Jake Time: A Land Filled With Rio Grande Youngsters

Jakes.

In 20 years of turkey hunting, I’d never heard or seen so many jakes. Or been so fooled by so many of them. Big, brawny jakes, their gobbles loud and booming like mature toms. Many of these jakes strutted, too, had hens with them and at a distance looked and sounded just like their fathers.

But once my hunting partner, Eddie Stevenson and I, eased in closer or pulled them in with calls? We saw the skinny necks, minimal snoods, tiny waddles, and stubby beards sticking out of their breast feathers.

Jakes.

McCombie saw dozens of Rio jakes, similar to this Rio jake decoy made by Avian-X on his recent West Texas hunt.

We were hunting Rio Grande turkeys in West Texas, just north of Rotan with Hargrove Hunts, on over 40,000 acres of private ranch-lands straddling various forks of the Brazos River. The lands were a mixture of mesquite flats studded with prickly pear cactus, large cottonwood “parks,” the tall trees shading clumps of tall, willowy grasses, and rock-strewn hills and gullies sporting cedar and stunted oaks.

On a recent West Texas hunt for a Rio Grande tom, McCombie found himself in the middle of the largest number of big, brawny jakes he’d ever seen.

The jakes started fooling me right from that first morning, their booming gobbles echoing through the mesquite.

“Get ready,” Stevenson told me, that morning, and numerous other times during our three days of hunting.

I brought up my Remington 870 DM Predator 12 gauge, made sure the new Trijicon MRO HD optic was set at the right illumination and scanned the underbrush for my Rio tom. 

McCombie’s friend and fellow turkey hunter Eddie Stevenson calling a West Texas Rio Grande.

By their gobbles, many of these turkeys simply moved in a different direction. A common enough situation for turkey hunters. But several times, I saw that flick of movement, the turkey head bobbing in the brush, felt my heart rate accelerate as I tightened my grip on my shotgun.

Only to watch a red-headed jake pop out of the underbrush.

At first, I figured these jakes were in the lead, with a big tom or two trailing. So, I kept myself ready for Big Tom. But he never showed.

Big Rios were here, though they seemed a bit jake “shy.”

Eventually, Stevenson and I figured out that we were smack in the middle of the largest gathering of Rio jakes we’d ever seen. 

And it was getting damn frustrating.

Like the third morning of our hunt, a bright and clear dawn, with Stevenson and I set up on the edge of a swath of cottonwoods. We’d found a roost tree a couple of hundred yards from the edge of the trees the day before, figured this was our chance at a tom.

And he and his fellows seemed to be there that AM, booming away in the dark on the roost tree, and then swooshing down as the sun rose over the horizon. We couldn’t see the big birds, but they were noisy and easy to locate, a hundred yards ahead of us and behind a screen of grasses and brush. Stevenson called to them, interspersing clucks and with the occasional yelp. A Rio hen answered, her clucks getting closer until she appeared and made her way towards us.

Behind her, I saw the edges of tail feathers held high, the male Rios strutting. I brought up my shotgun, expecting the strutting toms to follow the hen and give me a wide-open shot.

And I had the shot opportunity. At three big jakes, each of them strutting and following the hen.

“Damn, this really sucks,” I said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Stevenson admitted. “What the hell?”

I was in West Texas at the invitation of Trijicon which had recently introduced the company’s newest optic, the MRO HD 1×25 Red Dot Sight with a 3x Magnifier. Trijicon launched its reflex-style MRO a few years ago.  However, Trijicon re-engineered the objective lens on the MRO HD to produce a refined 2.0 MOA center dot surrounded by a 68 MOA segmented circle reticle. The ambidextrous reticle and brightness control allows the user to choose between a full reticle or center dot only.

For this hunt, McCombie used Trijicon’s new MRO HD red dot, upgraded with an improved reticle, and optimized for use with a magnifier.

The MRO HD was also optimized for use with Trijicon’s 3X magnifier. And the two work very well together (I am working on a formal review of the combo now), but I didn’t really need the magnifier for turkey hunting and left it off for this hunt.

In preparation for West Texas, I mounted the MRO HD on my Remington 870 DM Predator and zeroed the rig at my local range. The MRO HD provided very clear images, while the optic’s controls moved my 12-gauge’s point of impact easily. The reticle features eight brightness settings, and I was able to adjust the illumination just right whether I was shooting in overcast conditions, bright sun, or in between.

I began my shooting with the MRO HD reticle set on the single center dot but soon found that the 2.0 MOA center dot surrounded by the segmented circle was my best option for turkey hunting. I was using Primos VisiTargets and I discovered that all I really needed to do (once I was zeroed) was to place the inside top of the segmented circle atop the turkey’s head and the pellets patterned right into the bird’s head and neck vital zones.

The reticle on the MRO HD can be either a single red dot or a red dot surrounded by a segmented circle, as shown here.

The 870 DM Predator was introduced by Remington late in 2017, a magazine-fed version of the workhorse 870 pump-action shotgun in 12 gauge. It sports a Kryptek finish, was available with three- and six-round magazines, and came with an extra-full turkey choke and a “Boar Blaster” choke for use with buckshot. Mine has accounted for a handful of tom turkeys.   

Unfortunately, Remington recently stopped production of the 870 DM line, I was told recently by the company’s media manager. Which surprised me, as the 870 DM hunting and tactical models are actually first-rate shotguns.

The Remington 870 DM Predator is a magazine-fed version of Remington’s workhorse 870 shotgun platform, shown here with the optional six-round magazine.

For ammunition, I relied on Federal Premium’s TSS shells, the three-inch version holding 1 ¾-ounces of #7 tungsten pellets. At my practice sessions, the TSS, 870 DM, and MRO HD combination put an average of # 20 pellets into the vital zone at 25 yards.

Federal Premium’s TSS 12 -gauge turkey loads put approximately 20 pellets into a turkey target vital zone at 25 yards.

The last afternoon of the hunt, Stevenson and I set up in a mesquite flat several hundred yards up from the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River. Stevenson placed a hen decoy on the rough two-track road some 25 yards ahead of me, and we sat back-to-back against a clump of gnarled cedar.

The last day of his hunt found McCombie set up in mesquite and cedar near the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River, waiting on a tom.

Stevenson made occasional calls into the mesquite…while I fought to stay awake. In addition to the Five AM wake-ups for turkeys, I’d been hunting hogs at night, well past midnight, and the few hours of sleep was taking a toll. In fact, sitting in a very low hunting chair and quite comfortable, I was drifting off when Stevenson whisper something.

“What?”

“Hen coming up from behind,” Stevenson replied. “Stay sharp.”

“I’m ready,” I lied, took a deep breath to try to wake up.

Soon, I heard clucking, and the hen moved past me on my right, not ten yards away, heading right for the decoy. Which she took an instant disliking to, began pecking at the decoy, then swooped up on the decoy’s back and raked it with her clawed toes.

“Here they come,” Stevenson whispered.

I kept craning my neck around to my right, figuring the toms would be following the hen. Nothing but grass and mesquite trunks. Then Stevenson began frantically hissing at me, “Take ‘em! Come on!”

Take what? I thought to myself, the area the hen had come through open and clear of birds, the hen herself still beating on the decoy.

“Where are they?”

“Your left!”

I turned my head left, slowly. A tom was strutting his way down the two-track and aiming for the live hen and the decoy. He was flanked by two jakes.  

I raised the 870 DM off my knees and put the MRO HD’s segmented reticle on an open space between branches where the tom would pass. But just before he got there, the tom stopped and gobbled loudly, and then sprang ahead, giving me no time to shoot.

I shifted my shotgun over towards the hen and decoy, just past the black trunk of a mesquite tree, waited for a few heartbeats. The tom stepped into the open, stood broadside, but with his head tucked down into his shoulders. He pivoted a bit, right then left, unsure of the situation before him as the live hen kept beating the heck out of the decoy. The two jakes behind him had their red heads extended, also curious.

And then the tom turned and faced me. His head was still tucked in, hunkered down towards his breast. But remembering the practice I’d done back home, and figuring the distance at just a little over 20 yards, I placed the top of the segmented circle just over the head of the tom, let out my breath and pulled the trigger on the 870 DM.

McCombie with his Rio Grande tom at the end of a long hunt.

Several seconds of chaos ensued as the hen and jakes squawked and yelped and launched out of the area, while the tom flapped and flopped and kicked up a whirling cloud of West Texas dust.

And damned if my tom wasn’t some sort of jake-tom cross. Yes, he’d strutted and boomed like a mature tom. Had the head and neck colorations of a tom, too. Yet, his spurs were nothing but nubs. He also sported a dink main beard, not even four inches long. At the same time, though, he had three beards, a first for me, tiny though beards #2 and #3 were.

None of the tom’s beards were very long, but he had three of them—a first for McCombie in 20 years of turkey hunting.

“What the heck is going on with these toms and jakes?” I asked. 

“I have no clue,” Stevenson said. “But I can tell you one thing for darn sure.”

“Make it good.”

“With all these huge jakes running around here? Next year is going to be tom turkey bonanza when those punks put on another year.”

No doubt, Stevenson was right. Which will likely have me back turkey hunting West Texas Rio Grandes next spring with Hargrove Hunting.

Given the huge crop of big jakes he found here in West Texas with Hargrove Hunts, McCombie expects to be back next year to chase what should be a booming population of mature toms.

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About the author: Brian McCombie writes about hunting and firearms, people and places, for a variety of publications including American Hunter, Shooting Illustrated, and SHOT Business. He loves hog hunting, 1911’s chambered in 10MM and .45 ACP, and the Chicago Bears.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Bobs your uncle May 22, 2020, 9:41 am

    I t doesn’t surprise me that the Wild Turkey, was once considered as the national symbol, by Benjamin Franklin.

    • Richard May 22, 2020, 9:09 pm

      Ben Franklin was a lot smarter that you think and the word for today my man is he just considered it . that was it. I love our American founding fathers , and i love our President Trump

  • Kevin Calongne May 5, 2020, 9:47 am

    We had the same Jake problem this year on our ranch near Camp Wood, TX. It ought to be a great season next year.

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