I was just an hour north of Orlando and not at any manmade attraction. Instead, I was in the middle of the greatest attraction of all—Mother Nature’s Great Outdoors–for the opening day of Osceola turkey season and looking to finish off my World Slam. Carl Wagner and Dave Erdman of Warthog Safaris graciously found Don Jacobs, a super turkey caller who agreed to hunt with me.
Bright and early, Dave and I met Don at his place where he had meticulously converted an old hog trap into a luxurious turkey blind with just enough space to slide a shotgun barrel through. Don and I took our places in the hog trap, while Dave took up residence in a nearby deer blind to film the hunt.
It was a beautiful early morning and we fully expected to hear turkeys descending from their roosts, but there was nothing. An hour later, we heard a couple of birds fly down somewhere off to our left and then we waited. Don made expert turkey calls, but we heard no answers. At 9 a.m., a hen appeared at the tree line and just skirted the edge of the woods, leaving us to wonder if most of the turkeys had either slept in or gone elsewhere. Just then, a Jake appeared behind us, then another, then a third, then a fourth and they headed our way, passing within a couple of yards of the hog trap. They hung around for more than an hour while we waited for a Tom to follow, but there was no Tom bonanza that morning.
At lunchtime, Don invited us to join him and his friends at the Buck Horn Ranch—an almost 100-year-old hunting club on a stunning piece of property. The club members, too, found that the birds weren’t talking much, and graciously invited us to hunt there for the rest of the weekend. We did so for the remainder of the day and saw a few birds, but nothing was talking and nothing would come to a call. Don, who had grown up hunting the Ranch and knew it like the back of his hand, decided our best chance for success was to return to the Ranch on Sunday, so we built another great blind after lunch, complete with a spot for Dave with his camcorder.
By 10 a.m. Sunday, we knew that the blind wasn’t going to work out, so we moved to “Plan B”–spot and stalk. We sneaked down roads and power lines for hours, trying to get close enough for a shot and, while we did see turkeys, couldn’t get close enough to one we were looking for. By 5:30 p.m., I was bushed, my feet hurt and I was turkeyless, so we decided to head back to the old camp.
Just as we drove into camp, about a quarter-mile away across a huge field, were half a dozen little specks. One was larger and blacker than the rest—a strutting Tom! Dark falls about 8 p.m. that time of year, so we hurriedly conceived a plan—actually Don did.
His plan was brilliant, audacious and impossible, all at the same time. We backed away and drove around to the opposite side of the field just out of sight. We were about a quarter-mile away from the flock and definitely out of sight of the birds with the wind in our favor and out of hearing range as well. From the truck, we traversed an open area about 150 yards wide to get to the next wood line. Standing side-by-side, offering up only one profile, we boldly inched our way ever so slowly, stopping and standing absolutely motionless every time they’d raise their heads.
Once we made the tree line, we quickly and quietly circled deep into the palmettos to a spot Don reckoned they’d head to roost. From there, we approached to within a dozen yards of the tree line and crawled toward the edge where I waited and Don belly crawled to the very edge. He whispered they were 70 yards out and 70 yards down from where we were and asked me if I could shoot from my belly. I nodded yes.
Dusk was already upon us; the turkeys—a Tom and five hens–were fast approaching. I belly crawled to the edge of the field underneath a large palmetto frond whose spiny edges actually touched the ground, screening me from the turkeys. As luck would have it, there was a small fallen tree lying on the ground just in front of me not five yards away, so I had to roll partially on my side to get enough height to be able to shoot. In the meantime, Don crawled another 15 yards into the field, holding a decoy between him and the flock.
The turkeys were heading straight into the woods and not toward us, and they were definitely not at a shootable distance. Don started moving the decoy back and forth in what was obviously a turkey enticing motion, then took his brown felt cowboy hat off and shook it at the tail end of the decoy, causing the turkeys stop their forward path to look at what is going on.
Don had his box call in his pocket and, with his movement, it struck a note. One of the hens responded, and they all started moving toward the decoy. The Tom must have been PO’d with his hens moving toward the decoy and actually gobbled for the first time! The whole flock was headed our way and I still couldn’t see a thing except for the mosquitos that were eating me alive. Don whispered, “Ready?”
Still unable to see the turkeys, I took the barrel of the shotgun and pushed the frond in front of me down ever so slightly so I could get a good view. The birds were right there (22 yards as it turns out)! At my slight motion, the gobbler thrust his head up and looked directly at me as if to say, “What the…?” The hens ducked, I shot, and the old gobbler started flopping on the ground. And then, quiet…well, quiet except for Don laughing his head off and both of us excitedly congratulating each other.– John McLaurin