Editor’s Note: This is the second of four parts of one turkey hunter’s quest for the Grand Slam, a journey that takes him throughout the country as he seeks to fulfill his dream of hunting and killing the four U.S. turkey subspecies: Rio, Merriam’s, Eastern and Osceola.
Read Part 1 Here
By Gordy J. Krahn
Slammed! Part Two:
Timeframe: April 7-10, 2014
Subspecies: Osceola/Limited by geography, the Osceola is considered the pinnacle bird of the Grand Slam. Found only in Florida, this swamp bird holds the highest perch on every Grand Slammer’s bucket list.
Location: Tall Tine Outfitters hangs its Florida shingle near Ocala in the central region of the Sunshine State. With access to more than 30,000 acres of Osceola bliss, you need look no further to complete the Florida leg of your Grand Slam. (TallTine.com)
Sidetracked: If your turkey trip to Florida includes a waylay in Orlando, a visit to BB King’s House of Blues on International Drive will put a smile on your face and little extra spring in your step.
I don’t exactly recall how March of 2014 came in, but it left Minnesota like a pissed off lion, depositing more than a foot of wet, heavy snow in its wake. I barely escaped for the second leg of my Grand Slam turkey tour, hoping to tie my tag to a central Florida Osceola. I was feeling pretty good about the fact that it would be mid-May (hopefully the snow would be gone) before I’d go toe to nail with my home state Easterns, where I hoped to complete my Spring Slam.
The Osceola is effectively the anchor bird of any Grand Slam effort. It’s not that this subspecies is more difficult to hunt, it’s that it occurs only in the Sunshine State.
“A lot of people think it’s the toughest bird to hunt,” Ted, my host and owner of Tall Tine Outfitters, told me as we drove toward the roost in the morning. “It’s mostly just that opportunity is limited by geography. We’ve got a healthy turkey population in the state and our success rates are very high. Probably the most unique feature of hunting them down here is the huge variety of terrains—Cyprus swamps, agricultural fields, pine plantations—that grow and holds a lot of turkeys.”
And it was there that I met Rodney.
Rodney wasn’t a handsome bird—not even by wild turkey standards. His feathers were in constant disarray and his head wore a permanent list that made him appear curious. That head had been knocked off multiple times and his tail was broken in several places. He’d been spurred and spit on, and his leathery hide was riddled with holes. Rodney the Decoy, just like his namesake, got no respect. But what the faux tom lacked in refinement, he made up for with tenacity. Rodney had spunk.
Ted Jaycox and I were doing our best to mimic a pair of mossy hummocks, as the boisterous tom we’d roosted the evening before shouted at every subtle morning sound. Under the cover of dark, we’d sneaked in a tad tighter than we’d planned, and hoped the birds in the nearby pines—now silhouetted against the dim, nickel-plated sky—hadn’t heard or seen us set up our decoy spread. We’d elected not to do any calling, feeling confident the turkeys would target the green field we were set up on. Finally, just as I shifted from one numb butt cheek to the other, a hen pitched down and sashayed toward our decoys. I eased my cheek—the one on my face—down onto the gunstock, knowing the tom was sure to follow.
Ted tugged on the monofilament line attached to Rodney’s tail and the bird strutted his stuff as the tom pitched down onto the green field, going into full display the moment its feet hit the turf. I could almost see the gobbler’s “what the” expression when he caught sight of the decoy and made a beeline toward the intruding tom. Lucky for Rodney, I had his back, and sent a swarm of angry Winchester Longbeard XR No. 5s to end the drama. No disrespect today.
Next stop: My annual family hunt in the South Dakota Black Hills for the Merriam’s leg of the tour.
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