Oak Hammocks, Orange Groves, and Osceola Gobblers!!
For several years the elusive Osceola sub-species of wild turkey has been the only bird holding me back from completing my Slam. The Grand Slam of wild turkeys consists of harvesting the four sub-species of turkeys that are located in the United States. They are the Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, and Osceola. The coveted Osceola is typically the hardest one to take due to its small range where it calls home, which is found only on Florida’s peninsula.
We were hunting just southwest of iconic Lake Okeechobee and less than a mile from the Everglades. The view during the drive in the afternoon before the hunt made up of primarily sugar cane fields as for as the eye could see. That soon changed when we got closer to our hunting destination, which consisted of small patches of old oak tree hammocks with Spanish moss hanging down and large cypress heads with big palmettos underneath. It was a beautiful sight to say the least.
When morning came my guide had us placed underneath a big oak tree on the edge of a small oak hammock which sat between an orange grove and a cypress head. He expected the birds to be roosted in the cypress trees and for them to fly into the oak hammock after daylight. As the dark foggy Florida sky began to lighten up, to our surprise, a hen pitches down in front of us out of the oak trees; then another and another. We only heard a few gobbles and they were several hundred yards from us. Then roosted straight above us a turkey flew out of the tree and land directly behind us. The bird immediately went to drumming only about 10 steps away. “Holy smokes, where did he come from!!” I could not move and with little cover I knew we were in a world of hurt. The hens had already figured out something was up and had started headed away. The gobbler quickly started heading toward the hens and by the time I was able to turn around the bird was almost out of gun range. Evidently he was completely out of gun range when I shot because the last time we saw him he was sailing over the tops of the cypress trees.
In unbelief, discussed, and heartbroken I thought this was my only chance at completing my Slam. Also to put things in perspective, we were hunting the southern zone meaning this was the last weekend to hunt for the year. Gabe did his best to try to calm me down, but as you all know the only way to get over a miss is to kill one. He reassured me that there were plenty other birds to hunt, so we jumped into the truck and headed to another spot. We haven’t made it a quarter mile when we rounded a big curve to see a big gobbler strutting with a hen. The turkeys ran down the road and into the orange grove. Gabe said that these turkeys see the grove workers driving through here all the time and that the turkeys were not spooked. We then circled to the back side of the grove in the direction the turkeys were headed. There was a wide ditch bank that ran down the back side of the grove that is kept mowed and where turkeys love to hang out. Gobblers like strutting here because he can see a lot of ground and can be seen by approaching hens anywhere on the ditch bank or down each row of oranges as he struts by. Gabe set up a strutting gobbler and a hen decoy on the edge of the ditch bank. I waited several minutes to allow things to calm down before I made my first series of calls; no answer. I waited 10 more minutes and made another series of calls; still nothing. It is difficult to see very far at all when sitting down by one of the orange trees. The max distance I could see was 25 yards in either direction. After my next series of calls were made without a gobble, Gabe eased up to the edge of the ditch back where he could see down it. Gabe quickly retreats backwards saying, “He is right there and coming…. He is only 4 to 5 rows past were you can see!!” As soon as he said that I could hear him drumming and only seconds later he came into view. This time at 18 yards my shot was true and my Grand Slam was complete!! 10 1/2 inch beard and almost 1 1/2 inch spurs. What a trophy, what an experience, and my best birthday gift ever! You see my birthday was just the day before. This is one trip that I will never forget and the song Seminole Wind will always stir up warm memories of this experience.
I want to personally thank Gabe, John, and Mary for making my dream become a reality. Thank y’all very much and may God Bless you and your families.
God Bless to all and always Happy Hunting.
Posted by Mark Newell