Rios of the Rolling Plains

Triangulating Texas Turkeys Among Mesquite And Rattlesnakes

 By John Geiger, Managing Editor SAFARI Magazine

This story was originally published in the March-April 2023 issue of SAFARI Magazine.

The Rolling Plains region of north-central Texas is a vast, open landscape that holds substantial populations of cattle, rattlesnakes and Rio Grande turkeys. I found all three on a 2022 hunt there, but it was the turkeys I was after. 

This region is made up of arid, scrubland country, scoured by erosion, dry creeks and mesquite flats. Low oaks and junipers dot the hills. Tall cottonwoods and elms line any creek brave enough to have water. 

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife study, Rios in the Rolling Hills ecological area stay within ¾-mile of running water. So riparian areas are where you’re most likely to find turkeys around here. The other spot, whether you like it or not, is by a feeder, if the ranch supplements their forage. 

The Franchi Affinity 3 was topped with a Trijicon SRO sight and patterned well with Federal Third Degree and Tungsten TSS loads. In case you were wondering, no, that is not rust between the base and the receiver. It’s Texas red dirt, which got on everything.

Triangulate water, roost trees and forage and you may just have a Grand Central Station of Rio Grandes, one of the five North American wild turkey subspecies and the most numerous in Texas. 

That’s what I did, although it took me a few days to figure it out. First, I hunted in my usual Eastern-style, run and gun fashion. But that fell short. 

You see, on Day 1 and 2, I had used my crow call to locate gobblers, and then a hen call to try to bring them close. It works at home east of the Mississippi, and it was fun pursuing them through what looked like a John Ford movie set. But these birds were at least as wary as the Eastern subspecies, and they left me scratching my head after two days in the heat. 

On Day 3, a light bulb lit up when I saw a parade of turkey tracks heading away from a river. I followed them and it led me to the feeder. Like an army, a large flock of turkeys would march from the cottonwoods to the corn every morning. 

Hunter Doug Howlett and a fine Rio Grande turkey in northwest Texas.

I went Western. The next day, I set up near the popular route, and put my decoy about 50 yards away. At least I could make it a challenge by calling them away from their morning march and toward my lonely hen. 

But it wasn’t going to be a gimme. The sparse scrub left me out in the open, and I would have to make a quick shot if a gobbler showed up. Thankfully I was using a red-dot sight, which I’ve found makes snap shooting a breeze. I had been in this situation before. 

A skittish turkey suddenly popped up out of the brush nearby. He came in toward my decoy. His head was on a swivel, and he looked like he would lift off and head out at any second. And, of course, he didn’t come in exactly where I expected him to. 

A beautiful evening vista at a Hargrove Hunts ranch near Lubbock, Texas.

I had to throw the gun to my cheek quickly, acquire the bird and send a load down range before he realized the danger. That’s where a red-dot excels. 

It also happened in Missouri years ago when I was hunting with a guide. We plopped down in thick stuff near a pasture. The guide had said something to the effect that if I didn’t get a shot off in time, he’d back me up. Thanks, but no thanks. 

As the bird arrived, I realized there was a sapling right in front of me that prevented me from swinging my barrel to the left for the shot. With the guide breathing down my neck, I pulled the shotgun back, swung it left so it didn’t hit the tree in front of me, and pushed it out toward the tom that was surprised by the movement. 

I found him in the red-dot in a split-second and pulled the trigger. The guide reluctantly congratulated me as the turkey flopped. With iron sights or a scope, I might not have been able to get an accurate shot off. With a red-dot, it was easy. 

There are a lot of good red-dot sights out there, but Trijicon has a reputation for producing some of the best. I used a Trijicon SRO, which stands for Specialized Reflex Optic. It’s small and durable and comes in 1, 2.5 or 5 MOA options.

This is a welcome variation to the company’s well-known RMR. The RMR has a square frame, which makes it extremely strong, but the newer SRO gives the shooter a larger window than the RMR. A larger field of view means faster target acquisition.

In all, everything worked out well in Texas. There’s nothing like the feeling of hunting alone and successfully harvesting your targeted species. I sat in that dusty basin, stroking the copper tail feathers, examining the spurs and beard, and looking over every inch of that fine Rio gobbler.

The fan would later find its way to my office wall. The breast would be grilled and the legs and thighs that carried this big bird around the Texas hills would be slow-cooked and shredded for taco Tuesdays back at home. Perhaps most importantly, the memories of walking and stalking the Rolling Plains will remain with me always.

With two tags, you’d think I would have rinsed-and-repeated my success. Apparently, I am as stubborn as a mule. My friend Doug Howlett of Virginia and I decided to head out together to run and gun. Some guys never learn. While I enjoyed Howlett’s company on our Eastern-style hunt on that last day, we never did strike a gobbler, but neither of us seemed to mind.

The author used a Primos Photoform hen decoy to divert the tom to an open area in a river bottom for a clear shot.
This addition to your gear bag is a very good idea. Of course, they say the best thing to have on you if you’re bit by a rattlesnake is your car keys so you can get to a hospital fast.

Rios are not known to have the longest spurs, but these hooks indicate a mature gobbler.

Wild Turkey Pho 

By Ryan Sparks, Associate Editor SAFARI Magazine

A wild turkey pho is a great way to utilize the thighs and legs, it transforms the usually tough legs and thighs into tender and tasty meat. Photo by Ryan Sparks

For those unfamiliar, pho (rhymes with duh) is a Vietnamese noodle soup. A rich, clear broth is paired with rice noodles, meat and plenty of herbs. Pho was popularized throughout the world, and especially in the U.S. and Canada, by refugees after the Vietnam War. Pho is an excellent way to transform wild turkey legs and thighs into tender bits of meat that are then added to an enriched stock. 

Yield: Serves 6 

Time: 1 hour of active cooking, 4-6 hours of waiting. 


  • 2 wild turkey legs and thighs 
  • 2 yellow onions, roughly chopped 
  • 1 (4-inch) piece of ginger, sliced into thick coins 
  • 12 cups turkey or chicken stock, homemade if you have it 
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce 
  • 1 star anise pod 
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar 
  • 1 (1-pound) package dried rice noodles 
  • 1 small bunch Thai basil (or a variety of basil) 
  • 2 jalapenos, thinly sliced 
  • 2 limes, quartered 
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped cilantro leaves and stems 
  • 1 bunch thinly sliced scallions 


1. Place turkey thighs and legs in a slow cooker and barely cover with water or stock. Set the heat to high and cook until the meat easily separates from the bone (around 5 hours). 

2. When the meat is nearly done, cook the onions and ginger in a dry pan over high heat until they are charred. 

3. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, combine onions, ginger, stock, fish sauce, star anise and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for around 45 minutes. While the stock is simmering, remove the meat from the slow cooker, let it cool slightly and shred it with your hands or two forks, making sure to remove all bones and tendons. 

4. Cook the rice noodles according to the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside. 

5. Remove onions, ginger and the star anise pod from the pot. Add the shredded turkey meat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Taste the soup for salt and add more fish sauce if it needs more salt. 

6. Arrange the limes, basil and sliced jalapeno on a platter and set on the table. 

7. Divide rice noodles, cilantro and scallions evenly among large soup bowls, then ladle the hot stock over the top, making sure each bowl gets an ample portion of turkey. Serve immediately accompanied by the platter of garnishes. Remember the hunt.