My workday seemed like it was never going to end on Thursday. We were picking up our friends Greg and Billinda Neyman right after work and driving to Florida to hunt Osceola turkeys for the weekend. As I watched the clock slowly tick and time crept by my mind kept reeling about what the weekend would bring. Looking at the weather online we were in for some sunny skies and great weather. I just had hopes that we would have all our birds harvested before Sunday’s high 80s and humid temperatures rolled in.
We were on the road by 7 p.m. for the 6.5-hour drive to Crystal River, Florida to hunt with Dave Mehlenbacher of Woodland Guides Outdoors (www.woodlandguidesoutdoors.com). We arrived at our destination and were in bed at 3:15 a.m. with my alarm set for 4:45 a.m. I thought to myself as I drifted off to sleep…”Whew! Tomorrow is going to be a long day.”
The alarm went off and I was wide awake, showered, dressed in camo from head to toe and waiting with Richard, Greg and Billinda for our guide to arrive at the pre-planned time of 5:30 a.m. Dave arrived and we were off to our first morning of hunting Osceola turkeys.
Dave had told me about a fantastic piece of property that we would be hunting that he had seen several really great birds on. That was going to be our first hunting spot this morning. Richard and I were going to be sitting in a blind at one end of the property and Greg and Billinda were going to be in a blind about 300 yards from us on the upper end of the property where the birds funneled through on their way to a water source.
One of my favorite things in hunting is always walking in; anticipation of not knowing what the morning will bring—today the anticipation was even more exciting since there were three of us hunting. On this morning it was just dark enough to keep us in stealth mode but not dark enough that we had to use light getting to our blind. While Richard was setting the decoys I got in the blind and set up the chairs. We settled in, video camera set up—on standby, calls out, ThermoCell lit, gun loaded-on safety and waiting within an arm’s reach. The wait was on and we had plenty of time to spare.
While we were waiting for that magical sound and for fly down, I whispered to Richard that Dave had joked around with me earlier in the week telling me he was confident that we could get a double out of this spot and possibly get a triple if we were lucky—knowing in the back of our minds that it was possible but also a long shot. I said, “Wouldn’t that be cool?” Richard replied, “Yea, it would.”
As sunrise was slowly approaching and the anticipation was growing, we were able to see our surroundings; absolutely beautiful! We had not heard anything up to this point, but I was feeling pretty positive that the birds were going to be here—it had everything that equaled turkey habitat; tall oaks, planted pines, pine needle and leaf covered ground for feeding on grubs and bugs, sand for dusting, and a good water source.
I sat there in the blind taking in the scenery and sounds as the day came to life. I could smell the damp, musky earth permeating the inside of the blind—I could not think of a better way to spend daybreak. Finally, a good strong gobble erupted from over my right shoulder. The sound traveled through the still, warm, humid laden morning. Chills ran up my spine and down my arms as I turned and smiled at Richard pointing in the direction I heard the gobble. He nodded. I pulled my facemask up and pulled my gloves on.
Shortly after we heard the first gobble, we heard two more gobbles; one from directly behind us and the other over my left shoulder. The show was about to begin and I had high hopes that it was our hunting party they wanted to perform for.
After daybreak, a gobble came from behind the blind and it was definitely from a gobbler on the ground. I reached for my shotgun and laid it across my lap. Richard was looking at some settings on the video camera when I first caught a glimpse of a gobbler’s bobbing white head coming over a hedgerow. I tapped Richard on the leg and said “Bird, bird! Right there in front of us by that big oak” as I pointed low and well under the window of the blind. He could not see it at first, but then he spotted it.
Whew! My heartbeat was suddenly in my ears and pounding like a bass drum. I LOVE that feeling and the biggest smile crept over my face. After some light calling, the tom paraded around strutting like a fool. Richard said that he saw a hen go over the hedgerow about the time he saw the tom, but I did not see it. So we assumed that the hen was just over the rise in front of us and he was putting on a show for her. Finally the hen came over the rise and walked down the tree line feeding with the tom in tow.
