I don’t know whether to heap more blame on the sweet young hen or the rogue coyote. Both of them contributed to put Outdoor Life’s Turkey Grand Slam Adventure winner Shawn White in catch-up mode after the first day of hunting Osceola gobblers.
We are in central Florida’s Polk County, hunting the first species of our four-bird Grand Slam on Frasier Family Farm, a sprawling cypress-and-palmetto ranch not far from Orlando. We got in too late last night to roost birds, but our tardiness was entirely justifiable. We were getting outfitted at Bass Pro Shops’ Orlando palace for all the camo and sundries we’ll need for the next nine days.
This morning started auspiciously. We set up on the edge of a big pasture where ranch manager Wayne Shelby had seen turkeys – including a big 3-year-old gobbler – for the past several days.
While this is the end of the third week of Florida’s five-week turkey season, this morning was my first of the year in the turkey woods, and my ear was tuned to the symphony of pre-dawn sounds that I love about this season. Whippoorwills, barred owls, the cheeps and chirps of invisible songbirds, and the ubiquitous whine of mosquitoes provided the soundtrack to daybreak of Day 1.
Finally, we heard a distant gobble, answered almost immediately by a pair of tree gobbles from a long-leaf pine right across the pasture. We waited for the fly-down – Osceola’s take their sweet time to come off the roost – and were rewarded by five hens and a pair of gobblers that pitched into a far corner of the pasture and started picking their way toward us.
One of the gobblers was the longbeard Wayne had spotted earlier. He snapped into strut before sunrise and never really relaxed, displaying to one hen in particular. The other gobbler was a good longbeard, but he had a messed-up wing, a ragged fan and was submissive in the presence of the larger bird, seldom strutting and instead staying back from the action.
The birds slowly moved our way across the pasture, heading right to our set-up in a timbered corner of the pasture near a two-track farm road. Wayne told us the birds walk down the road every morning to feed in an adjacent pasture. Right on cue, one of the hens stepped up on the road and the rest of the birds started following.
Things were looking good. Shawn, set up to my left at the base of the same tree, tensed on the Benelli Super Black Eagle and his breathing became ragged as the birds closed to 80 yards. It was going to happen, in the first minutes of our first day of hunting.
Then I caught motion out of the corner of my eye. Wayne and cameraman Chuck Sumner both whispered “Coyote!” as the blur turned to fur. A coyote was running down the road, right toward the hen, which bolted into the woods. The rest of the flock, including the gobblers, stirred uneasily in the pasture but didn’t flush.
The coyote moved on, but the trajectory of the turkeys changed about 90 degrees. Instead of coming right toward us, they followed the spooked hen. We were done for now.
A quick walk down the road put us in view of the next pasture, where we spotted a hen, a jake and another gobbler. We set up in a little fringe of brush and made some soft calls. The gobbler turned out to be the ragged broken-wing from earlier. After an hour of indecision, they finally approached our setup, but the gobbler, nicknamed “Brokeback” never strutted or otherwise acted his age.
We weren’t sure we’d take him, but just as we were deciding, Wayne spotted our original gobbler headed for our roadside setup from behind us. We were between two gangs of gobblers. Perfect, right?
Not when the big gobbler is infatuated by a cute young jenny. We let Brokeback walk, but the big gobbler wouldn’t commit to our calls, preferring his warm-blooded hottie to our promises of future companionship.
We spent the rest of the day prospecting, and came close a couple of times. But gobblers weren’t answering today, and we ended the day putting our original birds to bed. Maybe tomorrow we’ll be set up at their landing zone and will put an Osceola in Shawn’s bag.
- Andrew McKean