The sweet smell of spring was in the air as winter loosened its grip on the countryside. I was looking forward to the burst of Texas wildflowers across this magnificent state; scooting out over a lake in the crisp cool air to find that spot where the bass are bedding; and last but not least, another opportunity to sweet talk a turkey into showing his face!
I was fortunate enough to do my first turkey hunt years ago with Ed “Snowman” Johnson in the beautiful Ozark foothills of Missouri. The following year I spent a week tracking turkey deep in the rural beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 2011 it was another chance to hunt turkey in South Texas. Only this time, the hunt would be captured on film.
Joe Coogan, Benelli brand marketing manager and host of Benelli on Assignment and Cristie Gates, Benelli USA media manager, brought together several women writers from across the nation for a women’s turkey hunt at Sarco Creek Ranch in Goliad, Texas.
Let there be no doubt about my excitement to hunt turkeys anytime or anywhere, but this hunt would surely be noted in my memoirs as one of the more fun, entertaining and rewarding hunts of my life.
As we gathered in Houston, the subject of snakes sneaked into our conversation. Several women in the group were from states that had very few, if any, poisonous snakes, and with a few passing comments we became extremely anxious about the thought of an encounter with a rattlesnake. This set the stage for a snake-boot shopping spree. After all, hunter safety should always be top priority.
Joe was familiar with the area and called “Wagon Ho” to begin the convoy of five vehicles with 12 passengers to Victoria, Texas. We proceeded to maneuver in and out of a number of sporting goods stores. This marked our first challenge of the week: Outdoor gear for women is sometimes hard to find, no matter how hard you hunt. Many of the merchants only offered snake boots for men, and most didn’t stock the men’s smaller sizes to accommodate our dainty feet. With a little luck, two of the women found the right fit and would have protection from the dreaded snakes. The rest of us would just have to rely on our charm.
When we arrived at the magnificent Sarco Creek Ranch early that afternoon, owner Milton Greeson welcomed eight women and camera crew, along with several others. Little did we know, we were making history. This would be the very first all-female hunt for Sarco Creek Ranch. Yes, the times they are a’changing, and the girls and guns had arrived!
After a late lunch, it was time to pattern the shotguns and let each girl shoot the new Benellis. The guns were assigned to each of us, and I was excited to learn that I would be shooting the new semi-automatic Stoeger M3500. There was also the new Vinci for some of the women to use. The shotguns were not only new on the market, but new to all of us. This can sometimes be a little intimidating. But with no delay, we were off to the gun range, and with the expert instruction from Joe and Cristie, we patterned our guns and gained accuracy and most important, confidence.
One thing I have learned over the years is that turkey hunting is often tough business. Although I was thrilled to be a part of this exciting adventure, there was no doubt that taking a tom was my main objective. I would be one Sad Sally if it didn’t work out.
I understand that successful turkey hunts happen frequently, as demonstrated on many outdoor shows, but I have to say that I was anxious about how all the extra people, cameras and gear would affect my chances of knocking down one of the huge gobblers roaming the area.
Joe had planned for months to ensure the timely execution and production of a successful hunt for all of us. I believe he was just as determined that we have the adventure of a lifetime, while capturing it all on film.
I came to realize that Joe is definitely the driving force behind all the successful productions of BOA. He works his heart out on each one, and it shines through with the many quality episodes.
As with all of my hunts, the times between the hunts are when some of my fondest memories are made. I had never been on a group girl’s hunt, and I believe that the little girl inside of each of us bubbled up to the surface and made for lots of lighthearted conversation and loads of laughter. Bunking together, talking until the wee hours of the morning — also rising in the wee hours of the morning — we somehow kept up the pace and in a way it was exhilarating to be exhausted.
My first love in the outdoors was fishing. My mother, Tommie Lou, is an avid fisher-woman, and we have enjoyed many hours on the water together. Trolling for trout, or jerking perch, we were always just happy to get anything on the hook. So you can just imagine my excitement when I discovered that while waiting for the afternoon hunts, we could do a little fishing. We caught several fish, and among them were some gigantic bluegill. If you have never eaten bream cleaned and fried whole, you are really missing out on a truly unique flavor.
After discovering that many in the group had been deprived of the opportunity, I proceeded to clean about 20 bluegills, and with John Welder’s expert assistance, proceeded to deep fry and serve them up for an appetizer.
Now, for the main event.
Early mornings and late afternoons, we would set out to spot-and-stalk for turkeys with six to eight people in each group. Was I skeptical? Yes. But with all the women looking classy in the comfortable camo clothing, provided by Pam Zaitz of SHE Outdoor Clothing, joined by an experienced camera crew that could seemingly blend in as part of a nearby tree or bush, and Joe’s firm dedication to finding the biggest tom on the ranch, my confidence level was high.
We walked for long periods, stopping and setting up when we heard a gobble.
The second morning would be the big day for me, and also provide the opportunity to view some rare interaction with some testy turkeys. In no time we were up and on the move again when Joe found the perfect place. While looking it over and determining our positions, we heard a gobble nearby.
Quickly and silently, we embedded ourselves into the tree line. Joe set out the lifelike Hazel Creek Decoys, a jake and a squatting hen, both of which could fool the sharpest of eyes.
The cameramen quickly became invisible inside a popup blind, while my caller, Jason Nash of Federal Premium, started his turkey talk.
From the opposite direction of our attention, an overly confident jake came running toward the decoys and headed straight for the fake jake. The real jake decided that he wanted the hen for himself, and like all males, he believes that two is company and three is a crowd. His first priority was to beat the fake jake into submission, leaving him and his newfound beauty alone. Had the jake decoy been real, I am sure that he would have run for the hills as the bully bird proceeded to flail, peck, kick, bite and verbally abuse him.
With our group undetected 30 yards away, Jason continued to talk turkey in hopes of coaxing in a gobbler without spooking the jake. The Mac Daddy Gobbler did come in, slowly but aggressively, strutting and moving forward, fully expecting to intimidate both jakes and keep the hen for himself.
This is where is gets very interesting.
The bully jake had already convinced himself that he was “The Man” and actually decided that he would not turn tail and run. It looked like the jake confidently drew the gobbler’s attention to the mangled fake jake, saying “See what I have done here! Do you really think you want some of this?”
It was so entertaining, and probably would have made a great fight to the finish, but, alas, the gobbler gave me the shot I needed. I looked through my Burris FastFire scope, squeezed the trigger, and he was out for the count.
I could not wait to get back to camp to tell all my girlfriends that I bagged a big one!
That afternoon I was the only one who could celebrate a successful hunt. But by the end of the week, most had a bird hanging from the old oak limb.
What a wonderful opportunity to be a part of this production and meet a wonderful group of girls. I had hunted on camera only once before, filmed during the 11th and final episode of Ammo & Attitude TV show, which served up my Gold Medal blackbuck antelope. It was a hard hunt, also spot-and-stalk, but it was well worth the effort, awarding me with the biggest buck of the reality-show competition.
Hunting with a camera is a challenge. But isn’t it the challenge that makes us want to hunt?
The patience and perseverance of Joe Coogan, along with the expert calling of Jason Nash, the many helpful tips from Cristie Gates, not to forget the invisible camera crew resulted in a memorable hunt, and the biggest turkey I’ve ever shot.
It will be hard to beat this experience for excitement, memories and fun, but I will remain open to consider all opportunities.