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The Brown County Double

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by Jess Mowery

My good buddy Eric Thompson is one of those guys. You know the type. The type who can build or fix anything with their hands and it’s always better, more effective, or longer-lasting than the store-bought version. We have won bass tournaments on his custom handmade lures and saved hundreds by repairing rather than replacing equipment.  Once, while stranded on the water, I watched him repair a sensitive electronic component on an outboard motor with only a can of brake dust and a cheap gas station tool kit. A couple of years ago, he built his own smokehouse and now turns several of our deer each year into the best sausage you could ever eat. From homemade jelly to home repair, Eric is the ultimate D-I-Y man.  

Last winter, it came as no surprise when Eric shared with me his plans to build a custom deer blind for our Brown County hunting lease. I knew the finished product would be more than hunt-worthy. I offered to help with the build, of course, which Eric quickly declined. “No. I want to take my time, do a little here and there, and not wear myself out, so that it’s perfect,” he said. Having seen my carpentry skills in action on other projects, I knew the real reason he avoided my help, although I appreciated it went unmentioned.

By March, Eric informed me he had completed the blind build and disassembled it into floor, walls and roof for easy transport. We quickly made plans for a trip to the lease in April, which, in addition to installing the blind, allowed us to take advantage of the spring Rio Grande turkey season. I wasn’t looking forward to finishing the blind project, knowing the heavy lifting and injury risks it entailed, but, I’ll do just about anything if it includes an opportunity to call a big, mature tom turkey into shotgun range.

As often happens, the schizophrenic Texas weather threw a curveball on the morning of our departure.  Leaving Tyler at 2:00 am, the temperature was in the high 40’s, with a stiff wind out of the northwest. We knew it would be colder and windier when we arrived at our lease outside of Brownwood. “This is November whitetail weather, not April turkey weather!” I said as I moved gear from my truck to Eric’s. Both the cab and the camper shell of Eric’s red Toyota Tundra were packed to the roof with tools and hunting gear. In the dark, I could see the deer blind components filling the majority of a 20-foot utility trailer. “Must be a big blind,” I thought to myself as we pulled away.  

We drove through the ranch gate as daylight was breaking. The dawn was cloudy, and, as predicted, colder and windier. Hurriedly, we disconnected the trailer and drove to the southwest corner of the ranch. The area offers a high ridge with thick draws running the bottom of both hillsides. The ridge played out into a gradual, south-facing slope covered in live oak thickets. A dilapidated interior fence ran the east side of the slope, decades since it was tight enough to contain livestock. Several holes in the fence made for great ambush spots for turkey, and over the years we have taken many nice gobblers in the gaps. While they can flap their wings twice and fly over a fence, turkey will instead walk hundreds of yards up and down a fence to find a gap to walk through. That’s just one of the many quirks that make them truly strange birds.  

I removed a call from my pack as Eric set up the hen decoy. Not just any call. This one was special. My father, though still alive and kicking, doesn’t hunt or fish anymore, choosing to chase a golf ball in his spare time instead. I have inherited his guns, fishing tackle and outdoor gear. Of all those items, the “Ol’ Yeller Ultimate Series” slate call from Knight & Hale may be the one of which I am most fond. That call has fooled several dozen mature birds in central and west Texas over the past 25 years. Typically, the first thing Dad wants to know when I call him after a successful hunt is if his call was the one to close the deal.  

We called for a half hour with no response, not even a long-distance answer. We worked a 50-75 acre area thoroughly over the next 45 minutes with the same result. Back at the truck, we decided to check a feed pen in the area prior to moving to a different portion of the lease. As we topped a small rise, the feed pen came into view, as did a fanned-out tom, looking for the hen that had been calling on the hillside all morning. The sight of the red Toyota sent the tom scrambling into the brush. We ran from the truck and hid in the first decent cover available. The gobbler would answer my calls but would not leave the protected cover, and eventually headed south. For the tom, a big red truck and an imaginary hen weren’t reasons to stick around.

Next, we moved east about a mile and set up on a flat above a half-acre pond. It was a better area for whitetail, but, we have some history with turkey there as well. The north wind was ripping across the flat with little contour to lessen the sting on our faces. Two large cedars, side by side, provided the best cover. I hit the call as Eric once again deployed the hen decoy. Things quickly turned in our favor. Before Eric could push the decoy stand into the ground, we were answered by two gobbles. Eric dove head-first into the cedar cover. When pursuing game, or being chased by yellowjackets, he was impressively nimble for a man of his size!

I hit the call again, answered by two distinct gobbles, even closer this time. I made one last call, about half of my normal series, and two mature gobblers raced out of a draw that feeds the small pond. The gobblers made a mad dash for the hen decoy. At thirty yards they stopped and put on a show I’ll never forget. Instead of a fight, which is the norm for two toms of this magnitude on the same hen, the gobblers both fanned. They drummed their wings. They danced. Each used every move in his arsenal to impress the hen. I slowly lowered the slate call to the ground as I slid the shotgun safety to fire, thinking I would take my shot immediately after Eric.

The gobblers danced to the right. They strutted back left. The trailing bird cut back to the right a few beats too soon. BOOM! “Got ‘em both!!!” Eric shouted. Sure enough, while showing off for the hen, the toms made the fatal mistake of lining up one behind the other directly down the vent rib barrel of Eric’s 12-gauge. He held up two great birds—big fans and 11 and 12 inch beards, respectively—with a smile that couldn’t be slapped away.  I just stood there laughing, snot-nosed from the cold wind.  

That afternoon the sun came out and warmed the Texas hill country to a more seasonal temperature. The blind project went smoothly. I only fell off the platform once, with just the right half of my rump landing on prickly pear cactus. I put all my screws in straight and followed directions like a good apprentice. As for the blind, it was every bit as custom as I expected. Silent, hinged windows, full door, walk-up stairs, wall to wall carpet and insulation, shelves, hooks and a rifle rest—no detail was spared. The blind is so big and fancy that our lease members have named it “VRBO” as it’s worthy of charging guests a nightly rate!

We caught another gobbler crossing the road that evening. I jumped out and called him back with the slate.  Similar to the morning, the gobbler bolted at the sight of a big red truck.   

The next morning the aforementioned Texas weather changed moods again, bringing in yet another front. It was even colder and every turkey in the county went mute. I had to eat a tag sandwich, but, I’ll always remember those two love-crazed gobblers dancing like mad for a date with a fake hen!

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