What makes a great Public Lands- Osceola Turkey hunt?...hint- it may have nothing to do with a trophy bird.
Osceola Turkey hunting on Florida's public lands can be challenging, frustrating, exciting and everything in between. And most often, you end your hunt, without bagging a turkey but having learned something and experienced some new territory.
It was with many years of hard earned public land Osceola Turkey hunting experience that I invited my 15 year old nephew who had never been turkey hunting on public land nor bagged a turkey, to join me on opening day of the 2019 Spring season.
We set out at 4:30 AM on our way to a WMA near Cedar Key FL that only has a very limited number of walk in permits available. Not long after 5AM we were standing in line waiting for the check station to open at 5:30. I could have chosen public lands without a quota system but I had observed some turkeys during the winter hog season and earlier in the week a buddy and I went out and listened for gobblers one morning. Having seen and heard some turkeys I felt I had a pretty good idea of the general area a gobbler or two may might be roosting.
With our quota permits secured we drove to the area I wanted to park and geared up. The night was quiet and without moonlight. I used my Garmin GPS to navigate us to the palmetto fan blind I had built a couple weeks earlier in an area I was just getting to know but had never hunted turkeys before. During one of my hog hunts I had found a beautiful area of Live Oaks and other hardwoods with minimal understory adjacent to a large cypress swamp where I thought the turkeys might be roosting. After a 20 to 30 minute walk in I found my blind and set out a Jake and two Hen decoy about 15 yards in front of us.
We settled into our blind that backed up to a very large and very old Live Oak tree and waited for sunrise.
When the first light began to illuminate our decoys and the woods around us I was pleased with our set up….but were there any gobblers in the area??
When a bit more light had flooded into the understory, two gobblers went off. Sebastian and I looked at each other and I whispered to him to keep that both gobblers were pretty close and to keep his hands low, beneath the blind and make as few movements as possible.
I took my box call that I had been chalking and made a soft tree yelp. The gobblers gobbled back, confirming that one was about 50 yards away and one a bit further. One of the gobblers was a stronger gobbler, the older dominant bird I guessed. A few more yelps from by box call kept them interested and I was feeling good until, about 30 yards to my left I watched a hen sail down from her roost towards the dominant gobbler…..darn!! A minute or two later I heard the gobbler fly down towards the hen….double darn.
I still had the stronger bird, gobbling but felt that all too common feeling of dread when a receptive hen is between you and him. And sure enough after some more gobbling he moved off and away from us with his hen.
I leaned over to Sebastian and said that the other gobbler was still in the area and may now feel safe enough to come into our set up. Sure enough after 20 or 30 minutes of calling with occasional relaxed yelping and contented feeding sounds, a young gobbler came sneaking into to our set up. He snuck through some palmettos and flanked our Jake decoy, who had a longer beard than his. He kept a cautious distance of about 10 or 15 feet from our decoys. I whispered again to Sebastian, “when you have a clear shot, put the shotgun scope crosshairs on the base of his neck and kill him”. The turkey took a few more steps, let out another gobble and after the turkey straightened back up, Sebastian fired.
The gobbler fell in his tracks. The 12 gauge Mossberg pump turkey shotgun topped with a Vortex 3x9 scope and loaded with 3”turkey loads was deadly. The turkey was dead within a second or two, an excellent clean kill.
After congratulating Sebastian on his kill and snapping a few photos he carried his prize bird to the check station. No it wasn’t a trophy gobbler, but for Sebastian and I it was far better than a trophy bird, it was a great hunt public lands hunt and his first Osceola Turkey. And for me a reminder that it can be just as exciting to call a turkey in as it is to pull the trigger.