Osceola harvested April 23, 2010 in Citrus County, Florida, weighed in at 20#, 9 inch beard 1 1/8 inch spurs

Sometime during the night I must have answered or read a text or email that came in on Crackie; it was in my hand when it rang out at 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning and I actually threw it on the floor. It took me a minute to get a hold of it and turn the alarm off…the whole time Richard was sitting partially upright in the bed asking “What is it? What is it?” I had to laugh and I just said “Thank God Blackberry phones are built tough!” Holy cow…I hope this isn’t an indication of what the day was going to be like.

Richard and I were ready and waiting with our gear when Billy drove up. There was a little bit of fog in the air and the morning was on the warm and muggy side. The hunt this morning would not be a long one because Billy and I would be close to where the tom had been pitching down and a strut zone; Richard would be right in the area that the tom would have to cross to get to where he went on Thursday morning. The tom was not going to stay around long in this area.

Billy parked the truck about 400 yards from the area and we quietly walked in. When we arrived at the fly down area, Richard parted ways with us and walked down the two-rut road to the opposite end of the fence line. The fence line ran between two pastures that Billy has on his hunting property. I wished Richard luck quietly and I followed Billy as quietly as I could across a blanket of dead leaves under several oak trees. Every step made a crackling crunch.

Billy held his hand up for me to stand still while he checked a tree base. Evidently he didn’t like what he found so we walked about 40 yards parallel to the road. Not sure what he was looking for, I fell back a little in case he turned back in search of the perfect spot. Finally he pointed to the base of a good sized oak tree. I sat with my right shoulder at the tree to enable a good 180 degree swing from the wooded area to the road. The only problem with this is that I blocked Billy’s view to the left. This would have to work.

We settled in and was sitting in the dark. About 5 minutes into our sit I was adjusting my legs to get comfortable; moving really, really slow. Billy leaned over and said “You don’t have to be so quiet with the leaves. These birds are use to hearing cows walk around under these trees.” I said, “Oh, Okay!” But every thing inside me made me still move slow, methodically and as quietly as I can. I was wearing my ESP ear protection and even a slight sound echoed like pots and pans clanging together in my head–well, not that loud but amplified 5 times the actual sound. I LOVE my ESPs…I can hear things before anyone else and even things that others can’t hear.

The morning was still. Not many sounds at all. There I was sitting as quietly as I could. It was pretty dark under these oaks. I let my mind wander on the things that were on my to-do list for the month when I heard it. There it was again! Lord, what was that? Then I cocked my head as if it would help me hear it better and at the same time I glanced over at Billy to see if he was picking it up too.

I had to chuckle…as I made out the silhouette him snoring. Literally a few seconds later he woke himself up. He looked around and I looked over at him. I leaned over, tugged his shirt sleeve and with the most serious look I could muster, I asked “Hey! Do cows snore?” He smiled and asked “Why? Was I snoring? and then admitted to hearing it himself. He didn’t go back to sleep…I guess for the sake of not getting ribbed for further snoring.

About 10 minutes later a gobble rattled the trees about 80-90 yards over to the left side of our set up. Billy shot a look at me and said “That is the old bird. That is a good, mature gobble.” He then told me to go ahead and slowly get in position. Get ready. The bird gobbled about 3 more times in a mater of 10-15 minutes. Then we heard him gobble on the ground. We didn’t hear him pitch down but it was evident he was on the ground. Billy whispered “Be ready and be really still. We need to kill this bird.” I think his vendetta or grudge was worse than mine. This old bird ruled the roost and was keeping other toms out of the area.

The tom gobbled two more times. Then we heard it…a hen! NO!! Not a hen. We had planned not to make any sounds since this bird was call smart. We both looked at each other and I rolled my eyes at the same time Billy said “Hen”. This can’t be! We were right there where we needed to be and if that tom came down that road I had an easy 30 yard shot. The next gobble came from further behind us and it was clear that the tom was headed in the other direction; more than likely with the hen. The air came out of Billy and I about the same time with simultaneous shoulder slumps.

Billy said “I cannot believe this!” and shook his head. I just shook my head and rolled my eyes and said “just our luck under my breath.” We heard him gobble again at the same distance. We sat there motionless for about 2 minutes when all of the sudden a gobble rattled out and this time it was about 60 yards away from us. Billy looked over at me quickly and said be still. Billy didn’t make any sounds. We already decided that we wouldn’t call to the this bird giving him a chance to skirt us again.

