With the first turkey season of the year opening in Florida, it was easy to decide that my first Turkey hunt of the Spring would be for an Osceola turkey in central Florida. The southern zones of Florida open up the first week of March, which is much earlier than the start dates in other states. The Osceola turkey lives on the Florida peninsula and is not found anywhere else in the world. They have one of the smallest territories of any of the subspecies of turkey. The Osceola’s may have a small range, but they also have an extremely healthy population. Based upon National Wild Turkey Federation numbers, there are over 100,000 Osceola’s. Osceola’s are similar to the Eastern subspecies but tend to be slightly smaller and darker in color, with less white barring on their wings. The white bars on their wings are narrower and often broken, giving them a darker appearance than traditional Eastern. Their feathers also show more iridescent green and red colors than Eastern.
Osceola’s are nicknamed “Swamp Walkers” because they often live near thick swamp areas. It is because of this habitat that they are one of the most challenging turkeys to hunt. These thick areas also have a number of predators that call them home. It’s often said that the Osceola’s are the most vocal turkeys on the roost, but then one of the quietest once they hit the ground. This is probably because of the thick, swamp habitat that they live in, which is perfect for predators to sneak up close versus the open fields used by northern turkeys.
I have been fortunate to hunt Osceola’s twice before this trip, so I had a good idea of what to expect. From my past experiences, hunting Osceola’s is quite different than hunting Easterns in my home state of Michigan. In general Osceola’s can become call and decoy shy very early in the season, and a lot of the Osceola hunting is done similar to deer hunting, where the hunter sets up on a known turkey travel corridor. That tactic is usually the key to Osceola hunting success.
I arrived into Florida at the start of the northern Osceola season, which was in mid-March. A big part of success in hunting Osceola’s is making sure that you are with a good outfitter. WTA has had a great deal of success with the outfitter that I chose to go with. The week before I arrived, he led a group of five WTA clients on a hunt for Osceola’s. They went 100% on great birds. As their pics were posted during their hunt, my anticipation built. Our outfitter, Billy, has close to 30 separate leases for turkeys. This allows him to move to where the turkeys are throughout the season, while at the same time he does not over-pressure the birds by continually hunting the same groups. This leads to dramatically increasing the success of his clients.
In talking with Billy prior to our hunt, it was obvious that he had everything set and ready to roll. He had the birds patterned on the lease we would be hunting, and he also had trail cams set up on the lease. As a result, he had a great idea of the number of total turkeys and the number of mature turkeys, being 3 years or older. Billy didn’t just have the birds patterned and trail cams set on the lease we were hunting, but he was set up like this on all of his leases. You can you tell why WTA has a great relationship with this highly professional outfitter!
The Lease we hunted was a large cow pasture of about 125 acres surrounding by extremely dense palmetto thickets. Visibility, once in the palmetto, was 3-4 feet in most areas. The field had a natural finger of woods that stuck out into the pasture and right on the point of this finger, we stuck a popup blind. Based on Billy’s scouting there were close to 100 turkeys that used this field throughout the day. With that many eyes, the popup blind would help to hide our movement. It was also nice to have regular chairs as the hunt could take 15 minutes or 10 hours depending on where the birds had roosted. From the point where we were set up, the turkeys either roosted behind us, or on our right or left. No matter, at some point during the day they would probably pass in front of us.
The temperatures hit the high 80’s in Florida early in February this year and that seemed to kick off turkey breeding earlier than normal. On this lease, Billy had noticed that a lot of the hens were already sitting on nests during mid-day, but also that the turkeys had started to group up and the gobblers were with big groups of hens. Because of this, we decided not to use a decoy and only do very light calling. With our blind position on the point, we could call depending upon where the turkeys were in the field and make it seem like the calling was out of their sight on the other side of the field.
Before first light, we could hear a couple of different gobblers off to our left, but this was the position that most likely would lead to a very long sit. Because of this, we didn’t do any calling and just wanted the turkeys to go about their normal activities. While in the trees, they were gobbling their heads off but the second they hit the ground there was dead silence. As we sat there doing the normal discussion of should we call or not, we decided to stick to the plan. Soon, we spotted the first hen off to our left at about 100 yards, and she was followed up by 13 other hens. We had a group of 14 hens all together, and right as the last hen came into view, we heard our first gobble on the ground. It quickly went from quiet to crazy. There were now two long beards strutting together following the group of hens. Next, a group of jakes sounded off on the far right of the field and that instantly led to another group of 2 year olds also sounding off to our hard right. The jakes and the 2 year olds met up at about 350 yards out in front of our blind. The 2 long beards were not breaking strut and continued to follow the hens at 100 yards out moving from our left to the center of the field.
We let this play out for about 10 minutes, but then the hens turned and started to go directly away from us. At this point we said to the heck with the plan and gave a light call out the back of the blind. To the long beards, the hen call sounded like they were around the corner and out of sight. That light call caused those long beards to go crazy and burst into a sprint coming our way. This in turn caused the group of jakes and 2 year old birds to break into a sprint to come see what was going on as well. So, we had over 10 birds literally running towards us. The first long beard hit the corner 35 yards away from us; this was the first time that he could fully see around the corner to where he thought the calling was coming from. He looked like a baseball player sliding into home plate, as he went from a full on run to a sliding strut. It didn’t take him long to do what I like to call “the turkey eye” stare down when he didn’t see any turkeys there. That was my cue. I slowly slipped my shotgun out the window and made a good shot. My Osceola hunt was over, and a textbook Osceola hunt it was.
There is nothing like turkey excitement to get the heart pounding and remind a person what it feels like to be in the great outdoors. I can’t say enough positive about Billy’s turkey operation. Over the years, WTA has received nothing but great feedback from our clients who have hunted with Billy. Because of this, we book Billy out pretty far in advance. If you are interested in a great Osceola hunt, give the team at WTA a call and get it set up soon. 1-800-346-8747