Short-Tree Turkeys!

I was out in south central Texas last month, and a companion suggested that we might want to take off from business one morning and go wild turkey hunting. We had seen a lot of game in the area where we were staying, and I had no doubt that there were turkeys around, since there were so many deer. Inquiries amongst the natives proved we were right in our expectations. We were staying out in the country anyway, so we made plans to try it the last morning.

Alas, the last morning was just like the other three — bad foggy. An unusual weather system had settled in, and the fog was solid each day until at least ten. In my experience, turkeys don’t come down off the roost until fog lifts, so we never went out. But on the way home, I began to wonder: in country like we had been in, where do wild turkeys roost?

Obviously, in trees. Yet the trees we had seen in this country were no more than eight or ten feet high, looked like. I’m used to trees which are at least fifty feet high being typical turkey roosting trees. Of course, if there ain’t a fifty-foot tree available, I had sense enough to realize that a Texas wild turkey wasn’t going to walk to the Mississippi River to roost each evening. So, they have to roost in lower trees. That being the case, maybe we should have gone hunting that morning anyway, since we might could have snuck up and got a shot at a covey rise if we could have located some turkeys roosting somewhere.

Come to think of it, I have had one experience with turkeys roosting in low trees, but I flat didn’t expect it. Ronny James and I were hunting together that morning, and we eased in behind Dub’s House to the east side of that big brushy draw where my deer stand was located. I had seen turkeys there a lot during deer season, so I figured to leave Ronny on the east side calling, and I’d ease down the draw a quarter mile, and set up close to the canebrake.

In the pre-dawn darkness, I found the big sweetgum tree I had picked out for Ronny to blind in against, and tried to point out the features of the land. When he was settled in against the sweetgum, I pointed west. “I’d gonna slip down into the draw and go about a quarter, then cross onto that other ridge,” I explained. “If you shoot, I’ll come to you. Otherwise, I’ll be back about noon, okay?”

“Don’t you think it’s be better for you to slip down the side of the ridge, rather than going down into the bottom of the draw?” he asked. “It’s beginning to lighten up, and you might flush a gobbler away from us going thataway.”

I smiled my superior smile, from many more years of turkey hunting and hundreds more shells fired at gobblers than my old college roomie. “Naw. Turkeys like big trees to roost in, and there ain’t anything but ironwood thickets in the bottom of this brushy draw. That’ll give me cover to get to the other ridge.”

He shrugged, and I waved and eased down into the draw, then cut left and headed into the brush. Ironwoods grow in clumps, all twisty and not more than eight or ten feet tall, never more than as thick around as your upper arm. I wasn’t more than fifty yards into the thicket when the B-52 bombers struck.

At least that’s what I assumed they were, although I never stopped to consider why a B-52 raid had been ordered on my deer stand territory. When those big bombers hit, no one stops to think atall — you just run!

Running in the darkness through an ironwood thicket in complete panic ain’t as easy as you might assume. I bounced off springy branches, tripped over shoots, lost my lucky hunting hat, my cushion, call, shells, headnet, thermos, everything but my gun, which I knew I’d need when the bombing stopped.

Ronny said later that there must have been two dozen wild turkeys roosted in that ironwood thicket, and they flushed and flapped and floundered through the dark for five minutes before I finally came sprinting out and fell across the ridgeline. He said it wasn’t light enough for him to see if the close ones were legal.

Funny, he never heard the B-52s atall.

About Robert Hitt Neill

Robert Hitt Neill, the Secretary/Treasurer of the MS Wildlife Heritage Museum & Foundation, is a native of Brownspur, MS (Leland closest P.O.) and is the award-winning author of a dozen books (2 nominated for the Pulitzer) and four CDs. He and Betsy met at Ole Miss, where he played on Rebel National Championship football teams, and she was a Rebelette (majorette) and Top Six Beauty. They have 3 grown kids and 2 GrandBoys.

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