strutted up, this time in range. This time at twenty-two steps there was no errant shot. All was over but the flopping. Bill and I reunited shortly thereafter and we admired the old gobbler. We enjoyed a leisurely ride back to camp with our evening dinner in the back of the Mule. It would be fried turkey breast, rice, and gravy this evening for sure!
Travis and Ricky were next up to bat that afternoon. If there is anything that approaches, and may very well exceed the pleasure of hunting and taking a gobbler alone in an unfamiliar place, it has to be guiding an eager hunter to his first spring gobbler. We agreed that Ricky, would be the first shooter if an opportunity was presented. I would do the calling. We made a plan to hunt the same ridge where I blew my first afternoon shot. Our plan worked flawlessly.
We approached quietly along the ridge top carefully with variable mid afternoon wind in our faces. It was tough to hear at times. I suspect that it may have been difficult for gobblers to hear my calls. We focused on calling while moving carefully through areas where I had found lots of gobbler tracks, fresh droppings, and drag marks made by strutting boss gobblers the prior afternoon. Fortunately while we were walking Ricky caught a glimpse of a distant gobbler before he noticed us in the road.
We froze and slowly backed tracked our way into available cover along side the road to set up. Ricky sat with his back against a large mesquite and I knelt behind him to call. Travis took the back seat a few yards back in thick cover to watch the hunt unfold.
My first series of calls was answered immediately by three gobblers that cut me off mid yelp. And minutes later the first of them, sporting a long but thin beard, passed barely out of range to our left. Ricky was tempted but he held off. I could hear drumming very close and I told Ricky to take off the safety and get ready. Two mature strutting and drumming Rio's were blocked from view only by a bit of brush directly in front of us. Both gobblers were walking the road toward us where we hid. The best gobbler stepped into view inside 20 yards and Ricky let him have it. Ricky's first trophy Rio was down with a perfectly placed load of #5's. We celebrated the great trophy. With the weight of the big bird on Ricky's shoulder we headed back to the Mule.
After pictures we road in the general direction of the lodge. The sun was nearly on the horizon when we ran into two more strutting gobblers that were still on the prowl less than an hour before roosting time. Once we reached a safe distance from the gobblers we parked the Mule. The three of us bailed out, camo'd up, and began a slow approach to what we believed was within 200 - 300 yards of where we had last seen the strutting pair just minutes before. Both gobblers answered my first call, my second call, and several more. The volume of the gobbling increased nearly each time. We began to feel the vibration. Travis was ready, and his shotgun presented.
Turkeys began to appear, hens first, with gobblers in tow. One gobbler was clearly the bigger bird. The hens descended on us at very close range, nearly stepping on Ricky as he laid motionless behind me and Travis. We had hens within 2 - 4 ft at times. We were fortunate that we were not picked off. Ricky was laying flat on the ground but in position to watch Travis down his first trophy gobbler. The hens all finally passed and the gobbler took his final steps! Travis hammered him. Feathers flew and the third celebration of this glorious day was no less exhilarating than the first and second. Me, Travis, and Ricky had all taken great birds in traditional old school spring turkey hunting style, using only camo, a mouth call, and a plain ordinary 12 gauge shotgun that you might take to a dove hunt.
I hunted the next morning on my own once again. Bill dropped me off in the early morning darkness well before gobbling time on the high side of the bluff across the creek from the lodge. Apache Springs magic and the good Lord's blessing were with me once again. I was surprised by a big gobbler very early as he nearly pitched down in near darkness almost in my lap. He caught me flat footed and spotted me trying to raise my shotgun. Like a jet ranger helicopter the old bird launched and vanished into the twilight sky. In my 38 seasons hunting spring gobblers I don't remember a gobbler that disappeared so quickly. But soon thereafter eight more vibrant blue heads, all belonging to mature Apache a Springs gobblers, appeared in range for one last clean taking of a another Apache Springs Rio Grande Gobbler
Angie and I said our goodbyes to the Lori, Travis, and Ricky after three terrific days that seemed like a short pleasant dream. And in his graceful gentlemanly way Bill Carter escorted us to the Apache Springs gate. Angie and I extended the best "thank you" we could compose for the fabulous weekend. And we received best wishes from Bill for safe travel home to Florida, along with a reminder that in spring 2015, God willing, we might just try this all over again!
Posted by David Shashy