Rapacious for the Rio: The allure, argument and addiction of hunting wild turkey

Some days
I am more wolf
than woman
And I am still learning
how to stop apologizing
for my wild
-Nikita Gill “Wolf And Woman”

Imagine sitting in complete darkness. On the bare ground. Your back to a tree. That is, if you’re lucky enough to find a tree without a plethora of biting ants or sharp thorns. Cool air brushes your face and you scan the ground a second time with your flashlight for snakes. Your skin already begins to itch, you are certain you’ll leave with chigger bites to remind you of the morning. The nearby creaking of a working windmill can be heard as you imagine its blades whirling ferociously in the wind.

Creak. Creeeaaak. Creak.

The howl of a distant coyote wakes the sleep from your eyes. Quickly followed by the repeated gobble of a flock of Rio Grande turkey in a nearby cluster of oak and mesquite trees. In unison they alert each other of the threat nearby. The sun peaks over the tree tops and the wind slowly dies down. You check to make sure you remembered your ear buds and load your shotgun.

I don’t care how one with nature you are. You can scale the tallest mountain or camp under an open sky (all very wonderful and admiral things I might add) but you just don’t wake up on your days off from work to go sit among the wild things the way a hunter does. You don’t feel the grass tickle the back of your neck or the cold metal of a shotgun in your hands. You don’t sit and imagine the days events, watch the sunrise slowly, and hope for the perfect scenario of the game you seek the way a hunter does.

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The first animal I ever hunted was the Rio Grande turkey almost as far away from the Rio Grande as one can get. That’s right, in Oregon. According to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife the Rio Grande turkey was imported to Oregon in 1975. Despite reported low bird density per square mile, the Rios run rampant in high numbers in the suburbs where I grew up. Nobody really hunts them there, and they virtually have no predators aside from a neighborhood dog or hybrid car. It seems it is a case of wildlife management gone wrong, or lack of management completely. A lure of hunting to me being that hunters keep wildlife numbers in balance.

Because of their sheer numbers in my suburban neighborhood, I thought the turkey would be a much easier target then a deer for a first time bow hunter like me. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions. Not once did I see a turkey on the public lands I was required to hunt. Low and behold mass quantities would walk by my house in the South hills of Eugene on their way to roost in the tall firs behind my quaint house. Just out of reach.

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Public land just outside of my suburban neighborhood in Oregon

Fast forward to my life in Texas where wildlife management and land stewardship seem to be of higher importance to the hunter. I have continued my pursuit of the Rio. From bow hunting only to shotgun. Not all types of hunting provide such an alluring scenario as turkey hunting. I find that it is hard to describe to folks who don’t know what it is like.

Turkey hunting is like elk hunting for the bird nerd.

When a bull elk comes bugling into sight, or a herd of cow elk make their way down a hillside into view, the adrenaline and the patience needed by a hunter to make an ethical shot is indescribable. This is how I feel when a gobbler (tom turkey) comes strutting or running in to a decoy. Or when a flock of hens fly down from the roost and I patiently wait for a tom to follow. The moment I see him it takes every ounce of strength in my body NOT to move. The turkey may be awkward in the sky and on the ground but the one thing that they have going for them is impeccable eyesight.

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation:

Wild turkeys are one of the most challenging game species to hunt. Their keen eyesight and hearing help them hone in on sounds and movement from a distance, allowing them to locate flockmates and food while also avoiding predators. They can sense the slightest movements, which often results in a hunter going home empty handed…

 …Hunters who choose wild turkeys as their quarry are adept at blending into their environment, remaining still for long periods of time, recognizing and mimicking the various sounds wild turkeys make and are the epitome of patience.

After many unsuccessful hunts and close calls,  I harvested my first tom turkey in Live Oak county Spring of 2016. He weighed a whopping 17 pounds.  This butterball did not come from the grocery store but was procured by my and my husband’s own efforts and actions. That is where the confidence and addiction to turkey hunting began.

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The wild turkey is the largest North American game bird

While hunting larger game animals like deer, elk and feral hogs have their own draw I have always felt a unique attraction and allure to bird hunting. It may sound trivial but I think it is because before I ever took up hunting I was an avid bird watcher. Adam would laugh at me when I would visit Texas and get excited about seeing a Grackle or a Cara Cara, all very common birds. I still love watching large black vultures roost in the bull mesquites and I have been known to turn my car around to photograph them eating carrion on the side of the road. If it is a bird, there is a good chance I adore it, no matter the species.

