GOBBLER QUEST – April 2020

BARE BONES HUNTING by Lou Marullo – April 2020
March 24, 2020
VARMINT HUNTING FOR FUN AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT – April 2020
March 24, 2020

Seeking Easterns and Osceolas

“DAD, THIS FRIED CHICKEN is great! I’m going to get some more,” exclaimed my 12-year-old daughter Faith.

“That’s not chicken kiddo. That’s the eastern turkey I shot when I was in New York Wednesday,” I replied.

“Ooh gross!” she said while marching toward the kitchen to get more.

That’s classic Faith—a fine mix of enthusiasm and sarcasm, along with a desire to give Daddy a hard time. She’s right—the turkey was awesome—battered and fried. It felt proper to celebrate it with a nice dinner.

After all, taking this bird was a dream come true. I have always wanted to take the Grand Slam—Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Osceola and Eastern. On May 1, 2019, I realized this dream by taking a 20-pound gobbler with a nine-inch beard on a farm in Cato, New York called in by TF&G Hunting Editor Lou Marullo.

A pair of Osceolas in Florida
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Bagging the bird was awesome, but the greater mission was to capture a good photo of an Eastern gobbler to help complete my quest to capture photos of the Grand Slam in 2019. In the March issue, we detailed the search for the Rio Grande.

My aim is to raise awareness of turkey conservation triumphs and concerns. It is my belief after much study, that if we get turkey conservation right—especially in relation to their habitat—America’s forests will be dramatically healthier and all wildlife will benefit. Turkey Revolution is a project I founded to raise awareness of turkey conservation. As turkeys go, so do America’s forests.

I found the Rio Grande along a very remote roadway among many hundreds of thousands of undeveloped acres in the Texas Hill Country. The Eastern came from rolling hills and farmland in New York, an area that any turkey hunter would mark as a prime location.

Sarasota, Florida—The swamps along the edge of Florida’s Myakka River in the heart of Osceola turkey country are teeming with life. From alligators to Seminole whitetails to mottled ducks, the wildlands just outside of Sarasota are rich in biodiversity.

An Osceola in full strut.
(Photo: National Wild Turkey Federation)

The short, thin pines reminded me a bit of the habitat on the Upper Coast of Texas where I live, but it looked uniquely Florida. With scattered palms and thick palmettos, this place looked subtropical.

It would have been easy to get lost in the majesty of it all, but I was on a mission. That mission was to get a photo of an Osceola turkey.

As noted in the March issue in 2019 I set out to get quality photos of the “Grand Slam” of turkeys which are the Rio Grande, Eastern, Osceola and Merriam’s.

This was number three to scratch off the list as I had already gotten the Rio Grande and Eastern, but in my mind those made sense in terms of location.

The author with a big Eastern goobler he shot while hunting with TF&G Hunting Editor Lou Marullo near Cato, New York.
(Photo: Chester Moore)

Because I am doing this all on my coin, I was low on time. I had from sunrise to noon to make something happen. One particular area looked seriously promising, and within 30 minutes there I spied my prize. Two Osceola turkey hens escorted a brood along the edge of the river.

They made their way into a clearing and fed down toward the edge of the river. It was great to see a brood because much of this habitat was thicker than I had suspected it would be.

Prime turkey habitat has relatively open forest. The suppression of natural fires has created enormous undergrowth. That allows predators a better shot at turkeys and destroys some of the turkey’s best forage opportunities.

Things changed once I found myself along the banks of the Myakka River. It felt wild although I was only three miles away from a subdivision.

It was an interesting dichotomy—tourist Florida vs. turkey Florida. I had done many studies to end up in this location to find Osceola turkeys.

I have always dreamed of hunting the Merriam’s, but I don’t think even taking one could match what I captured with my telephoto lens.

More to come next issue…

 

—story by CHESTER MOORE

 

Henry

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