The tom gobbled again and it was about 40 yards away and just over my left shoulder. Billy shot a look at me and we both said simultaneously “He is coming”. Billy whispered for me to be ready. I still had my shotgun mounted from the first gobble we heard on the ground. So I lowered my cheek to the stock and pulled my cap down. The tom gobbled again and this time it rattled my chest cavity. It was a strong gobble with a good rattle at the end. The next thing that was audible to me was spitting..I whispered to Billy that I could here the tom spitting and he acknowledge me with saying “Yeah, yeah, he is coming this way.”

Billy said “Here he comes, I see him.” He said “Be real still.” Another gobble that was so strong and close that I imagined feeling the concussion from it. I have had hens walk by my boot and I have had jakes literally less than an arm length preening…but never have I had a gobbling tom in my ear. Billy whispered he is 15 yards, don’t move. I think I shut my eyes for a brief moment as the slight sound of crunching leaves echoed through my ESPs. I knew he was close because of being able to hear his footsteps on the leaves.

All of the sudden I started to see a slight movement out of my left eye at about 10 yards and at the exact same time….the bird let out a Putt! I heard Billy say Oh No!! very quietly. Putt! The bird darted forward and to the left and made a big horse shoe headed back the way he was coming putting a few more times. He covered from about 10 yards to around 40 yards in a split second.

I was frozen in time and I heard Billy “Swing! Swing, he is behind a tree!” I quickly swung the shotgun left and didn’t see the tom at first, Then I saw him crossing a small clearing between brush and trees. He was at 40 yards. Billy didn’t say anything when I saw the bird for a split second I thought maybe he was not expecting me to shoot so I asked you want me to shoot him. He quickly said “Yeah, if you think you can!” It no sooner came out of his mouth and the tom flopped up in the air and then fell to the ground and flopped a wing. Billy said “Good shot!” and was up out of his chair before I realized it. I was ejecting and pumping in another round when Billy was already nearly at the bird. When he got to him he just stood there and he said “Yeah!” and he looked back toward me and I pumped my hand in the air and he said “GOOD SHOT!” out loud.

I put my gun on safety and walked quickly to the Billy and the bird. I shook Billy’s hand and Gave him a hug and thanked him for the hunt. I told him the Vendetta is settled–we win. Woo Hoo!! He told me to go get my stuff and we would walk down to Richard. He told me to leave the bird.

As we started walking he told me, tell him you missed. I laughed and said “I am going to have to put the “pouty-face” on. When we got within 15 yards of him, Richard was smiling and I looked right at him and said…I have got to get a new shotgun, that is all there is to it!! He half stopped walking and said “Did you miss him?” I said “Heck yeah!! Too close!” I knew when the tom came in and he started to putt it was going to be too close. Richard said “I’ll be durn!” and slumped his shoulders.

We started walking back down the road toward the tom and Richard said “I just knew you had him when I heard the shot. I even got up and walked to the fence and I saw Billy in the road and you coming out of the tree line pointing.” I said “I knew he was too close..you know this Mossberg doesn’t like close!” He looked at me and said “I am sorry sweetie!” I about cracked and told him the truth then but Billy was looking right at me and shook his head.

As we got within 15 to 20 yards of the bird on the ground, which looked like a crumpled black plastic bag or debris, Richard looked over at Billy then back at me and then back at the bird. He still wasn’t sure what he was seeing…but I couldn’t stand it anymore. When he looked at me I just smiled and he started smiling and said “You got him!” I said “YEP!” He said “I didn’t think you missed!” Then he called me a butt for tricking him and I blamed it on Billy. LOL!

This tom was a BIG bird for an Osceola. He weighed in at 20 pounds which is the high end of average for Osceola and one ounce from being considered trophy weight. He had beautiful spurs…my longest and sharpest to date. His beard, which was a rope last year, was broke off, frayed and had beard rot in it. Some of the broken areas had yellow discoloration which is a tell-tale sign of beard rot. He still was a beautiful bird in my eyes.

Old Rattle Box-Osceola harvested on April 23, 2010 in Citrus County, FL

We decided to go grab some breakfast and Richard and I called it a day so that Richard could catch up on some sleep and I could get some writing completed. We had made plans with Pat to go to Stumpknockers for dinner when she got in so we had some time to just relax and catch our breath. Billy and Richard had made plans to go to the “horse farm” in the morning to hunt a tom that Billy had been patterning and the same one that we scouted on the first afternoon. I was waiting on the edge of my seat to hear from Pat to see if she had harvested a bird or not. This was an important hunt for her.