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Osceolas, Orange Groves and Plan B

My wife, Susanne, and I arrived March 7 at Silver Lake Preserve near Lobell in Glades County, Fla., with high expectations. I was finally getting around to completing my royal slam with an Osceola.

Unfortunately, the barometer was much lower than my enthusiasm. An approaching cold front with a heavy line of storms prompted tornado warnings for much of southern Florida that evening. Sleep is always at a premium before a hunt, and that night was no exception, thanks to several downpours.

Silver Lake Preserve covers 1,876 acres of the 337,000-acre Lykes Ranch. It consists of timber, cattle farms, orange groves and sugar cane fields and offers hunts for quail, alligators and turkeys. The two other guests, Reggie Cook of Florida and Randy Davis of Alabama, were also experienced turkey hunters.

The first morning broke windy and cloudy, with scattered showers and temperatures near 50. I was in a portable blind near a food plot, using decoys provided by guides Wayne Zahn and his assistant, Doug. Because of the high winds, I mostly used a box call. A few hens and some deer passed by, but there was no gobbling.

When we reconvened for lunch, I heard similar stories from Reggie and Randy. That afternoon, my wife joined me in a blind overlooking several travel corridors near a roosting area. I expected a turkey parade but came up empty. After reviewing the day with the other hunters and guides, it became obvious the cold front had shut down the gobblers.

Day 2 found us scrambling for extra clothing. It was calm, clear and 34 degrees — more typical of what I experience in my home state of New York during spring hunting. Wayne said that in his experience, Osceolas despised cold mornings because they were accustomed to warmer weather. He was right, because turkey activity decreased, and gobbling was basically nonexistent. My slow morning was corroborated by the reports from the other hunters at lunch.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so we needed to adapt and improvise. Wayne said there would be no afternoon naps that day. It was time for Plan B, so we headed to a 5,000-acre orange grove. I learned that turkeys roosted in cypress trees surrounding the grove and spent the day working up and down the rows to munch on targets of opportunity. We would drive along a grove, scanning between the rows, looking for turkeys. If we spotted a gobbler, we would plan a strategy. Only one person would hunt at a time for safety reasons.

We spotted deer, bobcats, water birds and many flocks of turkeys. The first setup produced several hens, a trophy bobcat and a dead Osceola gobbler, thanks to Randy’s fine shooting. Reggie was next, and he followed a half-hour later with a nice 3- year-old tom.

About an hour later, we spotted a big tom working down a row of trees about 100 yards away. I hurried to the other end of the grove, about 400 yards away, and after two setups, I was in line with the bird. When the tom was within 100 yards, I gave him a soft yelp followed with some calling on a diaphragm. It got his attention, so I shut up and got my gun ready. About five minutes later, he walked into a swarm of No. 5 Hevi-shot, which jelly-headed him at 35 yards. The gobbler weighed 19.5 pounds, and had a 9.5-inch beard and 1.25-inch spurs. My first royal slam was complete.

The tactic produced three toms in three hours. The nontraditional spot-and-stalk set-up technique was less desirable but necessary if we didn’t want to go home empty handed. We overcame adversity thanks to Wayne’s perseverance and the vast, diverse land of Silver Lake Preserve. When planning an Osceola hunt, I recommend discussing Plan B options with potential outfitters. It saved our day and might be the ace in the hole that saves yours.

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