Gobblers on the Dance Floor
Want an Osceola? Hit the singles scene.
You find the dance floor, you’ve got a turkey,” Jamie Adams told me.
“The dance floor?” I questioned.
“It’s where gobblers go to pick up girls,” Jamie explained. “A gobbler’s got special places where he goes, just like a single man. He doesn’t have to gobble to tell hens where he is; they already know.”
South Florida’s native Osceola wild turkey has the reputation of being the least vocal of the wild turkey species. (The Rio Grande is the noisiest; the Eastern and the Merriam’s are the most unpredictable.) Since they rarely tell you where they are, you have to employ different tactics to hunt Osceolas successfully. Osceolas commonly give you a gobble or two from the roost, maybe a couple more on the ground, and then they’re off for the day-strutting about among the palmettos, live oaks, cypresses, and cabbage palms, holding their trysts with hens at certain preordained secret meeting places, and not advertising their presence anywhere. In fact, for locating Osceolas and other subspecies, these strut zones can be more important than calling.
Jamie Adams has hunted Osceolas all his life. A Florida native, he’s retired from long careers as a game warden and a county sheriff. He’s been president of the Florida chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and was a member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. And he knows more about hunting Osceola turkeys than just about everybody.
The Call of a New Day
I joined Jamie and Florida game warden Steve Sawvell to camp out and hunt on Seminole Creek in the heart of central Florida’s Osceola turkey country. We set up a tent camp in a natural open glade beside a winding limestone creek, right where the turkeys live. In the morning, Jamie and Steve went on foot to search for the local “dance floors.”
For the trip, I had brought along a 16-foot canoe, which I used to paddle up Seminole Creek at daybreak-pausing to call here and there, hoping to make an Osceola answer and give away his whereabouts before he came off his roost.
“Turkeys don’t gobble ’til the last whippoorwill stops,” Jamie had told me. When the last whippoorwill quit whooping, I stopped paddling and drifted.
A redbird began to whistle. Minutes later, I thought I heard a gobble. I strained to listen; then it came once more, giving me a fix on the bird’s location. I was sure it was close to the creek, about half a mile ahead. Now I paddled fast, trying to close the distance between the gobbler and me. When I figured I was within a couple of hundred yards of where I’d heard him, I stopped under an overhanging gum tree, pulled out my box call, and stroked out three or four sleepy tree yelps.
He answered immediately from just about where I expected him to be.
Not wanting to bring him off his roost yet, I put the call back in my pocket and quietly slid the canoe up on the bank. I walked in about 100 yards and set the decoys, a hen and a little jake, upon a moss-covered, rotting cypress log to make them more visible. Then I crawled in tight against a big, dark stump about 20 yards from the decoys. I pulled out my box call and stroked out a few soft yelps, then added a couple of clucks at the end. The turkey boomed back with a volley that jolted me like a staccato burst of loud rimshots in the echoing cypress forest.
I took off my hat and flapped it against my leg like beating wings, then flicked off a rapid fly-down cackle. He gobbled back instantly.
Being cautious, I waited a minute, then picked out a run of seductive little perts on the slate call, ending with some sharp cutts. The turkey went ballistic. His gobble shook the ground. Then he went silent. I never heard from that bird again. An hour later I was still sitting there purring and clucking, yelping occasionally, and cutting excitedly now and then, trying to evoke an answer. But that turkey hhad slipped away into the early morning mist without another sound.
“That’s an Osceola for you,” Jamie said back in camp, when we met at noon. “They don’t tell you much about their plans.”
Steve and Jamie had good news. They each had discovered “dance floors,” and Jamie had witnessed an Osceola in full strut, attended by hens. “This afternoon you sit where I was,” Jamie added. “That bird’ll come back to his dance floor again.”
Playing the Field
I spent that long, hot afternoon sitting in the palmettos, watching the dance floor, making occasional soft clucks and purrs and, once in a while, a louder series of yelps intended to make sure any turkey within hearing knew a hen was on the make. I did not see or hear a turkey all afternoon.
A few minutes before legal shooting time ended at sunset, I gave up and packed my decoys in my vest, preparing to leave. But before showing myself on the trail that led to this place, I crept to the edge of the trail and peeked through the palmettos. There he was!
Not more than 100 yards away, the old Osceola was walking the trail toward me. He was strolling along, purposefully heading for his dance floor. His thick beard swung to the ground.
I ducked back to my hiding place, dived into cover, and propped my shotgun on my knee. No need to callÂ¿Â¿Â¿no time to put out decoys. He was coming anyway.
The grand old turkey entered the opening. He walked straight across it to his dance floor, where my decoys had been standing until only a minute before. Twenty yards; I had measured the distance. My sighting bead was on his neck, just where his wattles met the black feathers. I remember his proud beard tossing as he dropped his wings, fanned his tail, and began his dance. His colors were magnificent.
I had not called this bird or decoyed him. No skill or effort of mine had brought him here. He had just dropped by the dance floor, looking for a little romance before he went to bed. It didn’t seem right to just bushwhack him.
With the bird so close, I couldn’t move without being spotted. My bead was still on his wattles when a hen appeared at the edge of the opening and ran to him. I lowered the gun as they left the dance floor and swung off toward the tall cypress trees that rose above the swamp.
It feels good to remember him like that.