My father, brother and I make it a point to take at least one hunting trip each year together. We had been focusing on bagging an elk the last couple years as you may have seen from a few earlier posts. However, with babies on the way for my brother and I early this summer, we knew we had to get a hunt in early if the wives were going to let us go at all. Luckily, Florida’s turkey season opens early enough that some of us are still shoveling snow out of our driveways.
This year brought us to Osceola County, Florida to a wealth of public ground, hoping to tag our first Osceola. Those of you that have tried scouting an area you’ve never been know how nerve-racking it can be. Especially when you associate everything in Florida with a beach and/or swamp. Luckily for outsiders like ourselves there is a ton of information online regarding what areas to hunt. After making a couple calls to the local property managers, we focused our sights on two close-by WMAs. Oddly enough, despite this picturesque gator and python-infested swamp image I had in my head, they said to focus our efforts around water and we’ll find birds. I guess the Merriam’s in Nebraska and Osceolas have more in common than I thought.
We made it to the area we were staying mid-day Friday, one day before the season opened, with hopes that a little scouting would put us on some birds early. The long drive and the hospitality at the Desert Inn slightly delayed us getting out to the property, but we quickly dropped my dad off at the first location as Brett and I took off to some of the promising areas we saw on satellite images.
Holy palmettos. The first location that we had scoped out turned out to be a vast, chest-high palmetto field instead of the lush green pasture it looked like from above. Even if a bird was stupid enough to be in that stuff, we would undoubtedly spook it as you couldn’t move six inches without waking up the woods. Although we didn’t hear anything roost nearby, dad could hear some fly up where he was scouting, so we planned to focus our efforts there the first morning.
Bright and early Saturday morning dad and I were set up, bows in blind with our DSD spread out ahead of us. While we had bumped into a couple of groups of hunters on the way in, we felt as if we had a pretty good vantage point along the backside of a cypress dome. As the sun peeked over the hillside the woods came alive with gobbles from about 200-300 yards away. There were so many gobbles causing shock gobbles, causing shock gobbles that it was difficult to tell how many toms/jakes were there, but there were easily 6-8 in the same general area. We could tell they flew down closer towards us, and our hearts started racing… we knew this was going to be a quick morning…
A couple of hours later after the birds stopped sounding off we realized that this was going to be harder than we initially thought. The four hunters that walked within earshot of our spread was a rude awakening that this was going to be a little different from our Nebraska trips. In all four years I’d been out to Nebraska hunting public ground I’d bumped into less folks than I saw in this first morning. By 1:30PM we were back at the truck, the opening day leaving us hungry for more.
The pressure noticeably got to the birds. We tried roosting that night but did not hear a peep, despite hearing some fly up. We decided the following day it would be a good time to change tactics; split up and shut up.
I ditched the blind and traveled a little lighter the second morning, only carrying my bow, a little pop-up umbrella blind and my DSD Jake and Leading Hen. Early on I heard a couple gobbles, but they were hundreds of yards away with numerous other hunters between myself and that bird. As the morning got older and the wind picked up I saw several hunters walking back to the path to head back home. Naturally, I went the other way to see if had pushed any birds that direction.
While I didn’t see any turkeys, that morning allowed me to do some much-needed scouting to get the lay of the land. I picked out the spot I planned on sitting the next morning, in the event we didn’t roost any that evening. On the way back to the truck, I ended up seeing two toms crossing the firebreak we had walked in on at about 90 yards. That was my first male Osceola I got to see while hunting, and man does that get your blood pumping! Given my brother got up-close-and-personal with the both of them, I’ll let him tell you the details.
