Texasjakesnwtfphoto_2 As my good buddy Jake Fagan at Realtree said after his recent Lone Star State hunt elsewhere: “Texas just wasn’t Texas this year.” Amen to that. I recently hunted the Key Hole Ranch ( where we encountered waves of juvenile gobblers that were born during last year’s super Texas hatch. Clearly, the numerous jakes were running the show. And if not the jakes, the hens . . .

The first morning: we had a longbeard at 55-60 yds. It had come a quarter mile to the calls, but three hens took him away as he was closing. Had another good bird strutting/hammering behind a wall of Wrigley Field cover, a hen calling right next to us. She didn’t like the scene—they moved off, and even came back to more calling. Didn’t close that deal. Close. Had the safety off numerous times.

On one occasion, five young gobblers came sweeping in to our calls kamikaze-style, somehow knowing ranch rules didn’t offer that otherwise legal option—by then I was about ready for some Shortbeard Justice. Nearby two brick-red headed longbeards slinked into range, not strutting, clearly intimidated by the Gang of Five, but walked away unscathed. Trust me: the other gunner had his safety off as I faced the other direction, calling.

I hunted alone the final morning. Called four rowdy strutting and gobbling jakes right off the roost, then eight hens from various directions—they hung around me as I clucked and softly yelped on a diaphragm. Up the pasture a ways, a longbeard stepped out in full strut 45 minutes later. Jakes all turned in a line—a stare down. Waited for the big tom to rush in and fight the Mob of Four, but he stayed well off. Hens chose the shortbeards.

Eventually all moved off, and I slinked off back to camp to pack for our ride to San Antonio with other birds firing up nearby. It was a beautiful Texas morning. Our camp tally by the end of it: Three longbeards tagged for six hunters . . . again, think 2009.
—Steve Hickoff_