As the strangest turkey season ever continues to unfold during the current coronavirus pandemic, hunters able to get out to their hunting grounds continue to make the most of opportunities presented this spring.
With hunting and fishing activities able to continue in both Texas and Oklahoma this spring despite the COVID-19 crisis, the spring turkey season that is winding towards its conclusion seems to have been a solid hunting campaign so far.
“This season was a good one,” said Dakota Stowers, owner and lead guide for North Texas Outfitters.
Stowers, who along his wife Summer welcomed their first-born son into the world a few days ago, said the season is now complete for his outfitting service, which chases turkeys in south-central Oklahoma.
“We ended up with 24 turkeys this year,” said Stowers. “I’d give this season a solid B+ grade.”
“It wasn’t the best season we’ve had because of all of the flooding back in 2018,” he continued. “Because of that, we only killed one two-year old bird this year (reflecting the poor hatch in 2018).
“But we did see tons of jakes this year (after a great hatch in 2019), more than I’ve ever seen. So, I’m expecting next season to be top notch!”
Stowers said that while the outfitting business has certainly been made more challenging this year because of COVID-19 and the various regulations brought about by the virus, in some ways, he expects there to be a long-term bump for his outfitting business in the years to come.
“We had a bunch of first-time turkey hunters this spring, due ironically enough, to the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “Some of our clients that were already booked were unfortunately forced to cancel their trips, which left me scrolling through my call list. I was able to talk some guys into giving turkey hunting a try with us, and it worked out well. I think they’re now hooked on the sport and will be hunting turkeys in the spring from now on.”
Local turkey hunter Jim Lillis of Sherman understands being hooked on the sport, having spent many springs out on his lease in the Sweetwater area. He ventured west late last week to practice some social distancing from everything but spring gobblers. The end result was one of his most memorable hunts in years.
Last Thursday, he had a great afternoon hunt, using his Cody slate call and a Scott Basehore custom box call to lure in a hefty double bearded gobbler that sported one-inch spurs.
The next day, he called in an old longbeard with sharp 1 ¼-inch spurs for former Sherman resident Jim Short, one of Lillis’ longtime hunting lease partners and a resident of the Fort Worth area these days.
On Saturday morning, Lillis was able to go out again, bagging another great tom with good spurs and a beard of just under 10-inches.
“All of those longbeards were really heavy, some of the heaviest we’ve shot out on our lease in a long time,” said Lillis. “I wish I had a scale to know exactly what they weighed, but they were in good shape and will eat good.”
While the COVID-19 crisis scrubbed some other turkey hunting plans that Lillis had for this spring, he was still happy that he was able to get in one good hunt on his lease out in West Texas.
“It was one of the best turkey hunts I’ve had in several years,” he said. “It was kind of strange though to stop at one of the big truck stops out on the Interstate and find it almost deserted.”
Stowers and Lillis aren’t the only ones able to find turkey hunting success during this current spring season, social distancing requirements or not.
Locally, the father-and-son hunting team of Jamie and Tanner Legg posted an exciting hunt on social media that showed the tagging of a huge gobbler earlier this week. The longbeard responded to the pair’s Ridge Rocker Turkey Calls and put on quite a show around a decoy before going down, on Tanner’s birthday no less.
Sporting a nearly 12-inch long beard, long hooked spurs, and a hefty weight, it was a memorable hunt for the two, a bird that is quite likely one of the best wild turkeys ever harvested in Grayson County.
A memorable spring gobbler for sure, no matter what year it was taken in.
But coming in the spring of 2020, it’s undoubtedly a longbeard that the father-and-son duo will remember for years to come in a season that is unlike any other.