Bonus Report: Emma Ray’s First Turkey

Whitetail will always be king in Texas, but the Lone Star State is also home to world-class turkey hunting. The majority of the state’s Rio Grande turkeys are found in the Hill Country and wooded creeks and upland areas in South Texas. But you can find good hunting statewide. Two of my favorite locations are north Texas and the cottonwood-lined creeks of the Panhandle. Stable flocks exist in these locations and hunting pressure is typically less than it is in the Hill Country. In the fall, gobblers and hens are usually segregated into flocks of the same sex. Fall turkeys often visit corn feeders and get shot as bonus game by deer hunters (totally legal in Texas). While hunting deer this fall in a river bottom surrounded by big canyon walls, a flock of four gobblers have been frequent visitors at one of my blinds. A separate flock of 14 hens were also present. I spied on the two flocks through the fall, waiting for the right time.

A long-running tradition at our family ranch is to bag a wild turkey just before Thanksgiving. The wild bird sits on the table next to a store-bought turkey. The fried wild turkey nuggets are always a meal favorite. I’ve bagged dozens of turkeys over the years along that muddy creek, but last November it was time to bring a rookie to the blind. My 8-year-old daughter, Emma, would do the honors of bagging the bird for the feast. It started with a trip to Riverfield’s in Amarillo to buy Emma her license. A resident youth license costs $7 and you need the kid’s social security number to buy it. Every state hunting license comes with four turkey tags. Texas has lots of birds! Both gobblers and hens are legal in the fall. Tagging along on the hunt was Emma’s 89-year-old grandma, Gingy. If we could bag a bird with the three of us sharing the blind, it would be a hunt for the ages!

Walking to the blind, running late as usual, we scattered turkeys and a small whitetail buck. Would the birds return? Less than ten minutes later, here they came back. Four big gobblers, their red heads like periscopes peering over the tall grass, walking down a grassy hillside in front of our brush blind. At 20 yards, one of the big gobblers got clear of the others. That’s when Emma pulled the trigger on the over-under 20-gauge, and dropped the 20-pound gobbler, wings flopping.

“Shoot him dad, he’s still moving!” Emma said with panic in her voice. “No, you got him Honey, he’s just gonna flop for a minute, and then he’ll be done.” When he was still, Emma hefted the bird up high with my help, amazed at how heavy he was.

The photo shoot took longer than the hunt. Gingy was proud as any grandparent would be to share such a special moment, whether that moment be her granddaughter’s dance recital or a first turkey. At the barn, Emma plucked a few barred feathers from the big bird’s wing’s as souvenirs, the tail fan and 8-inch beard were headed to the taxidermist to commemorate her first turkey. The long spurs were sharp as an ice pick. The meat would be soaked in milk and eggs, then rolled in a mix of flour, salt, pepper, paprika and corn flakes, fried until golden brown. Better than any fast food nuggets on the planet, according to Emma.