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.
After a few more hunts and four more dead hogs shooting a Daniel Defense M4 platform with a few modifications and shooting Hornady Full Boar .223 ammo I have a few observations. First to put my comments in context, I typically hunt public lands and hunt well off the beaten track, often walking for miles through swamps and hammocks, stalking hogs. The M4's light weight , and carbine length, lends itself to the type of hunting I do.
Impressions of the Hornady Full Boar .223 ammunition:
Having shot hogs with a number of different weapons from arrows to 250 grain, .50 cal black-powder rounds, I decided to try a couple different M4 / AR-15 set ups.
I'm in the process of setting up a used Daniel Defense M4 carbine I found in a local pawn shop, chambered in 6.8 SPC. I'm setting it up with a Leupold 3x9 VX-R firedot scope, installed a 3.5 pound trigger and a free float M-Lok handguard. As soon as I have killed some hogs with it I will post my impressions.
In the interim I set up a Daniel Defense M4 short carbine in 5.56. I installed a 3.5 pound CMC trigger, light, and a 1x4 Steiner illuminated reticle scope.
Impressions after killing 5 hogs:
This 202 pound Boar was stopped with a .223 Hornady Full Boar round while on the run with one well placed shot.
Smaller hogs are great targets for a well placed .223
This photo of the thick plate (1" to 1-1/2" thick) covering a large hogs vitals and shoulder is where you don't want to shoot a large hog with a light caliber round.
Ok, It's late August and It's still wet, very wet and of course hot and humid. Other than that its perfect scouting weather. Trails that are typically dry are soaked.
On public lands where we hunt, walking or biking is the only way in and out.
My favorite scouting gear has become my chest pack. Made by Hill People Gear.
It is comfortable and holds the essential gear you want close.
You can bike, hike, and shoot your bow or rifle with it on. The back zipper pocket also fits a full size semi auto pistol or revolver with an approx. 5-1/2" barrel. My Ruger Redhawk in .44 Mag with a 5-1/2" barrel fits well. I highly recommend this chest pack.
We have been collecting some deer and hog photos as well. here's a photo of a typical 100 pound hog. we are seeing lots of hogs all sizes and the deer are making a good showing as well.
First, I scout and hunt off trail on public lands in the incredible Big Bend region of Florida's Gulf Coast. This area during a typical summer is wet, hot, with overgrown thickets, few trails, interspersed with hammocks, surrounded by lowlands, swamps, sloughs, etc.
This environment is best suited to mosquitoes, ticks, snakes, alligators and wild hogs. During the hot and humid summer only a few of us that may be lacking in common sense, in between visits from girlfriends, without wives or wishing we were, those that appreciate the challenge and punishment, and/or simply enjoy the wonder and freedom that Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Boone, and others knew and cherished, or some combination of, venture to scout for the upcoming hunting seasons.
My gear suggestions may not in themselves make you a more successful hunter but they will make you a safer, more comfortable hunter.
I will start with transportation. On public lands it comes down to feet or bikes. I found a nice mountain bike at a pawn shop that works well. Since taking this photo I added some ATV type gun holders.
Snake boots may be the most important. Over the last couple years I wore out a pair of Rocky snake boots. They were good enough for me to recommend them. I came close to stepping on a venomous snake a number of times , but I was not bitten, so I can not vouch for them being fang proof. The materials do inspire confidence though and made me believe they were "snake proof".
Comfortable, lightweight, good soles, waterproof...for a while.
They eventually were not waterproof anymore, but all other components held up well.
My prefered pre-season scouting knife has the following qualities:
It has all the qualities above and is an absolute pleasure to use. This knife is not for wimps, it is more machete than knife but thanks to it's dimensions and weight it can be used for long periods of time without fatigue.
What about the cost?!?!:
A buddy once said, "you can't put a price on love". I think we all have to prioritize what is important and its far better to purchase high quality gear that will serve you for the long haul than what passes for gear today.
I bought my first rifle when I was 16, it was a used pre-64, Winchester Model 94, in 30-30, for $55., and because it is a great, simple, well designed, utilitarian, high quality and versatile rifle, I will always have it.
The Esee Junglas is that kind of tool, if you buy one, I expect you will enjoy, appreciate and keep it.
Let me know what you think!
Well, it is that time of year, getting hot, mosquitoes, ticks, snakes, gators, etc....did I mention hot?
Keep in mind this is public lands, not easy access, lots of walking, often wet, always hot this time of year with an abundance of blood sucking insects and a few other creatures that will bite you if you give them that opportunity. Have I mentioned before that I don't like venomous snakes and alligators much?
The main goals:
>Set a couple game cameras, see whats out there and how the deer and hogs are developing.
>Scout favorite areas but also find new areas that look promising.
>Locate trees suitable for ambushing deer and hogs from climbing tree stands during archery and rifle seasons.
