Florida’s unique mixing of wild turkey subspecies can keep you guessing.

osceola turkey hunting in Florida

Wild turkeys (Osceola gobbler) have incredible eyesight. Photo taken by Heather Paul; from Flickr.

Florida hunters are fortunate to be able to hunt two subspecies of turkeys without leaving the state. Both eastern and Osceola turkeys—also called Florida wild turkeys—are found here. Biologists have drawn a somewhat arbitrary line that separates the eastern from the Osceola subspecies. The line starts in Nassau County on the east coast, along the Nassau County-Duval County line, follows the county line of Duval County and passes through Bradford County. Then it generally follows the northern county lines of Union, Alachua, Gilchrist, and Dixie counties. If you draw that line, everything south of it is considered an Osceola turkey; north of it, they’re easterns.

However, biology is never that clean cut, and you shouldn’t assume that just because a turkey is on one side or the other of that line that it’s really any different from its cousin on the other side of the line. The division between subspecies of any animal is somewhat arbitrary, and is pretty much based on physical appearance. Turkeys in central and south Florida look different enough from birds in the northern part of the state that early taxonomists designated them as a different subspecies. As you move north and west in the state, the appearance of the birds you see changes as you go. Turkeys in the middle of the state have an appearance that’s somewhere in between that of the turkeys in south Florida and turkeys in north Florida and south Georgia. Humans have designated this dividing line for trophy purposes, but it’s really the geographic location of a particular turkey that determines whether that bird is an eastern turkey or an Osceola turkey.

osceola turkey

Turkeys in central and south Florida look different enough from birds in the northern part of the state that early taxonomists designated them as a different subspecies.

Sometimes the hunters can’t tell the difference, either. If you put a hundred Osceolas in one pen and a hundred easterns in another one, many biologists can glance at them and tell you which pen is which. But if you have one bird, you—or the biologist—may or may not be able to tell which pen it came out of.

Not only is there a lot of variation in appearance between turkeys in the state, in northeast Florida there’s a zone called the intergrade where birds with the two sets of characteristics overlap.

In general, Osceola turkeys— named for the famous Seminole leader Osceola—are smaller and a bit darker than eastern turkeys, and have less white barring on the flight feathers of their wings. Because there’s so much black on their wings, when they have their wings folded, the white triangle that’s formed is less visible on the Osceola than on the eastern. If you see one walking around, the wing patch will look pretty white on an eastern, whereas on an Osceola it’s darker.

The other thing is that the Osceola is more racy in appearance, more streamlined. It tends to be skinny; down on the Big Cypress, adult gobblers only weigh 12 to 15 pounds.

SPRING TURKEY SEASONS AND LIMITS

Osceola turkey youth hunt

Osceola turkeys taken during a youth hunt at Tippen Bay in DeSoto County. Photo courtesy FWC via Flickr.

South of State Road 70 (southern Florida peninsula): March 6 – April 11

North of State Road 70: March 20 – April 25

Daily bag limit: 2 per day

Season/possession limit: 2 per person all spring seasons (In Holmes County the daily and season limit is 1)

SOME OTHER NOTES:

Approved weapons for spring turkey hunting on private lands include shotguns, rifles, pre-charged pneumatic air guns, pistols, muzzleloaders, crossbows and bows. Consult Wildlife Management Area (WMA) brochures for certain restrictions on public lands.

Hours for hunting: One half hour before sunrise to sunset, has long been—and remains—the approved period for spring turkey hunting on private lands. Most WMAs would limit hunting after 1 p.m., but recent changes have authorized hunting until sunset on many of these areas.

For licenses and other questions, see MyFWC.com FS

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