Turkey THUG Keith Kelly Enjoys an Unbelievable Hunt with a Wounded Veteran
Editor’s Note: Keith Kelly from Jacksonville, Florida, says, “I’ve had an unbelievable turkey season in 2016.” Kelly, a Mossy Oak Pro Staffer, has been one of Mossy Oak’s Turkey THUGS for the past 5 years and is one of the hosts of the Mossy Oak Turkey THUGS TV show. A hunter for 35 years, Kelly has managed the 26,000 acre Dee-Dot Ranch of private land only, and hunted by private hunters for 18 years. Kelly’s favorite Mossy Oak pattern is Obsession. “South Florida, where I do a good deal of hunting, greens up early in the spring, and turkey season starts on March 1st in the southernmost part of Florida.”
I start hunting turkeys in south Florida when turkey season starts on March 1st. Bubba Bruce, another one of Mossy Oak’s Turkey THUGS, and I had a hunt arranged by an organization called, Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB). This organization encourages wounded veterans to get outdoors and not only go hunting, but bicycling, hiking and being involved in many other kinds of outdoor activities. We were scheduled to take these wounded veterans to a 10,000 acre ranch near Sebring, Fla., for the opening day of south Florida’s turkey season. Most people when they think of Florida think of sunshine, sandy beaches, fishing and Disney World; but the interior of Florida is known for citrus, cattle ranches and timber. On these big ranches and timber holdings is where we hunt the Osceola turkey that’s found only in Florida. This ranch is owned by the Hilliard brothers, and they allowed us to use their land and lodge to take these wounded veterans on a turkey hunt. Jim Handley, the Executive Director of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, arranges a place for us to hunt with these wounded veterans every year. Mossy Oak provided the guides, decoys and all the camo for Team Red, White and Blue. This ranch was one we’d never hunted before and it was an awesome turkey hunting spot.
Three of us - Bubba, Jim and I - each had a veteran we hunted with, and by 7 a.m. on opening day of turkey season in Florida, all three veterans had bagged a gobbler. The three guides had gone down Thursday afternoon and scouted from Thursday to Saturday to locate the turkeys we wanted to take these veterans to hunt. The land was cattle pastures with cabbage patches (palmetto palm patches) and heads of cypress woods. My hunter had been injured by an IED and had gone through extensive operations and rehabilitation.
We moved slowly and quietly through the inky, black night to get to the spot from where I wanted to call the turkeys. When we arrived there, I used my handsaw to cut some limbs to make some makeshift blinds.The turkeys were roosting about 200 yards from me and my vet, and we could hear the turkeys gobbling from the roost before daylight. I gave some soft calls. As soon as I finished my calling, we heard wings beating as a turkey flew from the roost and hit the ground about 30 yards behind us. Apparently the turkey had been roosting about 20 yards to our right in a pine tree. I had put out decoys in front of our blind. I made some soft, low hen yelps, and the gobbler came from behind us, walked out in front of us and had his attention focused on the Avian-X Decoys we were using. The gobbler was at 25 steps when my hunter squeezed the trigger.
Now the amazing part of the story is that to build our blind I’d cut tree limbs off the tree where the turkey had roosted without realizing it! After my vet took the shot, we both began to laugh and couldn’t believe where the turkey had been roosted. We realized that gobbler must not have been the dominant gobbler in the area. As quiet as we tried to be, we still made noise cutting the limbs, building the blind and putting out decoys. I think that turkey must have had his head tucked under his wing and just didn’t hear us setting up. The turkey never gobbled, he just flew down and came to the decoys. That has to be one of the craziest hunts I’ve ever been on, because I don’t think I’ve ever set up, made that much noise as close as we were to a roosted gobbler and taken the bird.
Another thing that made this hunt fun was my veteran never had been turkey hunting before, so he didn’t know what to expect. He was really surprised when he bagged a gobbler less than 5 minutes after he’d sat down. He really didn’t know how lucky he was. The next day I took my vet with me when I went out to take a gobbler, so he could see what a real turkey hunt was like. Bubba went out and took a turkey the next morning also. On Monday morning, we talked the landowner and his son into going with us. Bubba and I both called up gobblers that the landowner and his son took before 7:30 that morning.
Tomorrow: Keith Kelly Talks Decoys for Osceolas