While hunting, fishing, and boating restrictions are hampering the rush of outdoorsmen eager to enjoy the woods and waters of America this spring, getting outside remains entirely possible on both sides of the Red River.
While state officials in Texas and Oklahoma are reminding hunters and anglers to continue observing the six-foot social distancing requirements and group size restrictions now required, outdoors recreation has at least remained possible over the last several weeks.
In fact, on the north side of the Red River, the spring season has brought a near brush with record book status thanks to a huge gobbler taken this past week by hunter Shellie Rowlett.
While Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has ordered 14 days of quarantine for hunters entering his state from places where significant community transmission of the coronavirus has occurred, only hunters from California, Connecticut, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, and Washington are affected at the moment.
That meant that Rowlett, who lives in Tennessee, was able to travel and hunt this week in the Sooner State after booking a spring trip with Dakota Stowers and his North Texas Outfitters guiding group.
Stowers, who along with his wife Summer welcomed their first child into the world a few days ago, said that Rowlett’s hunt was certainly one to remember, and not just for happening in the year of COVID-19.
“We were able to get her on a huge turkey, one that may end up being the second best longbeard ever harvested by a woman in the state of Oklahoma,” said Stowers. “It was a huge gobbler with a 12-inch long beard, one-inch spurs on each side, and a massive weight of 25-pounds.”
That’s indeed a big Rio Grande gobbler, regardless of what side of the Red River a hunter happens to be on.
Stowers said that so far this spring, his group has guided hunters to 23 gobblers on properties in south-central Oklahoma. But this big longbeard didn’t bother reading the usual script, proving to be a very hard to get gobbler that fell closer to lunchtime than it did first light when birds fly down from the roost.
“I was at the hospital with my wife and little man,” said Stowers, who noted that guides Trevor Redpath and Luke Soules made sure this hunt happened for Mrs. Rowlett and her husband Aaron.
“But as I understand it, they saw the gobbler from a long way off and made about a one-mile loop around him to get set-up,” he added. “The bird was henned up but slowly worked their way, responding to the Talking Stick Game Calls we’re using this spring.”
Keep in mind, that when the NTO guide said the bird slowly made his way in the direction of the hunter, he means S-L-O-W-L-Y and then some.
“He wouldn’t come out of strut for almost an hour as he closed the last 200 yards,” said Stowers. “They said he probably gobbled about 50 times at least.”
Finally, the big gobbler couldn’t stand it any longer and closed the final yards of distance as he homed in on the Avian-X decoys that were set up.
Rowlett, who had tried to crawl into position to get close enough to take the bird, had to improvise on the shot opportunity that came as the longbeard finally moved closer.
“She had to raise up slowly from her belly to her knees to shoot,” said Stowers. “She was able to get into position and smoked that gobbler at 15-yards!”
The Rowlett gobbler appears to be one of the best ever taken in the Sooner State. In fact, when the turkey’s beard length, spur lengths, and weight is added together in the National Wild Turkey Federation's (www.nwtf.org) scoring system, the potential score of Rowlett's bird is 69.0000 in the "Typical Turkey" category.
If those numbers are approved by the NWTF, that's good enough to qualify as the apparent No. 30 all-time typical turkey in Oklahoma history as well as the No. 2 women's typical turkey for the Sooner State.
Incidentally, the current state record typical turkey in the NWTF's "Turkey Records Database" is a bird scoring 81.5000, a Grady, Okla. longbeard taken by Earl Morris, Jr. on April 28, 2002. The current women's state record typical turkey for Oklahoma is a gobbler scoring 72.5625, a longbeard taken by April Cole on April 11, 2015 in Stephens County.
Rowlett's turkey's beard length of 12-inches would be sixth in Oklahoma history and second in the NWTF’s women’s records category. Joe Mullican owns the state record with a gobbler’s beard length of 15.3750-inches, a longbeard taken on April 7, 2001 in Beckham, Okla. The women's record turkey beard length is 12.2500 inches from a gobbler taken by Judy Kimery in Roger Mills, Okla. on April 12, 2008.
Finally, Rowlett's bird is the apparent ninth heaviest Rio Grande turkey in Oklahoma history, falling behind the overall record of 29.0625-pounds held by April Cole, the Stephens County gobbler mentioned above, a longbeard that was taken on April 11, 2015.
Undoubtedly, Rowlett will remember her 2020 Oklahoma longbeard for many years to come. And not just for the coronavirus pandemic either, thanks to an epic spring hunt that produced some excellent wild table fare as well as memories that will last a hunter’s lifetime.
Even in a spring season when little else seems to be going right.