provided by John Phillips
Turkey hunters usually follow a progression as they mature and save their money. The first thing they want to do is take turkeys. Next, they try to call up their own turkeys and take them. Then they hunt and take several gobblers where they live. Their next goal often is to go out of state and take a species of turkey they’ve never hunted before. The last great challenge is to take a Grand Slam of all the species of turkeys in the U.S., with the toughest-to-take turkey being the Osceola gobbler, due to his very limited terrain in Florida. Most of the property where he lives is privately held, and the public land that’s available is often crowded. However, Mossy Oak Pro Shane Martinez of Sebring, Florida, is a master of taking Osceolas on public lands. Martinez shares his strategies for finding and taking these elusive gobblers.
I do occasionally hunt private land for Osceolas when I can get permission. However, for the most part, I hunt these birds on public lands. This year I put in for and was able to draw a permit to hunt the Lake George WMA, which is north and somewhat east of Orlando, Florida. Turkey populations are controlled in Florida by controlling the hunters and what weekends Florida allows turkeys on specific WMAs to be hunted. Quite a few public areas to hunt Osceolas aren’t governed by drawings, but they are regulated by the number of permits that are given out each day on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hunters show up at the gate to the WMA, and the daily permits are passed out, until the limit is met for that day. So, if you’re hunting these regions, the earlier you get in the line to receive a permit, the more likely you’ll be to hunt that WMA on that day. I know of some die-hard hunters who will park at the gate to the WMA at midnight and sleep in their trucks, until the gate is opened, and the permits are given out.
The year 2020 will make my fourth year for going in to the lottery to hunt Lake George WMA. I was drawn once before, so this will be the second time I received a permit to hunt this WMA. Lake George can be really tough hunting for a turkey enthusiast. The last time I hunted at the WMA several years ago, there hadn’t been much controlled burning done. The vegetation was extremely thick, requiring a hunter to get in really tight to the turkeys he or she wanted to take. A successful hunter had to already have identified where the open clearings were that he planned to hunt. These places often might be where a turkey would slip in and present a hunter with an opportunity to take the bird.
Florida offers five weekends of Osceola turkey-hunting statewide, but the Lake George WMA is only open for three weekend hunts. I believe only 40 permits are given out to hunters for each weekend. Now of the 40 hunters that are drawn, each of those hunters will be given a guest permit too. So, potentially 80 hunters may hunt on the weekend that you hunt there. However, for the weekend you draw, your guest shares your Osceola quota, which is one bird per day. The two hunters have to hunt together, there only can be one shooter each day, and there’s a two-bird season limit. So, you can take one bird, and your guest can take another. Or, if you don’t have a guest with you, you can harvest two birds during that weekend hunt. But those two birds will be your season limit.
I put in for this hunt because I had one preference point. I had put in last year but wasn’t drawn. That’s how I got the preference point. My really good friend from Mississippi, Jason Conrad, never has harvested an Osceola. He’s traveling down to Florida to hunt with me. I probably won’t even carry a gun. My sole purpose in putting in for this hunt is to try and help Jason get his first Osceola turkey.
For more information about hunting Osceolas in Florida, visit: https://myfwc.com/hunting/turkey/get-started/safe-hunt/ and https://myfwc.com/hunting/turkey/.