But unlike yesterday, there was no love for us at this spot, and we finally broke free of our “home” pasture and went prospecting for henless gobblers. The rest of the afternoon was a series of broken plays for short yardage as hens drew the few mature gobblers we saw straight away from our calls.
What was going on? Were our calls that off key? Did someone pin blaze orange to our vests? First, remember this is Florida’s third week of hunting, and these birds have seen plenty of pressure and heard plenty of calls so far. Plus, the few hens that haven’t been bred are cleaving especially tight to the dominant gobblers.
So in the middle of the afternoon we figured we’d square the odds by intercepting a bird instead of calling it in. We returned to our original pasture and set up a blind in a little cove of palmettos and pine saplings where the boss gobbler strutted out at dawn. If we can’t call them, we can bushwack the birds as they returned to the roost.
We settled in our spot expecting to sit tight for the next five hours. Then a fat drop of rain splatted on my boot, then another, then the heavens opened. I’ve seen rain, but this was like crouching beneath a waterfall. The monsoon rain continued relentlessly for the next three hours as we stared dully at the vacant pasture. No bird in its right mind would be out in this.
The rain cloud actually had a silver lining. The storm allowed me to fully appreciate Bass Pro Shops’ rain gear. My torso was warm and dry under the rain jacket. But my pants were a sodden mess because I neglected to put on my rain pants.
Finally, at about 6 p.m. we called it. The rain wasn’t quitting and birds were hunkered in the timber. Wayne Shelby, the ranch manager, was so wet and cold that he couldn’t stop shivering, even though the air temperature was nearly 70 degrees.
So we returned to the lodge, soggy, cold and dejected, questioning our pre-trip confidence that the Osceola gobbler would be in the bag after the first day. Now, we have a choice. Do we invest a third day in Polk County before heading to north Florida for our Eastern gobbler? Or do we pull the pin and go north in the morning so we can make our date later in the week with Oklahoma gobblers?
We’ll have a good talk over a hearty supper, pull out our calendars and road atlases and chart our next course. Stay tuned.
– Andrew McKean