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Sometimes It’s Better to Shut Up than Talk Turkey
by Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer
College basketball’s national championship has drawn to an epic close, but there are a few more weeks left in the outdoors person’s version of March madness known as spring gobbler season.
Throughout Florida, a horde of supposedly normal people are skipping work to wake up in the middle of the night and hunker down in the woods emitting shrieks, clucks, and purrs using a variety of calling devices up to and including re-purposed condoms. All this noise-making is designed to attract the attention of the adult male Osceola turkey and fool him into believing he is about to get lucky. Then as he approaches what he believes to be an amorous hen, he gets turned into an early Thanksgiving dinner.
That’s the textbook version of a typical spring turkey hunt. But that’s not how it happened for David Randolph of Greenwood, Mississippi in his quest to bag his first Osceola in Okeechobee, Fla. recently. Randolph’s early-morning hunt with local guide Brandon Storey of StoreyHunts.com was much quicker and much quieter than most. But no less exciting.
Randolph, a lifelong turkey hunter, had already scored the other three U.S. sub-species– the Eastern, Merriam, and Rio Grande. He had to come to central Florida for the Osceola– the fourth and final element of the Grand Slam– since it is found only from Gainesville south. Normally gregarious, Randolph was unusually quiet on the truck ride with Storey to the hunting grounds in an Okeechobee cattle pasture.
After parking the truck beside a dirt road, Storey and Randolph– armed with a 12-gauge shotgun– walked quietly to their blind, a camouflage pop-up tent beneath a spreading oak in the middle of the field. While Randolph got situated, Storey posted two decoys– a hen and a jake, or juvenile male turkey– about 20 yards away.
“The hen represents one of the hens in this area. The jake looks like it’s trying to move in and breed,” Storey explained of his decoy set-up. “So when the boss gobbler sees them, he runs in to kick the jake’s butt.”
He entered the blind and the two men sat quietly, waiting for the surrounding woods to awaken.
First came the hoot of a barred owl, then several hundred yards away to the north, the telltale gobble-gobble-gobble of an alpha male waking and summoning his harem.
The hunters remained silent, waiting to hear who else might be in the neighborhood, and sure enough, from behind and to the south of the blind, came the gobble of another tom. As they listened, a third gobble sounded from the same direction as the first, but much further away.
As the sun peeked above the treetops, Randolph took up binoculars and looked through an opening in the hideout.
“There’s two hens coming straight to us,” he whispered to Storey.
The females wandered closer, clucking quietly and eyeing the blind. Then suddenly three jakes appeared and moseyed tentatively around the hens. A couple more young males marched in, and one of them pecked the jake decoy.
Turning very slowly, Storey stole a glimpse behind the blind and reported in a tense whisper, “There’s a gobbler behind us coming in pretty quick.”
“I see,” answered Randolph, cradling his shotgun.
The gobbler dashed straight for the jake decoy, and Randolph fired twice, downing his target and also filling the fake bird full of lead pellets.
“Sweet,” commented Storey, smiling.
“I sure appreciate it, man,” Randolph said.
Neither hunter had so much as reached for his turkey calls during the entire sequence; Storey explained that there was no need.
“We had the hens already coming for us and when you have decoys that look real and hens on them, just let it happen,” he said. “I try to tell my hunters, ‘don’t call if you don’t have to. Let them do what they naturally do and you’ll be successful.'”
But of course, Storey had stacked the odds ahead of time, scouting the area thoroughly to learn the gobblers’ hang-outs and travel paths.
Randolph’s first Osceola gobbler weighed 18 1/2 pounds, sported a 10 1/2-inch beard, and bore a 1 1/8-inch spur. The other spur was broken off, probably in a fight.
Randolph said he planned to get his trophy mounted.
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.
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