A few years back I took Bill and Dick Kimbrough, two dedicated bird hunters from Houston, out after mountain quail in the Cascade Mountains near my home in southern Oregon. To their great satisfaction, they bagged the two birds they needed to complete their collection of mounted pairs of every species of quail in North America. The brothers were eager to return the favor.
"You damn sure have to come down to hunt spring turkeys with us," Dick told me before they headed home. "It's some-thin'! We're talkin' the absolute best!"
"It's the greatest bird hunting there is," Bill said. "We'll get you down there someday for sure."
And this year they finally did.
I arrived at Houston Intercontinental Airport late on the night of April 11, two days before the opening of the spring turkey season. The next morning the Kimbrough brothers and I flew to Dallas, and from there on to the West Texas town of San Angelo, where we were met by Donny Hughes and Tip Hargrove, local ranchers and fellow turkey hunters. By noon we were bouncing along the roads of Donny's ranch, 20 miles west of town, heading toward the Middle Concho River.
The spring countryside was lovely: lush prairie grass dotted with wildflowers, live oak and pecan trees dark against a clear spring sky, mesquite and pale-green prickly pears growing everywhere.
Bill and I rode in the bed of the truck, along with an ice chest of Lone Star beer. Bill talked about hunting. "One thing that can royally screw up a turkey hunt is wind," he said. "Two years ago it was blowin' so damn hard you could hardly stand up. We never saw a bird. Tomorrow'll be a great opening day. We're talkin' perfect weather this year. Here, Baughman, hold my beer. Listen to this." He took a small, horseshoe-shaped piece of blue rubber out of his shirt pocket and slid it into his mouth, the open end of the shoe forward. He dropped his lower jaw and raised his head and began making noises that to my untrained ear sounded like the barking of a baby seal.
"That's your basic hen yelp," he explained. "That's what a female turkey ready to mate sounds like. I've got box calls, slate calls and shaker calls, and this is a diaphragm call. The diaphragm's the hardest to use—you have to have excellent breath control to get the right sound out of it—but I like it best because it leaves your hands free for the gun." Bill took his beer back. "Today we'll figure out where the males are roostin', and tomorrow morning we'll hide and call them in after first light. On a quiet morning you can hear a gobbler coming from a mile away! That is exciting! When they get close—if they get close—the main thing is to stay perfectly still. Their eyes are supposed to be 10 times stronger than ours, and I believe they can see a man blink from 50 yards away. And if they do see it, they're gone."
Bill finished his beer, dropped the can to the bed of the truck and reached for another. "They open spring hunting toward the end of mating season, so when you kill a few gobblers it won't affect the population. Most all the hens have already been bred—but the gobblers'll still come in if the call's done right. Not many hunters do it right, though; through a whole season only 10 to 20 percent get a turkey. Turkeys are the most elusive birds alive. But we'll do O.K. I've been practicing! Dick, too!" He took a swallow of beer and smiled. "Wait'll you see one come in with those wings spread wide and dragging on the ground and the tail fanned out all the way and that long neck stretched ahead and those beady eyes lookin' around! We're talkin' full strut! When you see that, you might just get buck fever. Or turkey fever, in this case, I guess. It happens sometimes."
A few minutes later the truck braked to a sudden stop.