Rios On The Cheap

Do-it-yourself Lone Star gobblers for the budget-minded turkey hunter.

I dearly love spring turkey hunting. Talk about the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors with the family and have a great chance at success! Through the years, I’ve tried it about every way you can, too. From hunting at fancy, high-priced lodges, to guided gigs on Western ranches, to doing it on my own on public land, there’s definitely something for everyone.

With this year’s tight budgets, if you’re like me you’re looking for ways to stretch your hunting dollars. When it comes to Western turkey hunting that won’t break the bank while offering a high probability of success, it’s hard to beat DIY (do it yourself) Rio Grande gobbler hunting in Texas.

Texas, of course, is virtually all private land, which usually means guided hunting for those with no inside connections. A few years ago, however, I discovered there are a lot of Texas outfitters who will let you hunt turkeys on your own on the land they control—and for a very reasonable price.

My first such trip was arranged by my buddy Wade Derby of Crosshair Consultants ((925) 679-9232), who books a variety of hunting trips around the world. One of his outfitters, Stony Trainham of Miller Creek Ranch, is just now bumping 30 years old and has the nervous energy of a young bird dog. He grew up hunting and fishing and, after trying to make a living doing other things, realized his love was the outdoors. That’s when he began a career guiding and found his calling. Today he outfits and guides on his family’s 5,000-acre property, Miller Creek Ranch, near Seymour, Texas—a low-fence operation in Knox and Throckmorton counties.

His deal is straightforward: Spring turkey hunts cost $200 per day, with a 2-day minimum and bag limit of two gobblers per hunter. Lodging on the ranch costs an additional $40 per person per night in a very comfortable bunkhouse (meals not provided). If a guide is desired, Stony charges another $100 per guide per day. A nonresident spring turkey license costs $120 and is available after February 1 of the year you plan to hunt. A $7 archery stamp is required for bowhunting. Typically, the season runs from the beginning of April through mid-May. Complete information on season dates and license costs is available from the Texas Parks and Wild­life Department ((800) 792-1112).

“I guide the hunters when they want me to, but a lot of our clients like to hunt on their own,” Stony said. “If they have any skills at all they do quite well.” Not only does that keep the cost reasonable, it allows hunters to win or lose on their own merits, something that appeals to many turkey hunters.

This type of DIY turkey hunting is not that unusual in Texas, both guided and unguided. On the unguided hunts, clients are provided with maps of the property and told where the birds have been roosting, where they like to feed and strut, and how the outfitter thinks they can best be hunted. Clients are then turned loose to do their own thing.

That was the case when I hunted on Miller Creek Ranch. Stony has feeders scattered about the ranch, knows where the birds like to roost, which pastures they like to strut and loaf in, and how to best hunt them. He shows you where to set up a blind or how to make small walk­ing loops through specific areas of the ranch, calling as you go.

I’ve been to Miller Creek Ranch two springs in a row now. The first year I went solo, mainly to check it out. On that hunt I had horrific weather that combined 30-mph winds and rain, but I still killed two big gobblers—one with my bow and one with a shotgun—in 21/2 days of hunting. Stony, who hunted with me, also killed a big gobbler. Last spring, I set up a business trip involving friends and clients. There were five of us, and we killed seven gobblers in 2 days.

Since most of these hunts last just a weekend, you have to come prepared for weather—good and bad—and gobblers that come insanely to your calls and those that act deaf. I’ve found these Rios seem to be attracted to full-bodied strutter decoys such as the Primos B-Mobile and Carry-Lite Pretty Boy —especially when a real turkey fan and beard have been added. Stony has customized a Flam­beau Jake decoy with a real fan, and I’m here to tell you the gobblers go absolutely insane when they see it.

One great way to hunt from mid-morning until late afternoon is to find a field, road or other area where the tur­keys have been moving through on a regular basis. Simply set up your blind and decoy, break out a paperback book and wait them out. It might not be as exciting as all those come-to-the-call scenarios you see on the cable TV hunting shows, but it sure is a good way to punch a tag when response to calling slows down. Don’t forget your pruning tools, a padded seat, good binoculars, an assortment of calls, your pet turkey gun or bow, and a turkey vest or daypack to carry your stuff, as well as a few snacks and some water.

Bonus Video: