As the crow flies, it’s 1,990 miles from my residence in Bucksport, Maine, to the Cuatro Semanas Ranch in Uvalde County, Texas. This is exactly where I found myself on the morning of April 8, stepping out into the unexpected cold darkness with my guide, Tom Aasbo, in hopes of catching a long Rio Grande beard.
After a short drive to the nearby El Nopal Ranch, we settled at the base of a mesquite tree, just above a dry creek bed. In the pre-dawn light, we waited in silence, listening to a dozen or more excited gobblers ring out again and again. I hadn’t heard anything like this before in the turkey forests and as Tom let out a few soft squeals just before the flight, a series of loud, immediate gurgles assured me I was about to experience something. quite special.
Last September, I received an invitation from Dave Hentosh, President and Founder of The Veterans Afield Foundation and owner of Smoldering Lake Outfitters in Bridgewater, Maine, to attend an April Rio Grande turkey hunt at the ranch. The hunt was organized through the nonprofit foundation, which has a mission to promote healing through outdoor experiences for at-risk and disabled veterans, first responders and Gold families. Star. Given my recent experiences at the abrupt end of a 15-year career in law enforcement, the foundation felt that I could benefit from some time to dodge cacti and rattlesnakes while chasing long beards under the hot Texas sun, a challenge I accepted humbly but more than gladly.
Two very generous and hospitable ranchers, Mike Weeks of Cuatro Semanas Ranch and Cole Evans of El Nopal Ranch, have both opened their doors, graciously allowing exclusive hunting access to their beautiful properties. Mike has arranged for us to stay at his guest house, which for me will be the most impressive and beautiful hunting ‘camp’ I will ever stay at. Walls adorned with world-class whitetail deer and a bull elk, floors covered in tanned cowhide, and a rustic feel that screamed the old west. It was a special place where I spent time with very special people.
We joined two U.S. Army veterans wounded in action at camp: Major Joe Bogart and Major Jonathan Turnbull, both of whom were blinded by their injuries and whose stories of courage and perseverance will forever resonate in my mind. awareness. A film crew from Mossy Oak was also in camp, two good old southern guys who were there to feature Major Bogart and Major Turnbull in their Honor Series videos. These videos will soon be visible online and will include both their successful hunts as well as their poignant and inspiring stories.
In the early morning light, I whispered to Tom, seeking confirmation of my estimated distance to a few landmarks. After a brief pause, Tom’s response was simple and profound; “Anywhere you can see here, you can shoot.”
I quickly realized that Tom was a sage and that I was in good hands. Calm, polite and resolute, he chooses to listen more than he speaks, but when he does, what he has to say carries weight and meaning. Plain and simple, the man knows what he’s talking about in the woods. He says it honestly, having been a Maine guide since the 1980s and owner of Maine’s Oxbow Lodge from 1996 to 2010 before moving his wife Tracey and daughters Madeline and Annika to Texas where for years he helped manage the famous Catarosa Ranch in the south. Texas, paradise for deer hunters.
A few moments of silence interrupted the chaotic orchestra, signaling that the birds had touched the ground. Tom continued his expert call and within minutes the first Rio Grande turkey I had ever seen appeared. A curious but wary old hen, her head on a swivel, made her way down the dusty dirt road, stopping long enough to spot us, and the alarm set her back where she had come from. Gun ready, I waited, fixed on an area offering the first glimpse of whatever might come next on the road.
So there he was. A beautiful long beard from the Rio Grande. Full strut and larger than life, his wingtips dragged hard on the ground as I found him in my sights. About 40 yards out he strutted out, looking for his next conquest. Tom whispered “take him away.”
As my ears rang from the shot, I was surprised to see the bird take flight and then land a few feet away in the woods. We watched it for several minutes and determined that a second shot was necessary. At the shot, the gobbler turned around again and fled into the bushes. Confused and anxious, we located the bird alive but barely, in a patch of thorny bushes that I cannot adequately describe and where no man should go. Not one to be deterred by a few thorns, I went in and dispatched the old warrior with reinforcement from Tom.
And just like that, there I was, holding the most beautiful turkey I’d ever seen, in a place I’d only dreamed of, and with a man I’ll forever call my friend. Hunting is an amazing thing. He tests and challenges. It relaxes and teaches. It sticks and solidifies. Sometimes it frustrates and disappoints, but for me, as I watched my first sunrise in Texas, it healed and helped and for that I will always be grateful.