The next morning I decided to bring a shotgun given my father opted for his bow. I set up at the mouth of a small clearing that opened between two wooded low spots that seemed like prime roosting areas. The clearing was just wide enough that I could shoot to the other side, but also gave me an option should a bird come skirting along the edge outside the clearing. My brother set up on the opposite side of the creek between us, hoping we’d get a crack at any bird following this wood line. The past few nights of staying out late, putting the birds to bed, and getting up early were getting to me and I was starting to nod off…
GOBBLEGOBBLEGOBBLEGOBBLE! I was instantly wide awake as if I’d just stuck an espresso IV in my arm. The bird was roosted not too far from the back edge of the clearing, maybe 150 yards away. He stayed up on the roost for less than five minutes before firing off once he hit the ground. I picked up my slate and let out a quick yelp to catch his attention followed by a few soft, drawn out purrs. I could hear Brett’s calls through the woods, which caused the bird to fire off again. As I reached down to put my slate on the bare earth beside me, I saw a red head pop up at my 9 o’clock at about 60 yards away and freeze. He cautiously made his way towards my decoys, all while looking back towards the direction of my brother’s yelps. Silently I screamed in my head for Brett to stop calling, hoping that brotherly ESP is an actual thing. At about fifty yards, I saw the tom’s demeanor change and he quickly ran off in the direction opposite of the calls.
The rest of the day followed very similar to the last. I did end up seeing three more toms, two of them in roughly the same area we saw them the day before… on the main firebreak almost every hunter uses as their entry and exit. We didn’t try to roost that evening, opting to try our luck fishing instead. Even with only one day of hunting left, we all needed a break from the monotony to recharge our batteries.
As it was day two of the workweek and the weekend warriors had headed home I had hoped the birds would be getting back to their usual routines. Knowing it was a slim chance, I decided to try the same place and setup as the day before. However, this time I would not let myself be caught unprepared. I made a makeshift blind out of some sticks the direction he came, as well as cleared the ground facing that spot so I could quickly shift in his direction if he was talkative. As soon as I’m set up I heard leaves rustling as if something was running my direction; safety off! In the pale moonlight I could see a family of two large wild pigs, followed by five, dog-sized piglets run through the clearing at about twenty yards. They curled back around behind me, slowly feeding within ten yards. Heart racing, the entire time I expected one to lean around the tree and sniff me. Thankfully they worked their way out into the field to my right; safety on.
Around daybreak I heard a turkey fire off in the same direction as yesterday, but unfortunately, a lot further away. I quickly switched positions, ranging landmarks to determine what my max range would be. Given the bird responded to the yelp/purr combo the day before, I let out a loud yelp followed by the loudest purrs I could possibly make. I gave it another fifteen minutes before I tried some additional purrs, softer this time in case he had closed the distance.
Another five minutes passed until I saw a head pop up in almost the exact same place I saw him the day before. I slowly waited as he approached, hopeful he could not see the adrenaline-fueled excitement that caused my legs to twitch. Given the other hunters in the area, and the close-call from Monday, I was not going to take a chance on my first Osceola. As soon as he got within range I slowly squeezed the trigger, dropping him. Since he was 40+ yards away, I decided to chase him down to guarantee he did not get away. Little did I know he had company, as another tom took off running as I approached. My first Osceola in the bag – and first turkey with a shotgun to boot – I gave myself some time to reflect and appreciate how tough yet rewarding the week had been.
With much of our last day left to hunt, and the truck about two miles away, I figured the best thing I could do would be to sit somewhere with visibility and glass for the others. Nestled back in a bunch of palmetto, I sat overlooking a massive, open oak canopy. After I sat for about ten minutes, I heard light, fast-paced footsteps quickly coming my way. Around the edge of the palmetto, about 8 yards away, out popped a tom running full speed. He took off flying shortly after passing me, which left me unsure if he somehow saw me or was being chased by something. Unsure of what was coming, I brought my shotgun up. Footsteps again, much more of them, but this time they weren’t as hurried. Out popped one, two, three, four, five, six, seven jakes; each of them beak-level with my barrel at about seven yards as they walked off to my right… I couldn’t help but smile.
- 14 lbs.
- 10″ beard
- 3/4″ spurs
- Remington 870 Wingmaster
- Hoyt Carbon Spyder Turbo – 70# 28.5″draw length
- Spot Hogg Hunter – Seven Deadly Pins
- Gold Tip Velocity Pro 340 arrows
- Firenock nocks and Aerovane II vanes
- Carter Too Simple release
- Grim Reaper broadheads – 125gr Whitetail Special
- DSD decoys – Jake, Submissive, Upright and Feeding Hen.
- HECS Stealthscreen
- Sitka Gear
- Benchmade HUNT Knives
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