April means different things to different people. For some, it’s time to get gardens planted. This is the time of year when eggs are dyed and Easter finery is selected. For me, April means I get my work done ahead of time and I start getting ready for my annual trek to the Lone Star state to chase wild turkeys.
This year, I joined four hunting partners leaving home for the 10 hour drive to fantastic Russell Ranch near Menard, Texas, a region that looks as different as daylight and dark from north Louisiana. Where we have pines, out there is mesquite and cactus and rocks, lots of rocks.
While my primary goal in making the trip each spring is to hunt turkeys, I never spend a few days there without seeing things that are just flat-out fascinating.
This year while coming in from a late afternoon hunt, we had to stop and wait as a herd of Axis deer crossed the road in front of the truck. There may have been upwards of a hundred in the herd, animals that ranch owner, Walt Russell, keeps on his 11,000 acre ranch for hunting. Whitetailed deer and black bucks are all over the ranch as well.
One of the things that I love to see and try to identify is the variety of birds that we don’t see in north Louisiana. I never venture out to turkey hunt without packing my camera and binoculars. Sitting and waiting for a gobbler is never boring because of the avian life around me.
One of the most strikingly beautiful birds I see on each trip is the Vermilion flycatcher, arrayed in brilliant crimson. Another bird that always captures my attention is the scissor-tailed flycatcher, a bird seen occasionally around home.
This year while sitting in a ground blind, I noticed that a second folded up fabric chair in the blind, had a pile of sticks and grass in the folds. What I suspected was proven to be true when a rock wren began fussing from a thorn bush next to the blind and at one time, lit on the window ledge inches from where I sat and later, actually sat for a moment on my shotgun barrel. Obviously, I had disturbed nesting activities.
Another bird I saw for the first time last year closely resembles our red-bellied woodpecker, with one major exception. Whereas our woodpecker has a crimson crown, this bird’s crown was golden with just a splash of red. My bird book identified it as a golden fronted woodpecker.
Aside from birds, other creatures have captivated my attention in Texas. While driving to hunt near mid-day after a storm the night before, my hunting partner, Jim Perkins, stopped his truck while we watched a ring tail cat methodically working around the rocks apparently looking for a snack. These strange looking little animals have bodies shaped like a weasel but sport a long tail, encircled in rings from which the animal gets its name.
Then there’s the turkey hunting and occasionally you deal the cards and come up with a straight flush. One afternoon, I was hunting with Greg Thomas as we shared a blind in an area where turkeys were known to hang out. Settling in, Thomas popped his diaphragm call in his cheek and began mimicking the sound of a love-sick turkey hen. Momentarily, we heard gobbles from obviously more than one bird.
As their gobbling indicated they were headed our direction, we developed a plan. Should more than one turkey come to check us out and the opportunity presents itself, we’d try for a double.
That’s exactly what happened as three gobblers strolled up in front of our blind at 25 yards. On the whispered count of three, I lowered the boom on the gobbler on my side while Thomas did likewise to one on his side. BaBoom…and two gobblers bit the dust.
Between wild turkeys, beautiful birds and blue bonnets blooming, my trip to Texas this April offered everything I could have hoped for, and I’m already looking forward to next April.