A turkey hunter's dream the grand slam
By By Otha Barham / Outdoors editor
April 12, 2002
My host and guide, Jeff Hinkle, was sitting just 3 feet away, watching the rearmost swamp road that I couldn't see. My shotgun was pointed toward our two decoys positioned in the center of the intersection of the two trails. We were jammed close, too close, to the decoys because of the thick Florida brush that was impossible to even see through for more than a few yards.
Suddenly the gobbler was there! Right there within spitting distance, inspecting the fake hens and jake we had stationed. He looked at me through the small opening I had through which to shoot. My Mossy Oak Forest Floor camouflage was sufficient and he saw nothing untoward. A lot happened in the next two seconds.
As the tom turned to further inspect the decoys, I pushed the tang safety forward on my double 12 gauge. It made the slightest click that I didn't hear but which Jeff's younger ears detected, causing him to involuntarily turn his head my way. The gobbler's X-ray eyes saw Jeff's movement through all the brush. In a split second I shouldered my gun.
The gobbler turned and ran as my TruGlo sights lined up with my shooting eye and the gobbler's bobbing head. The big 3-inch magnum roared and the turkey flopped into the water which stood in vast puddles practically everywhere around us.
Jeff jumped to his feet and shouted, "You've got your slam," and immediately went into a Preston Pittman gobbler strut, including gobbles and yelps and an added leap or two into the air! These sudden antics, coming from a young man I had met less than two hours before and mistook to be reserved, scared me and frightened every living thing within half a mile.
So went my one-day quest last month for an Osceola gobbler, the one bird I needed to complete my Grand Slam, turkey hunting's cherished goal of bagging a gobbler of each of the four sub-species available to hunters across the nation.
The Osceola is by far the most difficult of the four related birds to bag because it exists only in central and southern Florida, an extremely limited range compared to its cousins – the eastern, the Rio Grande and the Merriam's turkeys. Getting permission to hunt private land in Florida or drawing a permit to hunt public land there is the equivalent of winning the lottery for turkey hunters seeking the Grand Slam.
My break came after my applications for public hunts yielded no permit. The nice folks of DeLand, Florida are hosting the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association's fall 2002 annual conference. Among many hospitality favors to those of us who are members of the group are numerous special outdoor activities in the area. One complimentary trip was a hunt, available to 4 members, for the coveted Osceola gobblers.
As soon as I learned of the opportunity, more than a year before the hunt, I signed up with Renee Wente, the official with the West Volusia County Tourism Advertising Authority who is spearheading the activities there for the upcoming SEOPA conference.
Word came early this year that we would be hunting a public management area through cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I checked the Internet for reports on the area and learned that the turkey population and hunter success was not impressive. I was discouraged. But soon I learned that floods in the management unit had changed the hunt plans and some generous members of a hunting club had agreed to take us to their private lease. My hopes soared.
These "brothers of the hunt" turned out to be members of the National Wild Turkey Federation, not only excellent turkey hunters, but willing to share their cherished spots with outdoor writers they had never met. Besides these considerate hunters, at least half a dozen Florida agencies and individuals cooperated in bringing this Osceola hunt to pass for the three writers who took advantage of their generosity.
On St. Patrick's Day, Jeff and I talked gobblers all the way from an early breakfast in New Smyrna Beach, Florida to the swampy woodlands of his huge hunt area. Though I had hunted gobblers some 31 years, I asked Jeff to do our calling, deferring to his experience with these special gobblers.
That settled, he filled me in on the area – many flooded sloughs (with moccasins and alligators), thick undergrowth (with cougars, and lots of bears) and a good population of Osceolas. I asked about the giant rattlesnakes I had heard lived there. "Not to worry," was Jeff's reply, as if the aforementioned critters were of greater concern. This would be exciting.
I walked in the dark in Jeff's footprints as he whispered various cautions. A long walk on a sandy road dodging some puddles and sloshing through others brought us to the crossing of two woods roads that provided our setup location. Jeff's calling got the gobbler for me that I so wanted.
Bagging a Grand Slam is less a turkey hunter's accomplishment than a measure of the relished opportunities he or she has had to hunt these marvelous birds in their various habitats. My work took me to the vast stretches of mesquite, live oaks and rocks in Texas where the Rio Grande turkey thrives. Later I would live in the Rocky Mountains and bag the fine Merriam's gobblers, on some occasions while they approached my yelps in hock-deep snow. And I was fortunate to hunt the crafty eastern birds in the Appalachians as well as the Deep South.
A number of my writer friends and others celebrated the Slam with me. Those who love the outdoors know that mine was yet another story of being in enough right places at the right times to enjoy the fruits of our wild lands.