Admittedly I am not nearly as mad at the noisy old Osceola gobblers of springtime as in days gone by. Still, I was nevertheless anxious to get started with 2012 Florida Spring Gobbler Season. The season usually begins this way for me every spring, nervy. I am genuinely childish in my heartfelt desire to harvest my first gobbler each spring. Thankfully, most of the time, that task does not take me long. But until the deed is done there is not much peace of mind. Opening day this spring would be my 37th consecutive first morning. My previous 36 season streak of successful spring gobbler hunting dates back to March 12th, 1977 when I took my first trophy Osceola gobbler on a crisp cool morning in a wet Central Florida cypress swamp.
During spring 2012 Florida gobblers were engaged in their normal routine in my neck of the woods. Positive enthusiastic reports surfaced early in preseason from local friends and outdoorsmen who know Osceola well. Many were keeping tabs. By mid-February boisterous strutting gobblers were common adornments to the well-kept horse pastures nearby. This spring the continuous feathered parade would last through the entire Florida spring gobbler hunting season and well into June. On two separate occasions in early June 2012 I observed multiple strutting gobblers that were still on the springtime prowl, nearly six weeks after the season had closed.
My first morning hunt this past spring was scheduled to be a special one. The plan was for me to hunt with my 87 year old uncle, Dr. S. A. M. Shashy, at his property not far from our homes in Ocala Florida. I would do the calling and Uncle Mitch would do the shooting. My dear Uncle Mitch was the first person to ever take me hunting. He and his son, my cousin Sam, took me squirrel and dove hunting on a clear cool Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1967 when I was nine years old. Although I did not fire a meaningful shot that day, or take any game myself, I was hooked on hunting from then forward.
On Saturday March 17th, 2012, our grand plan for a first morning gobbler killing got sidetracked. Uncle Mitch decided to leave both the calling and shooting duties up to me while he slept late. Darn it! I passed on the shooting opportunity the first morning, opting to only listen to the numerous Osceolas shouting up a storm near our predetermined dawn starting post. At least one of those many exuberant gobblers in the distance would be dealt with properly by Uncle Mitch in good time.
No bird the first day, not good. But the second morning was spring business as usual. I would hunt alone about an hour`s drive from my home. The morning air was still and cool, low humidity. High pressure prevailed for a perfect gobbling morning in the dry creek bottom where I waited for the first crows to sound their alarm. After several owl hoots one very distant gobbler sounded off at dawn, only once. This single gobbler sounded so far away that it is doubtful that he could hear my calls above all the customary sunrise chatter.
Thirty minutes later, and after relocating in the direction of the single gobble heard at daylight, my call was answered by a gobbler that was 250 - 300 yards out. I settled in next to a convenient old heavily rooted live oak to sit, hide, and call, gun on knee. Visibility was great with only scattered palmetto understory in the open hammock terrain. Ten minutes later a few cuts followed by three or four soft yelps brought forth sharp responses from three gobblers. Shortly thereafter an old Osceola, followed by two of his younger associates, came strutting into view at 60 yards, straight down my barrel. The big gobbler and his two cohorts were closing the gap steadily, occasionally pausing to chest-bump each other along the way. There was a small stock pond with steep sides directly between us. The trio descended the far side of the pond and disappeared below the near-side rim, all three were walking my way.
Now completely out of sight I could only hear the gobblers drumming within shotgun range. Their continuous rhythm drove my heart beat into tachycardia level when suddenly three very similar bright wrinkled faces appeared at 15 yards. Only the heads were visible. I could have taken any one of the three gobblers had I known which one was the big guy. No shot yet, I could not be certain which of the three heads belonged to the mature gobbler. The gobblers tucked their heads out of site beneath the rim of the stock pond again. Incessant drumming drifted to my right and my barrel slowly followed the deep reverberation until the gobblers ascended the slope of the pond and stepped back into view. This time all three birds were quartering away above the small pond rim at 25 yards. But the position of the younger gobblers safeguarded the big long-beard. The probability of a shooting opportunity was slipping away.
Finally the jakes cleared the big guy, safety off. I let loose a load of #5`s! That’s when the real fun began. My shot was nearly a 35 yarder, on the edge of too far for me and my conventional “non-turkey choked” 12 gauge. My gobbler disappeared, flopping behind giant protruding roots and palmetto frons at the base of an enormous live oak. I was up quickly, almost not quickly enough though. My trophy Osceola was back on his feet too, definitely much worse for wear, and heading post haste for the nearest palmetto thicket one hundred or so yards away. I took off after the injured and stumbling gobbler while at the same time making absolutely certain that I severely pulled my right groin muscle. That hurts! Adrenaline had overloaded my 53 year old out of shape body`s ability to travel at such a pace while taking an occasional shot and simultaneously struggling to reload my jammed semi-auto shotgun. This incident would have me limping through the rest of the 2012 season, plus some.
Desperate shots number two, three, and four during our all-out sprint amounted only to noise and a prayer. Finally the old bird tripped and got tangled in fallen oak limbs and Spanish moss just turkey strides from no man`s land. That`s when I managed to put the old bird down for good, with my fifth round of the morning. The whole ordeal was downright embarrassing. But the big gobbler was in hand. And there were no eye witnesses. All`s well that ends well, right? I was very lucky, in significant pain, and darn happy too!
Any way you slice it spring gobbler season 2012 was a blast in my circle of turkey chasers. Uncle Mitch got his gobbler on his own in short order. Cousin Sam had the best season he has ever experienced in Florida as he called up several old gobblers for friends and first timers. And now, with my first 2012 spring gobbler in the bag, I still had many mornings left to cash in on one more Osceola. Lots of great turkey action would definitely unfold in the next few weeks. But first it was time to gather up fishing gear and pack for an Argentina Golden Dorado fishing expedition with friends Chuck Larsen, of Burnt Pine Travel, and Tecomate`s David Morris. Our freshwater Dorado fishing trip on the Uruguay River will certainly be the subject of further discussion in the near future. When traveling with Chuck and David adventure is certain and always just around the corner!
Posted by David Shashy