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 know of at least four or five Florida WMAs where you don’t have to go through the drawing system to hunt there – known as open WMA Osceola hunts. The best way to learn where these WMAs are located is to go to MyFWC.com and research the special-quota turkey hunts and the public Wildlife Management Areas. If you do go to one of those public-hunting areas, and you get a permit, it’s only good for one day. For instance, in an area like Green Swamp East, the first three days of the season, the hunters have to go in to the draw, and about 40 or 50 permits will be available. These permits are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. That means you show-up at the gate going in to the WMA, and if permits are available for that day, and if you’re one of the first in line, you can get one. You carry the permit with you the entire time you’re hunting that day. If you harvest a bird, you check it in at the station and give the permit back.
Florida’s WMAs are also open during the week. If I were going to hunt Green Swamp East, I’d go during the middle of the week on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday - days that the WMAs usually have the least number of hunters. People at my job laugh at me because I save my vacation time to hunt Osceolas in the middle of the week when the hunting pressure is the lightest. Also getting a permit in the middle of the week is much easier than it is on the weekends. You have to realize that a person only can hunt these birds until 1 p.m. on public ground in Florida. To try and get a permit on the weekends, I’ll have to be in line at 3:30 a.m. During the weekdays, you probably can show up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and still have plenty of time to get to the place you want to hunt. For the draw areas, you can only take one bird per day and two per season.
The latest I’ve ever hunted a public area for Osceolas has been the next-to-the-last weekend of the season. I really enjoy hunting those last two weeks of the season. But you have to use your woodsmanship and your calling ability then to be successful. By the end of the season the most critical factor in taking an Osceola is knowing when not to call. These birds have been called to a lot by then. But if you know when to call, which call to use and what the terrain is, then you’ll be much more successful also because fewer hunters will be in the woods then. I look for places to hunt at the end of the season that are off the beaten path where most turkey hunters won’t go. The more difficult the place reach, the fewer hunters that region will see.
The first thing I want to know before I hunt Osceolas, if I’m going into a new area, is where the year-round swamps and other bodies of water are located. I’ve learned that nine times out of ten, the Osceola gobbler will roost over water. You can get a map of all the WMAs in Florida from, and the legend will have a map that shows the wetlands, the pine bluffs and campgrounds on the WMA, if camping is allowed. Also the site, https://myfwc.com/hunting/wma-brochures/, is helpful.
For more information about hunting Osceolas in Florida, visit: https://myfwc.com/hunting/turkey/get-started/safe-hunt/ and https://myfwc.com/hunting/turkey/.