provided by John Phillips
Osceola turkeys are a subspecies of the eastern wild turkey. The Osceola turkey got its name from Chief Osceola of the Seminole Indian nation. Today about 100,000 wary and hard-to-hunt Osceolas live in central and south Florida, primarily south of Orlando. Most Osceolas live on about 20 public Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) with some on private lands. One of the men who knows the Osceola best is Keith Kelly, the manager of the Dee-Dot Timberlands, 25,000 acres of timberland near Jacksonville, used exclusively for family, friends and charity turkey hunts.
Mossy Oak does a lot to help disadvantaged people that nobody knows about. For instance, Mossy Oak sponsors the Wounded Warrior Project hunt for veterans every year during the first week of turkey hunting in Florida. The company provides the guides and camouflage and usually works with some call companies to provide calls for the vets.
We’ve learned through the years that some of the wounded warriors have hunted before they’ve been wounded, and then many others never have hunted before. The folks at Mossy Oak always feel very rewarded to see these American heroes get back to nature and enjoy a turkey hunt. Even though turkey hunting is the theme of the hunt, often the camaraderie of different wounded warriors from all over the nation getting together creates an instant bond. Each of these vets is a part of a brotherhood of warriors. When they return home from active service, especially if they’re wounded physically or mentally, they lose that brotherhood they’ve been a part of, often for many years. In camp, they’ll say, “It’s so good to be back with my brothers,” with brothers meaning warriors who have served and are now back with each other.
Turkey hunting is my favorite type of hunting. I don’t see how anybody who goes out into the woods and listens to the natural world waking up can’t believe in God. The birds chirping, the turkeys gobbling, the deer moving, and the hunters watching the sun come up on a cool morning must make you realize that all these things just don’t happen by accident.
Another hunt that we do with Wounded Warriors, depending on the turkeys, is field hunts. From scouting, we’ve learned that some of our turkeys, instead of staying in the oak hammocks where they have roosted, will leave the roost and fly straight to a field or pasture. We build our blinds facing a pasture and put out both a jake and a hen decoy. We know that the gobbler won’t like a jake being with a hen on the field that he’s already designated as his home. From our scouting, if we’ve learned that a bunch of jakes are in an area, we won’t put out a jake decoy but still will put out the hen decoy. From my experience, if you’re hunting early in the season, the jake and the hen decoy setup usually works best. However, if you’re hunting later in the year or in a place with numbers of jakes, jakes will group up and come together in a small flock and beat up a dominant gobbler. So, always know how many jakes are in the region where you’re hunting. Jakes usually don’t group up together and fight a dominant gobbler until later in the season.
When a gobbler pitches out into a field and has several hens with him, if he sees that jake close to one of his hens, he’ll often come running right toward the jake to run him off. Or, if you just soft call, the gobbler and all the hens will try to run that jake decoy off. Something that I have found that works extremely well to take a field turkey is to use a gobbler fan, particularly when hunting from a blind. (This practice is legal for Florida Osceolas, but be sure and check your state’s regulations about using a turkey fan or any type of turkey decoy that you move or crawl with to make sure that tactic is legal in the state that you hunt.)
On another Osceola hunt last season, we had two gobblers out in a field with five hens with them. The gobblers were just following the hens around the field. When I called to them, they answered me but wouldn’t come to me and my hunter. I only had a hen decoy set up outside my blind, because we were hunting a little later in the year. After watching the gobblers and the hens for about 30 minutes, I could tell that those Osceola gobblers had no intention of coming over close to our blind where my veteran could get a shot. I pulled my spread gobbler tail out and started moving it on the side of the blind as though it was a gobbler that was strutting just off the edge of the field. The only thing those turkeys could see was that gobbler fan because I had on my Mossy Oak gloves, shirt and pants. I would move that turkey fan around like a gobbler was strutting, and those gobblers kept on looking at that fan. Suddenly, they ran toward the blind, stopped and strutted some too. They trotted a little bit and then ran some more to where my hunter and I were lined up.
When in south Florida, hunting on those cattle ranches, I wear Mossy Oak Obsession to look just like a large amount of green foliage on the edges of the pastures and use a turkey fan. The gobblers don’t have to see the entire fan - they know what a gobbler’s fan looks like. I’ll put part of the fan out in front of me because those gobblers know what a turkey gobbler’s tail feathers look like when he’s in full strut. I’ll move it back and forth and twist it a little to imitate a moving gobbler. Sometimes my hunter will think I'm crazy when I start doing that, but once the turkeys come in, and he takes his shot, he believes then that using a hen decoy and a gobbler fan can work to pull gobblers away from hens out in the field.
Anytime I am turkey hunting, I have a gobbler fan with me. My job as a guide for these veterans is not only to try and help them bag an Osceola gobbler, but to teach them about turkey behavior, why the turkeys do what they do, and why the guides use the tactics they do to get the gobblers to come into gun range. We also teach the vets how to call turkeys with a box call, which is the easiest turkey call for a newcomer to use. If the vet I’m guiding has hunted turkeys before he’s been wounded and wants to try and call to the turkey himself, that’s great. But most of the time, the vets want me to call for them. When the hunt’s over, these American heroes are very appreciative to have had opportunities to get outdoors, hunt, take turkeys and be with their brothers-in-arms and the guides. Going into the woods with a gun by himself is often difficult for a veteran to do, especially if he’s in a wheelchair. Vets truly appreciate folks who help get outside and hunt. I’ve been fortunate enough to guide about 40 veterans to turkeys in the last 17 years, and most of them will tell us, “When I get back home, I'm going to find a buddy who will take me turkey hunting with him.”