December 04, 2014
Hunting Florida's cypress swamps poses unique problems and delivers special rewards.
By Collin Ross
Deep in the flooded cypress, vibrant greens of new vegetation surround free-flowing streams. Barred owls hoot at intervals. Your ears are perked for the distant, echoing gobble of an Osceola turkey.
You've packed light, ready for 10-mile days on rubber boots, your pace determined by the depth of the water, your awareness limited by the dense topography of the swamp.
On occasion you hear a Tom rattle off, but you can barely see more than 20 yards, so they remain hidden.
Yet there is evidence of their presence. Strategizing a successful turkey hunt in the cypress is a mix of forethought and raw gambling. Rarely are the birds vocal enough to “shock gobble” them after they fly off the roost. Patience and belief in your strategy are the keys. In their native habitat, these birds can easily spot an out-of-place figure hundreds of feet away. We can't even walk 20 feet without breaking a toe on a fern-hidden cypress knee.
As soon as you think you have the birds patterned, they disappear for days at a time, silent as can be. So you go with your gut, based on the last clue they provided you, hopefully a ringing gobble. When strategy B doesn't work and strategy C is no longer feasible given water levels, it's time to fall back to strategy A. Get tight to the roost. Don't move a muscle for hours. Pray.
God willing, you don't cramp up, get a tickle in your throat or concede to any number of bodily urges. Make a sound or movement, it's game over.
With the first glimmer of day, the swamp awakens around you. Squawking herons. Hooting owls. The occasional wood duck squeal. And then you pick it up: a turkey—a hen, nonetheless a turkey. Your faith is renewed and you tense up, hoping she's not alone.
As the sunrise brightens the swamp, a few simple yelps continue, then other hens join in. Meanwhile you slowly creep your head upward in attempt to see how tight to the roast you might be. As the hens continue their chitchat, they are abruptly cut short by big Tom's gobble which nearly throws you into cardiac
Then it starts: excited hens cutting it up, only to be cut off by gobbles. The harder you try to stay still, the more likely a nervous cramp has you in some fashion of agonizing pain. A few cuts and purrs out the mouth call will have to do. Turkey talk goes on for 15 minutes, and then you hear the first bird fly down. It sounds like a helicopter landing. You slowly raise your shotgun on your knee. Another bird, followed by many birds, flies down, cackling. The gobbling comes to a stop. You can't see any birds, none.
The densest part of the cypress head happens to be between you and where the birds fell out of the sky. You make a few soft yelps and wait. A lone hen answers with a few putts and you can now barely see her bobbing her head in your direction. The hen, now at 10 yards comes into full view. She looks to be a loner. You make a few clucks on the mouth call and now see a few more hens.
Then, like a lightning bolt touching down within arm's reach, Ol' Tom lets out a gobble right next to you. Might be five yards away but still completely out of sight. You start to hear the distinct sound of a male bird courting a hen, drumming. You click off your safety. The hen dodges around a bit in front of you; still no view of a gobbler but he is close.
Not one but two 3-year-old gobblers in full strut come into view. You ease your head to the stock. They disappear behind a cypress tree for what seems like an eternity. And then, a brief window...FS
First Published Florida Sportsman March 2014