Luke Clayton: No shortage of turkeys in the wild

Outdoors columnist nets no whitetails during bow hunt on the Brazos, but bags a bird instead

Luke Clayton
Daily Light contributor
Turkeys might be in short supply at the grocery store this year but there are plenty of them roaming the woods and fields across much of Texas. Luke arrowed this young gobbler last week on the Dale River Ranch.
Luke Clayton

I wrapped up the month-long bow-only season without releasing an arrow at a whitetail. I had plenty of opportunities at younger bucks and smaller doe but my goal was to put venison in the freezer. I was targeting a mature animal that was packing lots of venison. Each year, I try to take a deer as early in the season as possible so that there will be plenty of venison to prepare at upcoming hunting camps.

This past week, I joined my long time friend Randy Douglas at the Dale River Ranch, situated on the Brazos River in Palo Pinto County. My goal was to take a mature whitetail, buck or doe or possibly a wild turkey. Randy was running the camera and filmed what turned out to be an archery turkey hunt. Let me give you a bit of history on the area and then we will discuss the hunt!

The Dale River Ranch is situated right in the middle of “cow country” where Oliver Loving and Charlie Goodnight rounded up cattle for their famous cattle drives. Today this country is mostly cattle ranches and wildlife flourishes in the area, thanks in part to a constant water supply from the Brazos and plentiful natural food. It’s not uncommon to be hunting deer, turkey or hogs and have free ranging red deer walk within bow or rifle range. The area has had a self sustaining herd of red deer for a couple of decades and although the animals are considered exotics and can be hunted year around, the local ranchers manage the herd as well as they do the native species, as only a few animals are harvested each year.

I used to set up a Spartan tent camp on the banks of the Brazos when I first began hunting with Randy but these days, I use his camper as headquarters for the short hunts I enjoy on the ranch. I usually arrive mid day, visit with my friend a bit and discuss the best place to hunt for the afternoon. I’m usually settled into a blind in plenty of time for the evening hunt. I bring my cast iron skillet and we often do a little “bass thinning” around midday on one of the ponds on the place that have an abundance of “yearling bass.” It’s hard to beat a meal of crunchy fried bass fillets while at hunting camp!

Such was the case last week. With a few bass fillets in the cooler, we headed to a pop up tent blind situated in a big field, about 100 yards from the woods’ edge. This area is a hotspot for all sorts of game. Walking in, I noticed an abundance of lethargic grasshoppers (the cold weather slows the “hoppers” down, making them easy pickings for turkeys). I was primarily focused on arrowing a buck or doe but with the great number of “hoppers,” I expected turkeys to be feeding in the field and possibly hit the corn feeder we were hunting over. I was not disappointed!

We had spent about 30 minutes in the blind when Randy cupped a hand to his ear and leaned toward the open field, trying to get a better “handle” on what he thought he had heard. “Turkeys and they are coming closer,” he whispered and pointed behind us. I soon heard the sounds of feeding turkey and it sounded like a bunch of them. A flock of about 25 turkeys walked within feet of our blind and headed straight to the corn feeder. I watched a couple of them stop and grab grasshoppers just in front of the blind. Thanksgiving dinner had just walked in front of me! A friend recently commented that when I saw game I instantly thought of the end result; dinner! Trying to decide which turkey to shoot was like standing at the frozen food section of the grocery and picking out a turkey, they were all about the same size! Finally, a Jake (young gobbler) broke off from the flock and I centered my 20-yard sight pin on him.

At the shot, the entire flock jumped a foot off the ground but instantly settled down, focused on the bird I had shot. Had I been hunting with a firearm, the birds would have immediately took wing and sailed off into the nearby woods. I’ve shot deer with bow and arrow and had nearby deer show no alarm, thinking that a limb had fallen from a tree I assume.

This young gobbler will not be big enough to feed the crew that will be at our house on Thanksgiving but I do plan to make fajitas out of the leg and thigh meat and bacon wrap and smoke the breast meat. We have a bunch of “game eaters” coming for dinner that will consider this a welcome bonus to the big, fat 20-pound Honeysuckle White on the dinner table!

Back at camp, I dressed the gobbler and put the meat in the cooler. In a matter of twenty minutes, Randy and I were chowing down on some crunchy fillets from the bass we caught earlier in the day.

Randy offers day hunts on the ranch at a very reasonable price and he never overhunts the place, which results in the opportunity for a successful hunt. If you haven’t found a place to hunt this season, check out the website and give my friend a call. I think you will like it up on the Brazos in the shadow of the Palo Pinto Mountain Range.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via email at .