Spring Turkey at Star S Ranch
By Dave Fulson
When hunters familiar with the Star S Ranch think of the
world class hunting that awaits them on the 14,000 acre property, it is likely
that the world class, homegrown whitetail herd is what comes to mind. Unless,
of course, it is the wide array of exotic, and super exotic species that have
become ‘Texicaned’ over the years and produced herds sustained by breeding on
the ranch, not the ‘put and take’ that is prevalent on many commercial hunting
But mid April found me pointing my pickup toward Mason
County to enjoy the most exciting off-season hunt to be found in the Lone Star
state, and that is the springtime tradition of turkey hunting. And brother, it
can be found at Star S!
Besides the turkey, I was looking forward to spending time
with some guys that have become two of my favorite personal, industry, and
hunting friends, ranch manager Eric White, and guide Brian Bannister. Of course
I unintentionally planned my visit to coincide with a rain heavy cold snap, not
the prime ingredient of a good turkey hunt, but I go when I can, and hunt the
conditions as they are.
I rolled through the main gate around 2pm, met Eric in the
lodge, and then drove to the well appointed hunters quarters that would be my
home for the next three days. My excitement level went into overdrive when I
got out of my truck, shut the door, and was immediately gobbled at by two
different birds less than two hundred yards away! “ Sorry buddy, those two are
next door” said an amused Eric when he saw me reach for a slate call. Sure
enough, they were on the far side of a separating fence, but fence be dammed, I
stroked the slate and they both thundered back a reply. Now that’s how you start a turkey hunt!
With 14,000 acres to hunt, all of which holds birds, ‘where
to start?’ is the question. It is like fishing a large lake, you have to break
it down to specific areas, and then target even smaller zones within that area.
Eric had some areas in mind, and after a quick sandwich I followed him to an
area with several deep, wooded draws, with flat areas up on top, which gobblers
like to set up for their morning strut.
That Eric had taken me to a good spot was confirmed by Cody
Garrett, a Star S guide who was doing some brush hogging along a main road
nearby. Cody knows the ranch, and like any good guide, is always on the lookout
for game, even when doing other ranch work. “ When I fired up the tractor a
couple hours ago, two gobblers went off down the ridge,” Cody offered. With good intel like that, I camo’ed up, and
headed in the direction he pointed to try to scout the area prior to the next
I never got a gobbler to respond to my late afternoon
calling, but I found fresh tracks of a large tom near a windmill and figured I
would hear him the next morning. And did I ever! I won’t try to give a blow by blow account of
the next three days, but they consisted spring turkey hunting’s BIG THREE 1)
Confusion, 2) Frustration, 3) Perfection.
I sampled all of them on this hunt. I called in a toad of a bird to my
decoy that had no beard, it had been eaten down by mites. I called in a nice
long beard that was about 5 yards on the other side of too far when an axis
deer doe came up down wind of me and began blowing at me, non-stop, at five
second intervals. That bird understood axis, and wisely turned around just as I
was about to put him on license.
Rain was on and off, but peals of thunder had a few birds
sounding off, and luring me across distant ridges. The trouble was, they would
answer thunder, my crow call locator attempts, and even my calling, until that
is, I got within one hundred yards. One snuck in behind me, quiet but in full strut,
one strutted just over a small rise between he and I for twenty minutes, but suddenly packed up and left for good. I
was, to be honest, feeling a little snakebit.
But I have played this game for many years, and know that in
good country, luck follows persistence. And so it did. Cody actually joined me
for some hunting between chores, and we teamed up for a beast of a bird late
one afternoon. Cody has all the makings of a great guide. He loves hunting,
likes people, was raised on ranches, and understands wildlife. We had a great
time together on that bird, and he even got up early the next morning to show
me another area he thought held a big tom, or two.
The next morning we heard some distant birds, but nothing
working within striking distance. Cody had more tractor work to do, so I
eventually dropped him off at headquarters, had a quick snack and headed back
out. At precisely 11:10 I took a fine
bird after a very exciting calling session on a flower covered mesa overlooking
some beautiful Star S country. I was in no hurry to tie on a tag, or leave.
Honestly I did not put a hand on my bird for 15 or 20 minutes. I recently lost
a best friend, professional bass angler Ken Cook, to a sudden and fatal heart
attack. Ken was one of my favorite turkey hunting partners, and the pain of his
passing had been getting harder, not easier as time passes.
I found Ken up on that mesa, and we talked over our bird. I
felt his spirit, and I know he heard my words. We had shared similar moments
many times in this life, and we shared this one as surly as the others. I will
continue to include my friend on special memories like this, until we can do it
again, in person, on the right side of the river that temporarily separates us.
Tears finally stopped, happiness came, and the sweet weight
of an old turkey over my shoulder felt good on the way down the hill. When I next hear the phrase ‘Hunting is good
for the soul” I will think of this moment.
Back at the lodge ,as I was setting the gobbler up for photo’s, Brian
arrived and we celebrated two fine birds in as many days. The rest of the day
was spent just driving around the ranch catching up on life with Brian, and
enjoying seeing new country and game. A great way to spend a glorious (the rain
had stopped) Hill Country afternoon.
I always enjoy my time at Star S. It is the perfect
combination of Texas Hospitality, a beautiful ranch, and some of the best
people you will ever meet. There is something magical about roaming the spring
hillsides, and wooded valleys in search of love sick gobblers that continues to
call me to the woods each April. Lord willing, many more of those mornings will
be spent in Star S country….