Last October, when I shot a Merriam turkey in Wyoming, it was the third of four subspecies I needed to complete my seventh National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Grand Slam.
The other two were the Rio Grande, which I got in Texas, and the Eastern, I shot here in New York state. The last I needed was the Osceola, which I shot earlier this month in Florida. This turkey is special because it’s found only in Florida.
For the past four years, I’ve been hunting opening day of Florida wild turkey season with Bill Henry in Volusia County. Bill’s a firefighter in New Smyrna Beach and owner/guide of Southern Pines Hunting (sphuntingguides.com).
I’ve hunted turkeys with guides all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico and in the Yucatan jungle, and I rate Bill as a “10” and highly recommend him, when it comes to Osceola turkeys.
Bill has put turkeys in front of me every time we’ve hunted together and I’ve missed only one. It was my fault because I tried to do it with a .410 handgun. He showed me the tom; I just couldn’t hit it. This year’s hunt was special, and I classified it the most exciting of all my Florida hunts.
It began the day before the season opened when Bill called me with bad news — he hadn’t seen birds in several days. The big ranch he hunts had recently logged the area where he was going to take me, and the birds disappeared. When he called, he offered the option of a refund of my deposit or applying it to next year’s hunt. He said he’d be going out later that afternoon to see if he could locate any toms and would call me that evening.
I knew that if anyone could find birds, his persistence for getting a client a bird would prevail. And he did. “I found a good tom and several hens, meet me tomorrow at 5 a.m.,” he said when he called back.
That evening, I anxiously got my gear together, starting with the gun — this time a .22 Hornet caliber Century Arms M85 Mini Mauser I topped off with a Hawke Optic Airmax EV 3-9x40 adjustable objective scope. The bullet was a Hornady Varmit Express 35-grain V-Max that at 100 yards, travels at 2,271 feet per second and hits Mr. Tom with 401 foot-pounds of energy.
At the range at 100 yards from a bench rest, this combination allowed me to place three rounds in a group no bigger than a nickel. And on this hunt, I really needed this accuracy.
My anxiousness, as usual, got me to the waiting site a half-hour before the 5 a.m. meeting, and when Bill arrived, I put my gear in his truck and we headed to the hunting ground.
On the way, he said he’d seen the birds in late afternoon, off in the distance, and when he got a bit closer, he saw the tom. Finding a place to set up was difficult because the birds’ location made it hard to get close, even in the dark.
He decided to set up in a 20 x 20-yard island of palmettos and thick brush in the middle of the field, about 150 yards from the birds.
When we got to the setup spot, there was a chair in the brush for me to sit in, and while Bill set out the decoys, I pruned shooting lanes to use when the gobbler strutted in. The plan was to wait for first light, get the tom to gobble at an owl hoot call, then work him in with his Wilson Signature Series game call. We expected the tom to come from behind us to the decoys, but it didn’t work that way.
The owl hoot got several answers from way off, but one of them came from where Bill had hoped it would, behind us. As we waited, we could hear the fly-downs, the hens yelping when they hit the ground, and shortly, the tom’s thundering gobble that let us know that he was on the ground and coming.
But as toms will do, he hung up. He answered Bill’s calls for 10 minutes or so, then went quiet. It was decision time. I stood slowly, moved into the brush and tried to see the tom.
There he was, in full display with his lady friends, which he didn’t plan to leave. It was time for the hunter to make a decision — wait it out or try to sneak-and-peek my way to where I could get a shot. I decided to do a little belly crawling through, then around, the end of the bushes and see if I could get a clear shot.
It was painfully slow. I could only move when his fan was displayed and blocking his view to me. It seemed like forever. Finally, all the high brush blocked my view of the turkey’s body. All I could see was the tips of his fan.
I rose up slowly to a prone position, looked through the scope and found an opening in the brush where I could see enough of his body to take the shot.
I remember the anxiety when I sighted in and squeezed the trigger and the relief when I heard that distinctive thump and watched him fold. High-fives and handshakes followed, along with a bit of yelling. Later, Bill ranged the distance to the 12-inch opening I shot through — 92 yards to the gobbler.
At 8:02 a.m. opening day, I completed my seventh NWTF Grand Slam. My Osceola weighed about 18 pounds, carried just over a nine-inch beard and a set of one-inch spurs. Thank you, Bill.
If you’re a turkey hunter and who wants to start on a NWTF Grand Slam or just hunt the Osceola turkey, I highly recommend Bill Henry. I believe he’ll work hard to get a bird and you won’t beat his price: $375 for a half-day. Check out his website and/or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.