The tom was 45 yards in front of me at one point, but two things kept me from shooting. First, when I did have a shot at him out of strut, the camera couldn’t get a clear view because of the window placement and second, when the camera was on him, he was in full strut and headed directly for the blind. Finally he meandered back to and over the rise and out of sight.
I heard hens feeding just outside the blind and two hens were visiting our decoys, feeding comfortably around them. After those hens left, a short time had passed when a gobble came booming from the planted pines directly behind us. I looked at Richard and said, “That is close.” He nodded. I turned my head and body slightly to look out of a small gap in the window behind me and I saw birds flocking out of the pines like cattle. I looked at Richard and said, “There are turkeys everywhere coming out of the planted pines.” I got out of my chair and on to my knees. I was going to have to be really still because the hens were marching right by my window.
The tom gobbled again and Richard looked at me and said, “He is coming on this side of the blind.” Richard could hear the tom drumming. He no longer got it out of his mouth when I saw the tail fan of a tom over his right shoulder about 10 yards behind the blind. I could definitely take a shot but our goal was to get some video footage so I was going to be patient enough to allow him to work around to the front of the blind.
All of the sudden Richard saw some jakes filing into the field less than 10 yards from the right side of the blind. We watched as the jakes walked by one-by-one. The tom stopped one or two trying to pick a fight. Two hens even raised a little ruckus at one time during all the chaos. Now we had 8 jakes, two hens and a tom in front of the blind. Two of the hens went out of sight. The tom strutted and gobbled once more. Richard hit the calls softly a few times and that got the tom’s attention.
That tom turned right toward the blind, went into full strut, and spent the next 30 yards of his life strutting and walking a little closer to the blind, then strutting again several times; he was losing ground on the blind. Then he came out of strut and walked a straight line right for the blind just like he wanted to pick a bug off the side of it. I couldn’t believe it. I worried that taking the shot was going to shoot his tail up but there was no chance for a profile shot at this rate so when I said I better shoot him now, Richard gave me the go ahead from behind the camera. I hesitated a few seconds to pull the trigger because I was waiting to see if the tom was going to give me a profile shot…he didn’t and he was quickly closing the ground between us so I took the shot.
At 15 yards, head on he didn’t have much flop left in him so he flipped over on his back and started doing the “running man” and I looked right at Richard and said with a slight grin, “He’s running straight to heaven in a hurry.” The last two jakes that were left in the field curiously walked up to the tom lying on the ground and stood for a few minutes, necks high and erect. Finally they turned and trotted to the other 6 jakes and just before they went out of sight the last two stopped, stretched out their wings, shook and quickly tucked their wings back and took off again…as if saying, “Woo Hoo!! The old tom is no longer going to be the boss of me!!”
Richard and I high-fived and Richard turned the camera on me to do some videoing of me telling about our morning hunt. He had the camera rolling when we heard a shot! I smiled and said, “that is either Greg or Billinda. We might just have gotten that DOUBLE after all!!” Then two more shots rang out simultaneously. I said, “Woo Hoo!! How about a triple!” I could not wait to get out and see my bird and then run down and see if we had a triple.
After a quick look at my bird and a little footage, we headed down toward the edge of the field to see if there was anyone in the field. I didn’t see anyone so I sent a text: Are ya’ll hunting still? Then I saw Dave coming out of the edge of the timber on to the field with two birds hanging over his shoulders and Greg and Billinda walking right behind him. I high-fived Richard and did a little victory dance! Outstanding! We had not been in the field one and a half hours and we had all three birds within the first hour.
We walked to meet everyone halfway in the field. We all high-fived and quickly shared the short version of our story. Dave had the biggest grin on his face. He said, “I was really just joking about the triple.” This was a fantastic morning!! Greg and Billinda scored on some great birds. Richard got my bird on film and we were now headed to take some harvest photos and clean these birds. When it was all said and done we had to actually wait for the restaurant we planned to eat at open for lunch. I call that a good morning of hunting.