Long Distance Turkey
by John Higley
You went where to do what? That’s a question I get often after traveling for turkey hunting to a distant location. “Heck,” some would say, “we’ve got turkeys all over northern California.”
Yes, we do, but we don’t have all of the subspecies that exist nationwide and one of them, the Osceola, resides only in Florida. So, when the opportunity came up to participate in a media hunt sponsored jointly by Mossy Oak and Zink Calls, I took advantage of it. I’d never been to Florida before, and actually hunting an Osceola turkey would be on my Bucket List if I ever went to the trouble of creating one.
First, let me say that getting there wasn’t half of the fun, what with flight delays and cramped airplanes. However, I made it eventually and, wonder of wonders, Matt Morrett of Zink Calls and Avian X television was at the Orlando airport to meet me as promised. It was nearly midnight when we finally crashed in camp on the ranch where we were to hunt a few hours later.
My goal on this hunt was to get my first Osceola turkey before my 80th birthday, which is coming right up. I know, I can’t believe it either! Meanwhile, Jim Conley, the outfitter we were hunting with, is even older than I am and that’s part of the story. We’re both old guys who aren’t smart enough to kick back and watch the clover grow.
I am of the opinion that turkeys are turkeys wherever they are, and that the main difference in hunting them from one location to another is in the habitat. Florida, I’m sure you know, is flat. There are no Mt. Shasta’s there, but there were shallow sloughs sprinkled throughout the terrain. I assume that’s why every home I saw had an insect proof screened porch. While I was there I saw my first wild alligator. It was sunning itself on the bank of a pond next to a golf course. It was quite interesting to a guy who lives in Shasta County where alligator lizards are as close as we get to the real thing.
The vegetation is quite different to the stuff we have around here, or anywhere in California for that matter. Cypress trees grow in and around the sloughs, long leaf pines dot the horizon and thickets of palmettos ring the meadows. There’s a lot of other stuff including vines and cactus with don’t-touch-me thorns and varieties of oak trees I’m not familiar with.
Enough small talk. What makes the Osceola or Florida turkey different than other subspecies is their size and coloration. Osceolas are darker bodied and uniquely iridescent when in the sun. Generally, they are not as big as the eastern variety of turkeys and their leg spurs are as long or longer than those of turkeys in other regions.
Back to the hunt. That I got my first Osceola was the result of a group effort. Guides Scott Basehore and Pat Strawser scouted for turkeys in advance and figured out where to construct natural vegetation blinds suitable for hunting and filming. Jim Conley had a secret spot up his sleeve that actually paid off for me on the afternoon of the second day, and Matt Morrett, who I hunted with in Missouri a couple of years ago, did the calling. Hey, he’s won so many calling contests that I keep my calls in my vest when I’m around him.
To wrap this up, let me say that it pays to have folks on your side who know where the turkeys are in a far away land. Jim Conley drove us to a place he knew where, he said, the turkeys stroll by nearly every day. We got setup and waited for three hours before a tom finally answered Morrett’s calls. It was a pleasant shock, and when three big toms rushed our decoys a few minutes later my hunt ended with high fives and jumps for joy. At least, I tried to jump, but I can’t say for certain if my feet left the ground.
Now it’s time to try my hand at hunting here in Shasta County. I like hunting turkeys in exotic places but, really, there’s no place like home.
Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro. His articles have appeared in outdoor magazines hundreds of times and his columns appear regularly at myoutdoorbuddy.com. Higley has written four books the latest of which “Successful Turkey Hunting” was published in May, 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing in New York. This hard cover, full color book is being sold at Barnes and Noble Book Stores and on Amazon. Autographed copies are available direct from John Higley, P.O. Box 120, Palo Cedro, CA 96073. Cost is $28.95 postage paid.
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