So why hunt something you love?

Fellow blogger and hunter Mike Adams of Mike Adams Hunts discussed this question in a recent post about his love for waterfowl hunting:

Being able to communicate an efficient explanation to this question bugged me for weeks to come, and overtime I came face to face with a realization. The answer cannot be described in black and white terms, rather a complex blend of different variables come together to convey my relationship to waterfowl.

If you love ducks so much, then why do you kill them?

I have a lot of non-hunters in my life. I am totally OK with that. Throughout my short time as a hunter I have been asked that very question over and over again. How can you kill what you love? When I ponder the question, I would agree with Matt, it is a complex blend of many reasons. My initial answer is with a question itself.

Why does one pick flowers for a vase? Why not just leave them in nature to be photographed and admired?

I find that hunting birds provides me a higher comprehension of the game animals I love. Understanding the animal I seek makes me a better hunter and gives me more fulfillment as a “bird nerd”. For instance, the average person may say their favorite animal is the sloth but do they travel to Panama or Costa Rica to study them in their habitat? Not likely. I return to the third paragraph of this blog post to make my point. Not often will you find the average Joe, or even avid birder waking up before daylight to sit on the ground in the middle of cactus and mesquite brush to watch turkeys. It is different for the hunter. Touch. See. Taste. All the senses are involved. As a hunter I get to study turkey habitat, their behavior and revel in it. I feel a deeper connection with the birds I love by doing so. I get as much enjoyment watching a hen turkey guard her nest as I do hunting her tom counterpart. And should I harvest a bird for my and my family’s consumption, I know I am contributing to the management of the species.

The majority of the turkey I eat is field harvested. This means something to me. I dream of a day when my Easter or Thanksgiving dinner is put on my plate at the hands of my shotgun. I have become that annoying person at the holiday dinner table. I am OK with that. While I enjoy the taste of a good beef steak from our local meat market Pruski’s, wild game birds are so much different then their chicken or turkey counterparts. If you’ve never had the pleasure, don’t you dare let anyone tell you wild birds are dry and tasteless. After eating properly prepared wild game birds you can confidently tell those people they are terrible cooks. Unlike store bought chicken, you don’t have to cook the snot out of wild turkey, duck, dove or pheasant for it to be safe to consume. And no, you don’t need to wrap everything in bacon, cream cheese and jalapeno. In fact you need very little ingredients to enjoy their flavor instead of masking it. Wild turkey or pheasant piccata with a lemon, caper and white wine sauce is our go to favorite.

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Spring 2017: Thankful for my friends Whitney & Brandon Klenzendorf who gave me the opportunity to harvest this tom on their farm & ranch in Frio county.

Ultimately, I don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology for why I hunt turkey. Wild game is where it’s at and turkey hunting is my addiction. I may not be an expert turkey caller, have the latest gear or the most expensive shotgun but I do know I have the patience and perseverance it takes to get the job done.  When I am turkey hunting I am a predator. I have learned a lot over the past five years of hunting turkey, and every time gives me more and more conviction about why I have been called into the field to become a hunter. Why knowing where my meat comes from is important and how hunting the animals I love plays a key role in their management. The only hunting related dreams I have at night are always of turkey hunting- not deer, not elk, not even duck. That must mean I am officially addicted.

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Adam is my go to turkey caller but I hope to get better at it and can’t wait for Spring 2018!

I have now harvested dove, duck, pheasant and turkey with my 20 gauge Mossberg Super Bantam youth model shotgun (MSRP: $419).

What’s next? Quail? Crane? Goose?

Only time will tell. What I can be certain is come springtime the allure of turkey hunting will draw me back to the Texas brush country where I will sit and wait in silence, ravenously waiting.

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I will be as I am

Not as you pretend me to be.

Defiant until the end. -‘Fiercely Me’ 

Interested in trying turkey hunting? For tips visit Whit’s Wilderness: 10 Tips for the Beginning Turkey Huntress & Turkey Hunting Basics You Need to Know

For wild game recipes visit My Wild Kitchen and check out dishes like Lemon Rosemary Wild Turkey

 

 

One thought on “Rapacious for the Rio: The allure, argument and addiction of hunting wild turkey

  1. This was an awesome read and got me SO pumped for my first hunter ed class tonight! I even have the same Mossberg shotgun and grew up watching/listening to birds before getting interested in hunting. Thank you for this!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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