After a long winter, getting back into the woods is just what many of us need. I can't imagine a better state to do that than Florida, which has one of the earliest turkey hunting seasons in the country, running March 1 to April 6 in the southern zone, and March 15 to April 20 in its central zone. I took this Osceola gobbler last St. Patrick's Day, March 17. If you want to set up your own hunt, now is the time to start planning. Jay Cassell
In my case, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Frasier Family ranch, a large, private spread an hour southwest of Orlando, near Polk City. The land used to belong to General James Van Fleet, who played a major role in the Korean War in the early 1950s. Dignitaries such as the Shah of Iran, Queen Elizabeth, and the president of South Korea have all visited the ranch, which is now owned by Donald Frasier. That’s the ranch house where our group stayed. Jay Cassell
No matter if you hunt on public or private land, your first order of business when you get to Florida should be sighting in your shotgun. I was using a 20-gauge Thompson Encore with a Hunter’s Specialties Undertaker choke. With No. 5 Winchester High-Density loads, the gun patterned incredibly well out to 20, 30, and 40 yards. Jay Cassell
Opening morning was cool, in the 40s, and that was fine with me. The cool temperatures meant no chiggers, no rattlesnakes, and no water moccasins. I had come prepared, with high, snake-proof boots and a ThermaCell butane-powered mosquito repellant, but ultimately ended up using neither. Here, I use an owl hooter, trying to get a bird to shock gobble back. Jay Cassell
Kevin Howard of Howard Communications and I set up near a patch of pines where out host, Wayne Shelby, had roosted some birds the night before. It was windy at 6 a.m., but things quieted down by 7, as the sun was starting to rise. We had birds gobbling off the roost within 150 yards of our setup, but then we heard the birds fly down, and all became quiet. Here, I’m glassing for birds. Jay Cassell
At 9, we decided to try a different spot. Two quiet hours followed. 11 o’clock found us near our pre-dawn set-up, hiding in a patch of palmettos. Using both diaphragm calls (the H.S. Strut Cutt’N 2.5) and a glass call (H.S. Strut 360 Yelper), I soon had a hen yelping back at me. I couldn’t see her, but she was moving back and forth, getting closer, then farther away, then closer again, then farther away. I was hoping to get her within range, as maybe she had a gobbler with her. After 10 minutes, I saw a bird sneaking my way. The hen was still yelping in the distance, but this was no hen. It was a gobbler, and he was coming in without making a sound (something Osceolas are notorious for). He did fan his tailfeathers from time to time, and at 40 yards I could see his long beard swaying as he came in, head down. When he got to within 25 years, I put the bead just below his head and squeezed the trigger. He went down in a heap, and I had my first Osceola gobbler. Check out the coloration on the tailfeathers, and the striations on his wings. You can tell the difference between him and an Eastern bird. His spurs measured just under an inch and a half, and his beard (much of which I shot off) was 9 inches. He later weighed in at 17 pounds, typical for a mature Osceola. Jay Cassell
This is some of the gear I used during my hunt. That seat, from Hunter’s Specialties, made it easy to set up anywhere and have a good view over the palmetto tops. The compact 8×25 Cabela’s binoculars were especially useful for glassing the pine thickets. Jay Cassell
Other hunters in our group also had success, not only that first day, but also on the next two. That’s Joe Arterburn of Cabela’s with his bird. Jay Cassell
Burt Carey of the National Wild Turkey Federation also got a nice gobbler. Jay Cassell
So did writer Bob Robb. Jay Cassell
That’s Wayne Shelby with his wife, Jill, who shot this bird later that day. It was her first Osceola gobbler, and the largest of any taken by our group. It was the perfect way to end three days of early spring hunting. If you like to hunt turkeys, this is one trip you have to make. Jay Cassell