Our plan this morning was to set up near where we set up yesterday morning, on the edge of a pasture used by a couple of gobblers – including ole Brokeback – and five or six hens. But instead of watching the birds pitch over us, this morning we set up behind the pasture, along the grassy route the bigger of the gobblers used yesterday morning to strut into the field.
We were a little unsure of the turkeys’ location because last evening’s drenching rain disrupted their pattern. But because we knew birds had fidelity to this spot, we invested the morning here. It turned out to be the wrong call. As sunrise smudged the sky, the silence was deafening. No gobbles from our favorite band of turkeys.
So we pulled out and went prospecting for birds, hiking through swamps occupied by snakes, feral pigs, hubcap-sized spiders and an endless variety of stinging, poking and poisonous plants.
We found turkeys. In a repeat of the last two days, we found a strutting tom with an entourage of hens and jakes in the far end of a long pasture. We grabbed our decoys – Primos’ B-Mobile and She-Mobile – tucked into the trees and halved the distance.
And blessed sonic surprise, the tom was gobbling. This was the first Osceola tom that I can legitimately say was vocal. He responded to our yelps and appeared to leave his harem and strut toward us. Every turkey hunter has experienced what we encountered over the next two hours. Commitment and apprehension, gain and loss, certainty that the gobbler was ours followed by despair that he’d disappear.
The short story is that he did disappear. We got within 70 yards, close enough to hear him drumming, but like so many other Osceola’s, he followed a hot hen away from us. Everybody in our crew – Shawn, ranch manager Wayne Shelby and videographer Chuck Sumner – was deflated. It showed in our body language as we shuffled back to the truck. It showed in the silence as we drove back to the lodge and loaded our bags. And it showed in Shawn’s face as we pulled onto Highway 19 and pointed the Suburban north to Vandy Collins’ plantation.
We’ll be there tonight, ready to nurse our wounds, get a good night’s sleep and greet dawn, hopefully with a silhouette of an Eastern gobbler framed against the north Florida sky.
– Andrew McKean