IN MARCH 2019 I began a quest to raise awareness of turkey conservation. I call this “Turkey Revolution!”
Phase One was to get photographs of the Grand Slam (Rio Grande, Eastern, Merriam’s, Osceola) all in one year.
Cruising down the back roads of Kerr County, Texas is an interesting experience.
The majority of wildlife spotted is exotic and much of it ranging beyond the confines of high fenced hunting ranches. Axis deer, blackbuck antelope and aoudads are more prevalent than even native whitetails.
I was looking for wild turkeys, the Rio Grande variety in particular, as I am on a quest to get the Grand Slam (Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern and Osceola subspecies) by camera this year.
It started off super slow two weeks ago with a trip to the area surrounding Palmetto State Park near Luling, Texas. I saw a lone turkey at about 200 yards, but we could not get it to come any closer despite calling.
My rule for this project is the pictures must be magazine quality. In other words, up close and full of detail.
Just as the sun began to peek out of an early morning haze, I spotted three turkeys on a hill. Fellow wildlife photographer Gerald Burleigh stopped the truck, and my friend and fellow turkey fanatic Josh Slone jumped out and started calling.
I ran down below the bird’s line of sight, walked up to a bush and shot a few pics. Then down the fence came a loud gobble.
I spun around to see two large gobblers trying to figure out how to get over the fence to get to the hens that had just flown over.
Apparently, these guys were so love-struck (after all it is breeding season) they forgot they can, you know,…fly.
This worked to my advantage as they paced up and down, and I slid down about 30 yards and waited. The birds eventually made the move and moved into range. I took dozens of shots before their pursuit of the hens continued.
It was so exciting to get these birds after so much hard work. Getting the Rio Grande photo above took the following effort.
• Two trips from Orange, Texas to the Hill Country
• 28 hours total, driving
• $450 in hotels and gas
• 16 hours searching in the field
Since the quest began, I have studied historical maps of turkey range and found there should be Rio Grandes in good numbers much closer to home. The drive should be cut from six hours to about three, but urban sprawl and degraded habitat on top of poaching many years ago have isolated them more than people think.
Texas has around 500,000 birds with the vast majority being Rios with a few hundred Merriam’s in the Trans Pecos and about 7,000 Easterns in the Piney Woods.
Turkeys are not nearly as adaptable as whitetails.
Getting what so far is the best turkey photo I have ever taken gave me an even greater respect for those conservation-minded turkey hunters who pursue the Grand Slam and wanting to learn much more about these regal birds.
Step one was hard considering I am doing this in my “spare” time and totally on my coin to raise awareness to turkey conservation and the health of America’s forests.
Next month we’ll learn how the rest of the quest went and unveil much more of the story of America’s greatest game bird.
—story by CHESTER MOORE