I’m often entertained by the circumstances behind what some might define as habitual things: Actions that seem easy all the time except for the precise moment you need them to be simple.
A case in point for a lot of people: Even under ideal conditions some have trouble locating car keys in a pocket, finding a cell phone they were just using, or even navigating a curb they’ve stepped over a thousand times but on 1,001 it jumps up and trips them. Regardless, almost everyone can roll over still half asleep and slap the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 0.7 seconds the first time, every time.
Most of us eat and drink every day. It’s easy. But there are times when a little spaghetti sauce misses or worse, in the middle of chewing a meatball, we nip the tip of our tongue.
How do these things happen? None of us are immune.
Keep that in mind before you judge too harshly the things that turkey hunters often have to endure.
On my second morning of chasing Osceola turkeys in south Florida, things were going flawlessly by turkey hunting standards. I had never laid eyes on the orange grove I was crawling around until the sun was high enough to tie the landscape together.
My hunting partner, Greg Watts, had told me the turkeys would enter the grove in one of two places. The first was a bend in a white sandy road that separated the grove from an oak hammock. The second was a third of a mile away, where the birds roosted in an oak hammock across a canal and flew down near a pod of cypress trees on the edge of the grove.
We were in the first. The turkeys were in the second. Not exactly flawless, but the turkeys were gobbling. The commotion was more like eastern turkeys than what I expected out of the reported quiet Osceola turkeys.
They made enough noise that we could easily track their location and get close. In those moves it quickly became apparent that circling these birds with the wide-open lanes of the grove would be impossible.
Orange groves are busy places. Trucks of every size travel around them everyday. Knowing we couldn’t speed by the open lanes, we called Bryan Watts to pick us up and drive us by the moving birds. It worked flawlessly.
In the truck the birds never paid us a moment’s notice. Three Osceolas were strutting in one of the open lanes, displaying for the entire world to see and they never checked up as we drove past.
Now we were in front of the birds. We quickly took up position under a low-hanging orange tree, Watts laying on his belly, me propped up against the base where I could get a good look at the landscape.
To the front was an open area, grassy with two big pine trees, separated from us by a ditch I did not know was there and would factor into the rest of the hunt. The whole area was 300 yards by 300 yards, surrounded on all sides by rows of orange trees.
By the time were settled in and a trio of gobblers responded to the first call, I knew we were in the right spot. I’m a big believer in getting in front of a turkey and listening in the direction they gobbled from. In both cases it appeared as if they were headed straight to us.
About 10 minutes later I called again and when they answered I cut their call with a short series of yelps that immediately produced another trio of gobbles.
“The jig is up,’’ I told Watts. Keep your eyes peeled.
The next hour was painful. The turkeys gobbled on their own, apparently getting closer and headed our way. But the only turkey sign we saw were two hens that marched straight up to us purring and clucking. I was able to get them to keep moving by us, with soft purrs. Again we were on point. But this time, the gobbling activity was all but gone.
We waited. And waited. After we were well within the second hour, it was time to leave, thinking that something had spooked those birds. I quietly cursed the unseen predator or object of distraction that had taken these turkeys away from our path.
Watts was on the phone, calling Bryan to have him come pick us up. As he hung up, in a last-ditch effort I loudly cutt and yelped. No sooner than the calls had left my mouth call, a turkey popped over the horizon 300 yards away and directly in front of us. Following him were two more bodies. A quick check with binoculars and they were all longbeards.
“Call Bryan back and tell him to stay still,’’ I whispered. “This might happen after all.”
We watched as the birds marched toward us in that “I’m interested, but still going to check out everything around me” way that turkeys do.
I noted my blood pressure, which was nowhere near what it was a day earlier on my first Osceola hunt. “This is perfect,’’ I thought.
Then the turkeys hit the ditch and stopped. They were just 100 yards away, the perfect place to hang up. I purred and they looked even more interested, but weren’t taking another step. Then they turned right and started crossing in front of us. Again, I had no idea there was a ditch in front of me. They were pacing to go around it. I thought they were leaving me.
Once they were behind a grassy patch, I yelped and immediately received three double-gobbles. They hit the road we were on and started angling toward us, occasionally out of sight as they went by orange tree after orange tree.
I thought any moment they would slip off the road and be gone. I started worrying. I started thinking about how small each window of opportunity can be.
With them out of sight, I had to roll around on my belly, the absolute worst position to shoot a turkey from. I checked my sight alignment on my shotgun, a habit of mine that I do constantly when birds are approaching and waited.
Thankfully the first bird appeared and then the second and third. I began measuring distances in front of me. They were on the road. I was 35 steps away still thinking at any moment, they would slip off the other side of the road.
As the first one popped into an opening, his beard swaying in the wind, I put the bead on his head and pulled the trigger.
I might as well had bit my tongue or tripped on the curve. In a laying position and looking at a target above you, it’s super easy, as I would find out, to shoot directly over your target.
No sooner had I pulled the trigger than I was on my feet to capture my prize and all three gobblers slapped their wings in the road and left me standing there looking like a fool. I never cut a feather.
Hunt long enough and you miss. I’ve had more than my share. Now it’s up to me to make sure that doesn’t become the habit.