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DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

CAMPECHE, Mexico — The jungle wrapped itself around Marble Falls resident Bob Linder as he waited near an open field. In front of him, he could see about half a mile across the grain field. To his left and right, the trees and greenery converged only a few feet away.Linder held his shotgun at the ready as his guide, Marcos Joel, tried to bring in the one bird the hunter needed to earn his World Slam of turkey hunting.

“I had every other species, including the Goulds (turkey), I just needed the ocellated turkey, the most beautiful turkey in the world,” Linder said.

A hunter earns the World Slam honor by getting one of each of the six turkey species or subspecies. The North American subspecies are the Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern, Osceola and Gould’s, while the ocellated is considered a distinct turkey species. Four are found in the United States in huntable numbers, while the other two take hunters south of the border.

Linder began hunting turkey later in life — 55 to be exact — after he had taken down just about all the North American big-game species with the exception of the grizzly bear. But his brother told him he hadn’t truly hunted until he tried his hand at turkey hunting. And not just shooting turkeys with a high-powered rifle during the fall as the birds came into feeders.

No, his brother told Linder real turkey hunting means calling a gobbler in during the spring season.

At first, the experienced hunter scoffed at the idea that hunting this big, awkward bird could be a challenge, especially to someone with his outdoor experience.

Eventually, Linder succumbed to his brother’s “pestering” and gave spring turkey hunting a try.

“The challenge is tremendous. The rush of calling a bird within 15 to 20 paces so you can take it with a shotgun — there’s nothing in hunting like it,” Linder said. “I describe it as ‘mano y mano’ hunting, where it’s you and the turkey battling each other.”

Spring turkey hunting grew into one of Linder’s passion. Along with hunting, he is now an advocate for wild turkey and wild turkey habitat conservation through the National Wild Turkey Federation.

As a Texas resident, Linder lives smack-dab in the middle of some of the best turkey hunting in the nation. Central Texans are in the midst of the Rio Grande subspecies of the North American turkey’s range.

But Linder realized Texas is perfectly situated to hunt three of the subspecies.

“You have Merriam’s in the mountain in New Mexico, and you can hunt the Eastern (subspecies) in Missouri, Arkansas or Louisiana,” he said.

In the hunting world, a turkey hunter earns the Grand Slam by getting one of all four subspecies found in North America. This meant Linder needed to head east to Florida for the Osceola turkey, the only state the bird is found.

“One of the things I get so excited about hunting turkeys is you can hunt them in so many different states and so many different terrains,” Linder said. “Each one presents its own unique challenges. Every terrain requires its own gear and style of hunting.”

After gettting a Grand Slam, Linder then looked south to Mexico for his Royal Slam, which would require him hunting and killing a Gould’s turkey. Though a few are found in the extreme southern parts of Arizona and New Mexico, the population isn’t large enough to sustain hunting. Instead, Linder traveled to Durango, Mexico, to get his Gould’s.

“Hunting has really opened up a world to me because I have been able to travel to so many other places to hunt,” Linder said.

The Marble Falls resident didn’t really set out to get a World Slam. He just loved the challenge of the hunt and the adventure of the travel. But on a flight to Nashville a few years ago, a man tapped him on the shoulder after apparently noting Linder’s NWTF cap or other insignia denoting his devotion to turkey and turkey hunting.

The man turned out to be Jon McRoberts, a Texas Tech University graduate student.

McRoberts and Linder talked turkey on the flight. Eventually, the graduate student told Linder about the ocellated turkey and hunting opportunities in Campeche, Mexico. This species of turkey is limited to about 50,000 square miles on the Yucatan Peninsula.

So last year, Linder and his wife, along with several other hunters from the States, flew to Campeche. As the group was leaving their hotel in Merida for a three-and-a-half hour drive south to Snook Inn Outfitters in Campeche, Linder’s wife suffered a heart attack.

“We were fortunate that she had it just as we were getting in the car to go,” Linder said. “If it had been while we were in (hunting) camp, we wouldn’t have been anywhere near a hospital.”

Physicians treated her, and even put in a stint, before she returned to the States. The hunters were returning from Snook Inn’s camp just as the couple was getting ready to head home. Most of the hunters had killed an ocellated turkey.

Linder, undaunted, returned to Campeche in late March of this year, hoping to collect his final bird for a World Slam.

“It’s a very different bird,” he said of the ocellated species. “The gobblers don’t gobble, they sing. So the guide does a whistle to attract the gobblers.”

The ocellated turkey is much more colorful than its North American cousins. It features blue-green body feathers with “eyes” on its tail feathers. The species draws its name from the eye-like patterns on the tail feathers because “ocellated” comes from the Latin word for eye, “oculus.”

The guides also pattern the birds to where the turkeys enter and exit wide expanses of grain fields. These areas stretch a mile long and can be a mile wide, meaning there are plenty of places the turkeys can come and go. Without a knowledge of the birds’ movements, hunting the ocellated species would be next to impossible.

While hunting it, Linder, tucked back from the edge of the field, had to wait until the turkey came into a specific area because of visibility.

“You can only see what’s pretty much right out in front of you in the field,” he said. “If you look to your left or right, you could only see about (a few feet) because of the trees and vegetation.”

When the time came, Linder shouldered his shotgun and squeezed the trigger, his World Slam complete.

But Linder is far from done turkey hunting. This spring, he heads to New Mexico, where he’ll hunt another Merriam’s. Despite already taking 50 turkeys since his brother introduced him to the sport, Linder finds each hunt special and just like the first.

“A big part of hunting turkeys is just the challenge between the bird and you,” he said. “So the next one is just as exciting as the first one.”

daniel@thepicayune.com