As a Moapa Valley resident, Jerry Swanson knew where to look for wild turkeys long before his 2019 turkey tag for that area arrived in the mail. But it was his scouting efforts that became the real game changer.
“Living in the valley, I pretty much know where most of the turkeys are,” Swanson said. “So I just started doing some scouting. I saw a couple of double-bearders and every size turkey imaginable.”
Then, while poking around his friend’s farm, Swanson saw a turkey that changed the entire focus of his hunt.
“There was just this huge turkey on his place,” Swanson said. “When I went and talked to him about it, he said the turkey was about 12 years old. He gave me permission to hunt, but another guy that lives in the valley had the hunt the week before me. I had the last week.”
He wasn’t sure the big tom still would be there when his season opened.
The other hunter chased the bird for the duration of his one-week season, but he was unable to bag the bird. That left the door open for Swanson, but the big old gobbler didn’t get that way by being stupid.
“He was smart. He was sharp!” Swanson said as he reflected on his hunt. “That’s probably why he lived 12 years.”
During the four days he hunted the old gobbler, Swanson learned just how smart a mature bird can be. He shot a wild turkey in 2009, a young bird that came readily to Swanson’s call. But the old bird was having none of that.
“A couple of times I thought I had a bead on him and called him in,” Swanson said. “And as soon as he realized something was haywire, he’d just duck down like a pheasant would. I kid you not, he barrel crawled I bet a thousand yards or better to get to the river. And the next thing I see is this head popping up by the river, and I’m just amazed.”
As it turns out, the old gobbler was taking advantage of the tall mustard weed in the farm’s fields. Whenever something or somebody made him feel uncomfortable, the bird dropped below the height of the weeds and used them to cover his exit.
So wary was the old gobbler, that even while working a combination of slate and mouth calls with noisy hens all around, Swanson couldn’t speak the right combination of sweet turkey nothings needed to convince the old gobbler to close the distance or give up his position.
“Either my call was off, or he wasn’t expecting a new hen or something,” Swanson said. “He just wasn’t buying what I was throwing out there.”
Then came day four of the hunt.
“I scouted this turkey every day from the time I saw him, probably about a month, until my hunting season,” Swanson said. “I went every day at a different period of time, and I knew the turkey’s habits by heart almost. I kept a journal, kept writing down everything.”
On day four, Swanson did his own barrel crawling through the mustard weed and made his way to the spot where he knew the old gobbler should be at a certain time of day. Suddenly all of Swanson’s scouting and note-taking efforts paid off.
“Sure enough, he stayed right to his pattern,” Swanson said. “I’m not sure if he winded me or what, but he just dropped down and I’m thinking, ‘He’s gonna give me the sneak again.’”
For the next hour, Swanson and the old gobbler tested each other’s patience, each waiting for the other to give himself away. Then the bird suddenly showed his head above the weeds, and Swanson made the most of the opportunity.
Swanson’s perseverance was rewarded with a bird that looks to be the state record Rio Grande turkey. The old gobbler weighed in at 20 pounds, 4 ounces and sported a beard that measured 10.4 inches in length. His spurs were 1.4076 and 1.3065 inches. Plug those numbers into the National Wild Turkey Federation scoring calculator and Swanson’s turkey scores 68.191, besting the record by more than three points.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.