Benelli on Assignment

Chris Richardson on Camera 1 ready to roll.
As we arrived, we saw three gobblers strutting in the souther pasture, including this big boy, at roughly 2 p.m.
We spent the first afternoon patterning the shotguns; something you should always do with a new gun and/or new loads, to avoid misses or crippled birds.
Steve McKelvain, left, and Doug Howlett make use of the lead sled to get the Burris Fast-Fire Red Dot Reflex sites dead on.
Joe Coogan, serving as show host and range officer.
The Federal Mag-Shok High Velocity shells use the FLITECONTROL wad that uses a rear-braking shot cup to stay with the pellets longer and chokes them into a tight pattern. Look for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) on the box. Federal donates a portion of sales back to NTWF. Having grown up when turkeys were getting scarce, I can't think of a better investment.
You can get Vinci stocks in Realtree APG HG camo, or Advantage MAX-4 camo, or in synthetic black.
I got a nice Tom first morning, with Dave Dolbee (not pictured) and our guide Wayne Shelby (right). It was a classic hunt. We watched the birds fly down from the roost, move across the pasture, then make a 90-degree turn for the Hazel Creek decoys. A couple of two-year-old gobblers beat the hell out of the Jake decoy. They spent at least 5 minutes trouncing it into the ground. Dave finally got a clear shot, and shot the bigger bird. The second gobbler started to run but turned back around toward the decoy. He got his head jellied, too.
Here's what happens to a Hazel Creek decoy if you leave the blind to go scout. A couple guys did just that, and returned to find the decoys mangled.
I took this shot of Steve McKelvain firing on a huge Tom that busted us. The picture shows, as well as a still photo can, how little muzzle climb you experience with the Vinci. When I killed my Tom, I was of course looking through the Burris site, and realized as I watched the bird drop, that I could have instantly swung almost horizontally onto the Jake that was to the left of him. The recoil is greatly reduced by ComforTech-plus system.
Steve was pretty sure he didn't hit the bird. He was almost right. We peaked around a corner and saw the gobbler screaming for the next pasture.
We did an end-around, and set up in a place where we might intercept that bird and where Wayne knew a few smaller birds were strutting. About an hour later, he came in down a ditch. All Steve could see was a head, which he nailed. There was one pellet wound on the bird's left leg, and there's no way Steve could have hit him that low with the ditch bank in the way. Wayne said it had to be the bird we'd waited on and busted earlier.
McKelvain with the hunt's biggest bird: 1 5/8 inch spurs, 10.5-inch beard, and body weight of 19 pounds, 14 ounces.
We spent the afternoon fishing. Joe Coogan, with the hunt's biggest bass, a silvery 5-pounder from a clear, blue lake.
Most of the fish fell for tiny topwaters, but the Senko worm fooled a few bedding fish.
Coogan spent five hours in this position. We had a big longbeard 75 yards away, for that long. It never committed.
On the way back to the truck, Joe spotted a gobbler shaded up. We crept around behind him, low-crawling up through thick cover on an old berm. Wayne started calling, and we almost got blindsided by another gobbler herding hens our way.
Joe dropped the bird free-handed and from a contortionist position, as the Tom finally left the cover.
Coogan and Wayne Shelby with a bird that wound up with the best total numbers: 10.75-inch beard, 1.5-inch spurs and 19-pound, 10-ounce body weight.
Most folks think of Joe Coogan as a Professional Hunter from Africa. He is that, but he grew up in Merritt Island, Florida, and has a love/hate relationship with Florida, much like my own. He loves the fishing and hunting, but can't stand to see the sprawl and environmental carnage. I was stoked to get the chance to take him down to Lake Okeechobee after the hunt, and show him how the lake is recovering from years of abuse. As usual, Coogan caught the biggest bass. Welcome home, and come see us again.
Dave Dolby came inside cracking up, and said, "Have you seen you're boat?" I felt a start of terror welling up. I'd borrowed my Dad's skiff for a trip down to Lake Okeechobee after the hunt. The lake's really low and the skiff draws a lot less water than my bay boat. I thought something had happened to the 25-year-old Hewes Bonefisher, fishing's equivalent to an original Mustang. Cally had taken the birds out of the freezer and put them on the deck to thaw, before he skinned them.
A band of happy hunters at hunt's end.
Special thanks to Donald Frasier and Wayne and Jill Shelby for your wonderful hospitality. See you in the woods.

Osceola Hunt. Location: Frasier Family Farms, Polk County, Florida.