Turkey hunting, for us, has been a long tradition. And it so happens that turkey season tends to coincide with spring break for our son R.J., allowing us the opportunity to spend an entire week chasing longbeards as a family.
For longer than we can remember, our turkey season begins in south Florida with Osceola Outfitters. Owned and operated by the Kempfer family, their hunting camp has become a mainstay for our family each spring. So much so, that we even have one of our Zook cabins located on site for us to stay in when we are there. We have grown a love for hunting Osceola turkeys. Arguably, the prettiest of the wild turkey subspecies, the Osceola has bright coloration to its plumage. Bronze and teal iridescent colors are illuminated by the Florida sun.
Hoppy Kempfer, the operator and chief guide at Osceola Outfitters, is as much family as he is friend and outfitter. Each spring, he dedicates his time to ensuring we have excellent hunts and great footage for our television shows. Hunting on the Kempfer cattle ranch enables us to cover a lot of ground and find plenty of gobbling activity. The rich palmettos provide excellent cover for hunting and filming turkey hunts.
On one particular morning in the spring of 2017, we were set up along the edge of a field. As the sun began to rise, the perimeter of the field began to come alive with gobbling activity. In the first thirty minutes, the birds were going crazy. Gobbling activity was all around us. We set up with some of our Montana decoys positioned twenty-five yards directly in front of us. Hoppy began to introduce a series of yelps to get the attention of some of the gobblers that were surrounding us. The edges of the fields revealed birds flying down around one hundred and seventy yards away. A few calls and wait, a few calls and wait was our strategy. With so many birds in the field, we didn’t want to get too aggressive.
Hoppy is an excellent caller of Osceola turkeys. Preferring to keep everything simple, he sticks mainly with a box call. A few yelps and a cluck from time to time, and that’s about it.
After about twenty minutes of “getting their attention,” a lone hen began to wander along the edge of the field. At four feet from us, she peered directly into our makeshift blind where we had me, Vicki, Hoppy and Chad, our camera man. No one moved or even breathed. After what seemed like an hour, she was satisfied that we were no threat, and she moved to join the Montana decoys and feed in the field. A universal sigh rang through the blind, and we were so happy our Realtree camouflage did its thing and kept us hidden.
All turkey hunters know that having a live hen in front of your blind is a killer decoy. Ole Tom will see that gal and, hopefully, make his way over to the set. But with so many birds scattered across the field, it was hard to know if she would attract a tom to our position.
Around ten minutes later, the hen left us. She tired of the decoys not playing nice with her, and she began to wander off. That is when I noticed a mature gobbler on the opposite side of the field. He was paralleling the hen but far out of range. Hoppy made a soft yelp on the box call, and he immediately broke into a strut. Getting out of the strut, he finally saw the two Montana decoys and slowly began to come our direction.
One of the rules for hunting with a camera for television is making sure your camera man is ready when you are ready. Often however, the excitement of the hunt takes over, and all training goes out the window. A flick of the fan on the Jake decoy, and the old gobbler had enough and came on a line to the decoys. As he was approaching the decoys, I held my Browning A5 loaded with 3-inch Browning #5 and fired. The first shot was not as true as I hoped, and the bird started running, I quickly recovered and finished it with another shot before he made it seven yards. A nice mature Florida gobbler was mine again.
That’s when a television host hears the worst words he can hear from a camera man, “I didn’t know you were going to shoot.”
My elation of killing the bird quickly faded, and I feared we did not get the shot for the television show. “You didn’t get the shot?” I asked.
“Of course, I did,” Chad said. “I just wish you would have let me know you were going to shoot.” The emotional roller coaster over, we hugged, posed for a few photos and loaded my turkey for the ride home.
Hunting all over the world is a great opportunity, and one we do not take lightly. But one thing we have learned through over thirty years of hunting on camera, it doesn’t matter where you are. If you are with family and friends, the hunt is a memorable one.
The rest of the week was spent trying to get R.J. a turkey. They eluded him that season, but when March rolls around again, we will be headed back to Florida for more Osceola turkey action.