The oak hammock above is a small hammock that I found about a mile off trail. It has the elements I'm looking for:
>A nice amount of oaks (acorns in the Fall).
>It is not too large, maybe 2 or 3 acres or so. I prefer the smaller hammocks as the deer and hogs will often provide me a shot if I set up in the right place.
>Backs up to a swamp on one side, providing an edge.
>Open areas with low vegetation for good visibility and shot corridors.
>A good climbing tree or two.
>Can be approached from down wind when the wind is from the North, NW, NE.
In an upcoming post, I'll discuss the scouting gear I think is essential.
Despite hearing gobblers, getting close, even seeing a couple, there are no dead birds to report.
Truth is its been great to be out there and its been frustrating at times.
Next Steps / Strategy:
Camp Site #1
Somewhere between Fallon NAS and Middlegate Nevada
The idea was, I would fly to Colorado and meet up with Paul, we would drive to Nevada, meet up with Bill, finish provisioning and head to the mountains for a week of camping and hunting Chukar and Mountain Quail.
We looked for Chukar over miles of beautiful and rugged terrain. By looking, I am referring to hiking up and down high elevation and rugged terrain. Coming from sea level Florida there were times (many times) I thought I would simply keel over form what felt like a lack of oxygen and from my middle aged body saying enough is enough. We all survived and I enjoyed some of the finest hiking I have ever enjoyed. The Chukar however were not where we were and despite our best efforts and hunting areas where they had been recently we did not kill any.
Exploring a long abandoned mine site.
All in all it was a fantastic trip thanks to intense wilderness and great friendships.
Best gear used on trip:
After an interesting AM hunt (we were covered up with hogs before it was light enough to shoot) Paul and I decided to check out an area that looked promising, on our walk out. Not long after we left the trail and were about to enter the brush Paul caught a glimpse of a hog heading away from us, towards a nearby swamp. Paul reached in my pack and handed me my hog grunt call and I begin making some contented feeding vocalizations while very slowly making my way through the brush. After moving in no more than 100 yards I heard a hog walking in the water about 40 yards ahead. I moved a little further in and was afforded a quartering away shot. despite not having time to put on my reading glasses, therefore the 1x3 power scopes reticle being fuzzy and hard to see against the black hog, and the hog moving, I squeezed the trigger on my Thompson Omega muzzleloader. The shot was well placed and I caught a glance of the entrance wound as the hog ran. In the cypress trees, grass and brush I lost view of her but was thinking she may have fallen or stopped about 50 yards from me.
I'm shooting a 300 grain Powerbelt Aerolite .50 cal bullet pushed by 100 grains of black powder. http://powerbeltbullets.com/Aerolite-Muzzleloading-Bullets.php
As I'm reloading, a heard a ruckus to my left flank and when I turned I larger sow came running up to within 20 feet of me, momentarily stopped, looked at me and then continued running. Unfortunately I was still in the process of reloading.
I found out later when I met up with Paul that a second sow had run directly towards him after my shot and when she broke out of the brush and saw Paul, she immediately turned back. Paul had only a split second to react and wasn't able to get a shot off and I'm sure was still processing that I had taken a shot, at what and where he couldn't be sure, as we were not in visual contact at that point. It all worked out ok with one nice hog recovered and butchered.
The bullet traveled on a diagonal through the hog and was found in the front shoulder.
The bullet did mushroom and penetrate as advertised. So far I like these bullets, with the exception of the price. They are also much easier to reload compared with sabot's.
So you don't have to spend much time reading this post I'll sum it up: Terrible
One recent morning in the beautiful, wild Lower Suwannee NWR, I had climbed a tree well before first light after walking in to a favorite area, negotiating lots of hurricane Irma blow down, sloshing thru the high water, sweating profusely, while being attacked by a ridiculous quantity of large mosquitoes and plenty of sand gnats, then finally settling into the darkness and what has been the best part of morning, listening to the sounds of swamp and hammock. But no, all I could hear were the sounds of the mosquitoes flying into me to extract my blood and along with it, any common sense I had left. On one miserable morning, as the first light was illuminating the swamp, I was scanning my surroundings for deer or hogs when I happened to look down and under my tree stand just inches from where I climbed up was a water moccasin. Getting a bite from a poisonous snake would have been the icing on the cake.
So this is how the archery season has been, terrible. Yet, time after time I go. And time after time I have left without a deer or hog to show for the punishment. It's been as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. The rewards so far have been few, but include hunting some areas I have not seen and learning some new ambush locations. I've had approx. 60,000 acres available to hunt on in a couple diffrent refuges and that alone is exciting and motivating. Knowing that there are new areas to discover at anytime keeps me interested and always learning.
As of October 15, there is rumor that a real cold front may push in for the this weekend's opening of the muzzleloader season. Also, in the last week or two the increase in scrapes and rubs has been dramatic, another good sign that the best hunting is yet to come.