Outdoor Journal: Osceola turkeys on trip agenda

Every year in March, I get a little restless with the lingering snow and ice and the ending of ice f
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Every year in March, I get a little restless with the lingering snow and ice and the ending of ice fishing and small-game hunting seasons. It is really a combination of being very bored and the height of my pre-spring cabin fever. It is during these days that my wife and I get that snowbird feeling, and our thoughts turn to a little fun in the sun. And since all our children have left the nest, we can now follow our urges and enjoy several weeks in Florida.

Now, before you think that I have temporarily replaced my rods, reels and shotgun for a set of golf clubs let me explain my Florida itinerary, one which I have been following for several years.

After 40 years, my wife is well aware that no matter where we venture in the spring, I always make sure it is within easy reach of bass fishing waters and/or near lands inhabited by wild turkeys. And this year is definitely no exception.

Our base camp will be in Kissimmee, which borders on Disney World. But as luck would have it, with a little research on the Inter­net, followed by contacts with several happy clients, I am booked at the Hunting In Florida Ranch,

located just 25 miles from where we will be staying.

In other visits to Florida, I have taken a total of four Osceola turkeys and followed each of them up with the remaining turkey sub-species need to qualify for my four National Wild Turkey Federation Grand Slams. The NWTF Grand Slam consists of harvesting four turkeys: the Osceola, Eastern, Merriam and Rio Grande. But the only place you can get the Osceola is in Florida.

My experience with this turkey has been very enjoyable, but also very challenging. Of all the places I have hunted in the U.S., pursuing this bird in Florida is my favorite. And this includes the Gould’s turkey that I harvested at 9,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra Madres and the unique Ocellated turkey I shot 40 miles into the steaming

Yucatan jungle.

I think that Florida’s turkeys are less vocal than the other species. Three of the four Osceolas that I have taken answered from the roost at first light, but once they hit the ground, they went silent. In fact, when they did come in, they did it quietly. The other reason I like hunting the spring Osceola is the great feeling I get sitting beneath a cypress tree in shirtsleeves overlooking a misty, deep green grass field. Add to this the excitement of hearing the thundering gobble, gobble of a boss tom looking for his hens just as the sun begins to peek through the trees. It is definitely a thrill, and it sure beats watching the snow melt back in New York.

HUNTING IN FLORIDA

My host on this hunt will be Jim Seymour, owner/guide of a beaut­iful 20,000 acres of owned and leased land. It is all private, and has a magnificent population of Osceola turkeys roaming through it. And with 34 years of turkey hunting experience and dedicated land conservation habits Seymour will put you on the birds, as ind­icated by his very high success rate. His ranch has hosted TV outdoor hunting celebrities Harold Knight and David Hale. who filmed their successful Osceola hunt there and incorporated it into one of their popular turkey hunting videos.

Jim offers a three-day hunt in central Florida with a mix of plush green grass fields, hardwood swamps and hemlocks, sand pine, scrub oak and pine flatwoods — all of which are ideal turkey hunting habitat. Included in the semi-guided hunt is comfortable lodging, good food and transportation to and from the field.

In addition, if you bag your bird early, you might want to try a half- or full-day wild boar hunt. Sneaking and peeking on a Florida wild boar can be an equally thrilling adventure.

The Florida Osceola turkey hunting season begins the third Saturday of March and runs through the third Sunday of April, so you still have time. Hopefully, while you are reading this, I will be sighting in on one of Jim’s long beard-dragging gobblers. For more information and photos about Jim’s ranch, go to www.huntinginflorida.com.

MUZZLELOADING SHOTGUN

For the first time ever, I will be leaving my trusty old single-shot 10-gauge at home for this turkey hunt. In its place will be the new MDM LTD 12-gauge muzzleloading Tomwacka turkey shotgun. The use of this gun all came about when I stopped by the MDM booth at the NYS Whitetail Classic show in Lake Luzerne earlier this month. While talking with the company president, Craig Sanborn, I got the idea of completing my fifth slam with a muzzleloading shotgun. It wasn’t too long after that I had one on my doorstep.

There were a number of things that caught my eye with this particular gun. First of all, it weighed less than six pounds and had an extended 2x full screw-in choke tube. It has a 209 primer inline ignition system, 24-inch drilled and tapped barrel and is fully covered with a Mossy Oak Breakup camouflaged finish.

In addition to the shotgun, I

decided to add their new Maine Vue 2.5x20mm scope to the gun. What caught my eye with this particular optic was the fact that it had quick acquisition, was very clear and at the intersection of the cross-hair was a small circle, which can actually also function as a range finder. When a turkey’s head fills the circle, it is approximately 40 yards from the shooter. And the smaller it is within the circle, the farther away from the shooter it is. I have never used a scope when turkey hunting.

As a muzzleloader shooter for some time now, I have always shot the 50-grain pellets, but on this hunt, I will be using Black Mag ’3,

which recently was purchased by MDM. This is a granular moisture-resistant powder with less residue, and it is non-corrosive for improved performance with easier cleaning.

AT THE RANGE

This is where the fun began. Having never shot a muzzleloading shotgun, I did not know what to expect. The gun had been shipped from the MDM factory in Vermont with the scope already mounted and bore-sighted. I set up a special turkey head and chest paper target out at about 30 yards to begin.

Following the instructions for loading I really did not know what to expect. I was shooting 80 grains of the Black Mag ’3 powder and two ounces of No. 4 shot.

Using a bench rest, I placed the head of the target turkey in the scope’s crosshair circle and squeezed the trigger. I did notice immediately that the traditional white smoke cloud was considerably less with this powder.

At the target, I found enough pellets in the head, neck and body area to kill a turkey, but a the main load went a little high and to the right. Several clicks of windage and

elevation, and I was ready to take the second shot. This time, there were about 28 pellets in the kill zone. And the third shot duplicated the performance of the second.

Knowing that most turkeys that I have shot were at distances of 30 yards or less, I was quite satisfied the Tomwacka’s patterning. But just to see what would happen at 40 yards, I set out another target, reloaded and fired from the benched position again. This time, I had 21 pellets in the head/neck area; more than enough to dispose of the biggest gobbler.

Also, to give you a better idea of how the Tomwacka patterned at 30 yards, there were about 100 pellets in the 10-inch circle around the turkey target out of the approximately 270 in the two-ounce load that I was shooting. When the smoke clears in Florida, I should have an Osceola laying quietly next to my decoys.

FISHING

No visit to Florida would be complete without a little bass fishing. I will be traveling light this year — just one bait casting rod and reel, a few dozen XPoint No. 3 wide-gap hooks and about 100 wacky worms are all I will need. And should I run out of anything, a 30-minute ride puts me in Bass Pro Shops’ Orlando store parking lot.

Kissimmee Lake is less than one hour from where we are staying. There are a number of good lake guides, but I have been lucky and caught rides with local bass anglers, and even been able to fish a few local bass club tournaments in the past. My method is simple; find an on-the-water tackle and bait shop, and hang around talking to other anglers. It doesn’t hurt to be wearing my BASS Life Member hat and shirt, either.

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