With the turkey season just around the corner, I thought I’d lead off this year’s Turkey Tales with my hunt for an Osceola turkey last month in Florida.
In addition to the warm sun, the two things I like about being a two-month snowbird are Intercoastal fishing and turkey hunting with Bill Henry of Southern Pines Hunting.
I began hunting with Bill five years ago, and have been successful four out of five times. That was my fault, not his. I chose to try and take the turkey with a .410-gauge handgun. If I’d been using my Vinci on that hunt, I’d be 6-for-6.
Last year, I had one of my most memorable hunts because I had to thread the needle and shoot through a 12-inch opening in a hedgerow that was 70 yards from me and the gobbler was another 15 to 20 yards on the other side of the opening. Fortunately, the .22 Hornet I was using was very accurate, and I got the bird.
At the last minute this year, I decided to use a .223 rifle instead of my 12-gauge Vinci. The .223 had traveled with me when I went to Texas in December, where I used it for javelinas and turkeys.
Before I left home for the hunt, I went to the range and was able to bench-shoot a three-shot group with two touching and one less than an inch away from the others at 100 yards.
And that accuracy continued in Texas. When I got home, I put the .223 in my gun cabinet, where it stayed until we went to Florida. I couldn’t wait for that opening day (March 15).
Opening day, I was there well before sunup. Bill said he’d been watching a big, healthy tom with hens for several days in an area near where we hunted last year. About 45 minutes before legal shooting time, we were all set up in a small, heavy brush island about 100 yards from the woodline.
We weren’t there long when an owl hoot got a gobbling response from behind us. Every time the owl hooted, the tom answered. When it started to get light, we heard a hen, then the tom, and could tell they were still roosted right behind us.
That was the plan because we had set the decoys out in front of us, and the tom, if he came in, would come around one of the sides of our island.
Bill continued to call softly and got what we believed to be three different gobbles from three different areas. This was good, but the tom behind us was definitely the boss. I was ready and quite confident in our setup and my gun.
When the double gobbling responses began, I was excited, and even more so when I heard a turkey fly down behind us, and it sounded like he was headed our way. It was then I put the rifle on my knee, getting ready for his arrival.
I have to believe he responded to the calls for a half-hour or more, but then it ended. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A running hen materialized about 100 yards away.
I slowly twisted around to face where the hen was headed and scoped her, hoping the tom would be following. That distance in the open grass would be no problem for the .223. I don’t know where the tom went, but it wasn’t anywhere we could see. I guess that’s why they call it hunting.
We probably stayed another half-hour, but got no response. Time for Plan B. Head back to the truck and drive to an adjoining field. Driving and stopping, we glassed several areas, but there was no sign of turkeys. It was time to park the truck and do a little walking and talking.
Bill had me take the lead while he stayed behind doing the calling. We moved along the trail slowly until I heard “Stop.” He whispered there was a tom feeding just around the bend, but he wouldn’t answer the calls.
The only choice I had was to sneak and peek, but when I got to where I could shoot, he’d disappeared, and we continued our journey. We only saw one more turkey on that road, but not before he saw us and disappeared in heavy brush.
About 9 a.m., we switched to a road that would take us back to the truck. We’d gone a few hundred yards when I saw movement in some tall grass and quickly sat down and rested the .223 on my knee while Bill made a few soft calls to keep their attention.
Out they came, not one but four toms, about 40 yards away. I was able to identify the biggest through my scope, but they were all in a huddle and I didn’t want to shoot more than one. Finally, I was able to get a clean shot and took it.
No thump of the 55-grain full-metal jacket bullet ruffling the tom’s feathers. They all jumped, but didn’t run, and Bill kept talking to them. I quickly chambered another round and centered on the tom again. Missed!! And they did the same dance, but stayed on the road. They were nervous, but didn’t run. I had only put three rounds in the gun, and knew this was it.
Ever so slowly I chambered number three, and, yes, I missed again.
The gun was empty, and I had four toms in range, laughing at me. I did manage to get one more round out of my pocket and chamber it. I guess flustered is the best word to describe my feelings when shot number four also missed.
I set the gun down, stood up, and yelled profanities at the turkeys, finally scaring them off. I then turned to Bill, who was trying not to laugh, and said, “Please come up here and shoot this gun.”
He took two shots at a stump about 30 yards away. Neither hit. Back at the truck, using a gun rest, we each took two shots at a 24-by-24-inch target and found the gun was shooting at least 10 inches right and about the same distance low. No Florida turkey this year, but there definitely was a New York turkey — Me.
Every year, I write about the importance of shooting your gun or bow before the hunt, especially when traveling with firearms on an airline.
The only excuse I have is it probably happened while traveling home from Texas. Unfortunately, this time, I didn’t practice what I preach. The expression: “Do what I say, not what I do” definitely applies here.