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Reflections on a Florida Hunting Jewel

What's special about hunting Osceola turkey in spring? Everything. 

Reflections on a Florida Hunting Jewel

Mature tom is well-equipped (detail of leg spur) to fight his way to dominance in the field.

The Osceola subspecies of the American wild turkey is a jewel, a treasure worth admiring and conserving. Those are my words. I am being subjective. That said, I believe that I have earned the right to this subjectivity through 45 years of chasing all four subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States.

I love the pursuit of the eastern, the Rio Grande and the Merriam’s versions of our greatest game bird. Proof of that can be found in the hours, the air travel, the sweat and the miles on the ground I have invested in that pursuit over the last four and a half decades.

My heart connects most profoundly with the bird that is unique to the southern half of the Florida Peninsula. The three other subspecies range widely over multiple states. Not so the Osceola. He belongs to Florida, and solely to Florida. He is beautiful, with a subdued irridescence quite different from the flashier colors of his cousins to the north and west. Slender and long-legged, furtive, graceful, elegant… yes, he is more special in my experience.

fs-osceola-turkey-tom
Writer Bob Karel with an opening-day Osceola in Southwest Florida.

The Setting

Florida has the setting for this jewel well-handled, too. In his timeless classic, Tenth Legion, Tom Kelly writes: “Make no mistake but that the purpose in hunting turkeys is to kill some, not to worship nature. (Some) turkeys, though, live in such delightful places that simply being able to visit their grounds is a pleasure.” The Florida Peninsula is such a place, and within its subtropical confines lie sub-regions with their own subtle distinctions. Places of special character. The turkey hunter understands the difference.

East of Immokalee in Collier County is a property that I have hunted for 12 consecutive spring seasons. My friend, Stacey Howell, introduced me to the ranch in 2011. When he showed me the area I was to hunt and told me a little bit about the lay of the land, I was immediately enchanted.

We were on a long, dim road running north and south. To the east was a mature cypress head. At the edge of our vision to the south were old live oaks interspersed with tall, longleaf pines. Another cypress head was directly west, with more majestic longleaf pines to the north. Standing there, I felt as if I had been inserted into an artist’s landscape depicting the quintessence of South Florida. Fresh turkey tracks dotted the sandy road. I suspected that turkeys walked that road most days of their lives. I was right.

The Hunt

Midway between the live oaks to the south and the pines to the north, two young cypress trees stand 10 yards east of the road. You can sit at the base of the easternmost tree, and by cutting and sticking some palmettos, be hidden in all directions. This is important because I have killed turkeys there that have come from every compass point. The visibility is 360 degrees under that cypress tree and extends 200 yards, again, in all directions. It is easily the best setup location for decoys that I have ever found.

Opening morning spring of 2022, I arrived at the two cypress trees in the black dark. I had stuck my palmettos the day before and had time to place my decoys in the road under the cover of that darkness. My spread included a male strutter, two feeding hens and an upright hen. In open country, I have had extraordinary success with this setup, especially early in the season. I may replace the strutter with a jake later in the spring, after some territorial fighting has occurred, but on opening day, this is my go-to decoy arrangement.

That lovely period, in the dark, waiting for light, organizing your calls, adjusting your mask, turning on your Thermacell…is pure delight. The promise of the day is so real that it is more than a feeling, it’s a state of being. I never hesitate to move to the next phase of the hunt, the action phase, but I cherish those quiet moments before the owls and the cardinals and the turkeys begin calling to announce the start of the engagement.




As a hint of gray edged into the horizon, I hooted without a response. I may have been a bit early, so I waited five minutes and hooted again. This time, multiple gobblers responded behind me, northeast, about 150 yards in the cypress head. They were loud and they were close. I marveled at the fact that after nearly a thousand mornings doing this same thing, my heart still raced and the hairs on the back of my neck still raised themselves in reaction to those gobbles. Thank you, God.

I judged that there were three toms gobbling on top of each other. They were as vocal as any birds that I have encountered on this property. Normally, they are a bit shy here. Not these birds, not this morning.

They gobbled to my owling. They gobbled to live owls. They gobbled to each other. They gobbled to some crows. And, when the time was right, they gobbled to my soft tree calls.

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My initial, louder and more rapid yelps, signaling that I was on the ground, produced more gobbling. Before I had the chance to call again, one of the gobblers flew down, landing in the road, one hundred yards due north of my setup. He began to display and was quickly joined by his two companions. That first tom was focused on my decoys and began a fast march down the road toward a false promise. I was ready, shotgun presented, cheek on the stock when he reached 16 yards and I pulled the trigger. Just that quickly, this engagement had ended.

The Treasure

Hustling out to still his flopping, I was stunned when I got to him. If this bird was a diamond, he would have been four carats. Heavy in the body, he had three beards, the longest of which was 11 inches. His spurs were daggers, needle sharp and long, indicating his age. It is virtually impossible to put into words the unalloyed joy of that instant. I won’t try. I will simply say that my knees weakened and I had to sit down next to my prize.

He was, truly, a jewel. Sitting there, admiring his burnished feathers, I already knew where I would be next year on the first Saturday in March, hunting for another one.

Spring Turkey Season Reminders

From www.myfwc.com

  • Licenses and permits: Hunting license (unless exempt) and turkey permit. Also, Wildlife Management Area permit if hunting one of Florida’s many WMA public hunting areas (some WMAs will require special opportunity or quota permits).
  • Daily bag limit: 2 turkeys
  • Season and possession limit: 2 for all spring seasons (remember to log and report, see below)
  • Allowed methods of take: Shotguns, rifles, pre-charged pneumatic air guns, pistols, muzzleloaders, crossbows or bows may be used.
  • Season dates for private lands (for public-land seasons, check individual WMA regulations brochures): North of State Road 70, March 16 – April 21; South of State Road 70, March 2 – April 7
  • Log and report: After harvesting a wild turkey and prior to moving it from the point of harvest, all hunters must record their harvest in a harvest log AND report it to the FWC’s harvest reporting system: 1) within 24 hours of harvest, or 2) prior to final processing, or 3) prior to the wild turkey or any parts thereof being transferred to a meat processor or taxidermist, or 4) prior to the wild turkey leaving the state, whichever occurs first.

Harvested wild turkey may be logged via: www.gooutdoorsflorida.com or FWC Fish|Hunt Florida App or paper harvest log.

Harvested turkey may be reported via: www.gooutdoorsflorida.com or FWC Fish|Hunt Florida App or calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356) day or night

Learn more about harvest reporting at www.myfwc.com/harvestreport


  • This article was featured in the March 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman. Click to subscribe.

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