"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Mossy Oak Gobbler

Rick Ferlita and I with our 1st Morning FL Easterns

When chasing gobblers, it always seems like your last easy hunt was yesterday's.

Rick Ferlita and I were camped under a wild cherry tree late Friday morning, quietly chatting about our various experiences afield. We held post on the edge of a small green field situated between a creek bottom and planted pines. We'd started the hunt in the traditional manner, well before first light, in a cut-over where we'd jumped a gobbler and his hen the evening before.

With direction from our guide, we pinpointed several roost trees that bordered the gnarled, open terrain and discussed a plan on how to set up the next morning. Daybreak came with far fewer gobbles than expected. The starlit sky we left 12 hours earlier turned overcast, and the entire mood of the woods felt ill-suited for much activity - except for one distant gobbler that would respond to Rick's calls, the occasional crow, and the lonely howl of a coyote down by the river bottom.

It's never easy to determine when to make a move on a bird, but this one seemed primed for action. We lifted our decoys and hiked back to the main road to get a bead on where the bird had gone. Fast forward a couple miles of walking around impassable blocks of pines and several attempts to get in front of the animal, and we eventually abandoned the chase and elected set up shop on the aforementioned grass patch just to see what would happen late-morning.

And, you know, with turkey hunting there are so many variables in play – what call to use, how often to call, should we deploy decoys, should we use a jake decoy – it can quickly become paralysis by analysis. With gobblers - and all manners of game, for that matter - a little patience and being where they want to be is often the soundest strategy.

But patience is fragile. At quarter till eleven, we decided to give a few more yelps and work our way back to the truck. Save a lone hen that pecked around the patch for a few moments, the sit had been for naught. Rick struck a few notes on his box call, and a gobbler cut him off. He put down the call and flicked the safety off; there was no doubt this bird was on his way.
MO Prostaff with TNT Outdoor Explosion's Marty Fischer to my right

For the first time in the five years since its creation, members of Mossy Oak's Florida Prostaff team devised plans for a group hunt, and we descended upon 4,000 acres of gorgeous river bottom and rolling planted pines near Blountstown, FL in the Panhandle. Hosted by Southern Arrowhead Outfitters, the land was owned by the Atkins/Trammell families, old Florida names well-known in state politics. For several years, SAO has offered semi-guided archery hunts for deer and hogs, but this was only the second Spring where turkey have been hunted in recent times.

While Florida is synonymous with Osceola gobblers, those in the Panhandle are deemed to be Eastern birds which was fine by me. Neither Rick nor I had ever tagged a Sunshine State Eastern. And while there was no doubt the property was rife with turkey, six months of planning could not fend off the monsoon-like conditions that was about to pummel the state. That's the luck of things.

And while the camp was brimming with turkey hunting talent, it was also luck that Rick and me pulled each others' numbers out of a hat Thursday evening. Lucky, too, that we drew a block of woods on the high point of the property. A wet spring had flooded the river bottoms, and the turkey were moving up to get out of the water, and, possibly, the hordes of mosquitoes incumbent with such conditions.

Still, it's always hard to gauge how two people who've met only briefly would work together when turkey hunting. I'm a big proponent of the One Chief Theory. When I take someone out on my own time, I want to run the show; however, Rick makes his own beautiful box and scratch calls that he sells through his Cypress Creek brand. I quickly offered the reins to him, figuring I may learn a thing or two on this hunt. My inaction paid off at that gobble. Rick had won the coin-flip to decide who would shoot first, and I was more than excited to lend moral support and end this morning on a high note.

After five minutes or so, Rick whispered that he could see a tom enter the access road into the clearing...then another, then a third gobbler. We were primed for a double. I told him that when he shot, don't hop up, just yelp or cut to the survivors to see if I could tag one, as well. The three came in a line, not in a hurry, just ambling, heads down and beards a-draggin'.

The final gobbler was obviously the older animal as he finally broke rank and full-strutted between the other two right up to my jake decoy. Marty Fischer of TNT Outdoor Explosion had joined us in camp and explained the difficulty of getting footage like this on camera - the hours of film and effort it takes to produce a half-hour segment. It's a shame his equipment was not with us. The cinematography was perfect.

When the satellite gobblers cleared and the strutter de-poofed, Rick lowered the hammer, folding him at 10 yards. One bird immediately rocketed to greener, lead-free fields, while the now-abandoned survivor tossed up in the air before landing back in the field. It turned to run, but Rick hit that mouth call - a Gagging Yelp, I would describe it - which froze the gobbler long enough for me to fire a 3 1/2-inch load of #5 Winchester Supremes out of my Mossberg 835, crumpling him into the sod. 

Nervous about the 40-plus yard shot, I immediately leaped out of the blind and raced to the gobbler, later discovering my old and faded Mossy Oak Obsession hat caught in the cherry tree. Realizing it missing, I couldn't recall if I'd inadvertently tossed it aside in the excitement or the recoil had blown it back into the bushes. With two toms in hand, we had our first Florida Easterns. Words failing each of us, high-fives and back-slaps were about the only intelligible form of communication we could muster for ten solid minutes.

I had remarked earlier how quickly things could change with turkey hunting – the few miles of hiking, several hours of sitting, and desperate strategies were struck from memory as we celebrated back towards the truck. Each gobbler had 10 1/4-inch beards while Rick's tom sported a pair of 1 1/4-inch spurs that easily trumped my duo of 3/4-inchers, his clearly a three-year old with worn wingtips and a feather-less breast from strutting and breeding.

Our shooting for the weekend finished by the one-gobbler-per-person mandate, the next morning Rick and I teamed up with Kevin Faver from The Outdoor Show and Regional Manager of Florida's Mossy Oak Prostaff to try and get him a gobbler. We sat in a different section of property and heard a tom gobbling from the roost down towards the river. We advanced on him and called until around 30 - 45 minutes after daybreak when the winds picked up and the temperature quickly cooled, betraying the approach of thunderstorms from the Gulf. For the next two days it would downpour. Although those boys didn't give up all day every day, no one tagged another bird until Sunday morning.

We hurried back to the truck, and while Rick and Kevin decided to give it one last shot before the rains, I chose to rest on the tailgate, my balky back threatening to seize up after hours of sitting and traipsing the undulating terrain.

As I watched the clouds darken and listened to the thunder roll in, I couldn't help but think how much easier the hunt was yesterday.

(Thank you to Mossy Oak, SouthernArrowhead Outfitters, and everyone who participated in the hunt.)


Unknown said...

Very nice Ian! Congrats on a fine Thunder chicken!

Ian Nance said...

Thanks, Trey! Good luck to you this season

The Reverend Fowl ™ said...

40 yards, 3-1/2er's, on/off the wing, -you were just practicing for ducks.

Enjoyed this Florida report.

Ian Nance said...

And like with ducks, I let him land before I shot!

Thanks for reading!!!