By LARRY A. HOFFMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
In the spring of 1981, I bagged my first eastern wild turkey. It seems like yesterday: getting up about 2:30 a.m., driving an hour to a farm near Washington, Mo., walking about a mile in the dark to an area where I had seen turkeys at dusk the day before. I used an owl call about an hour before sunrise, and a big gobbler revealed his location. I moved toward the sound and positioned myself against a big oak tree.
Turkey hunting is a solitary sport requiring knowledge of the terrain, turkey habits and calling. Even armed with these skills, getting wild turkeys in range is a challenge.
I waited about 30 minutes for good visibility before making a few yelps on my box call. To my surprise, the gobbler responded. I was within 100 yards of the roost. The anticipation was awesome. I had done my homework, and within a few minutes my reward was a big eastern gobbler cautiously walking toward me.
My 12-gauge shotgun, loaded with magnum No. 6 shells, was pushed tight against my shoulder. A few more yelps and the strutting gobbler was within 30 yards. I took my shot. The gobbler weighed 22 pounds and had an 11-inch beard. By turkey hunting standards this bird was a "Boone and Crockett" contender.
Twenty years later I have the opportunity to hunt the "jewel" of the grand slam -- the Osceola turkey. Florida spring turkey season is March 17-April 22 in the central and northern zones of the state, March 3-April 8 in the southern zone. The Osceola is often called the Florida turkey because it lives only in the lower two-thirds of Florida. In turkey hunting circles the ultimate goal is the grand slam, composed of all four subspecies: Osceola, eastern, Rio Grande and Merriam. The eastern turkey has the largest population, more than 3-million birds. The Rio Grande has about a million birds, the Merriam about 500,000 and the Osceola about 100,000. Florida holds the key to the grand slam. Every year hunters come from all over the United States to try for a Osceola.
Turkey hunting is the fastest growing hunting sport, second to deer hunting in the number of hunters in this country. Intensive conservation and game management have resulted in growth from about 20,000 birds in 1937 to around 5-million. Turkey hunting is highly regulated in Florida, and would-be hunters must become familiar with the rules and areas open to hunters. Many of the wildlife management areas open to hunting require special permits.
- Col. Larry A. Hoffman USA (ret.) is an avid hunter. Call (727) 709-9396.