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Turkey & Turkey Hunting Retro Minute: Orange Blossom Sojourn, Part I

BrooksEditor’s note: In this recurring blog, editor Brian Lovett looks back at memorable hunts throughout his career. This occurred in 1999.
I knew the significance of a trip to Florida: It marked a chance to get the second gobbler of my grand slam and third of my royal slam.
But when you’ve lived in Wisconsin all your life, you really don’t need an excuse to take a trip to the Sunshine State in March. At home, it’s cold and ugly. Down South, it’s warm, and turkeys are gobbling. Enough said.
I joined good buddy Pat Reeve in Fort Myers, Fla., and we soon met up with Pat’s friend Brooks Rollings, who had a good-sized lease near Lake Placid. As we drove through the gates of the hunting property, the aroma of orange blossoms filled the air, and I realized I was in for a brand-new experience.
Our first morning dawned warm and humid. Roost gobbling was OK, but we were never really in position to work a bird. Our late-morning and afternoon hunts fell short, too. But it was sunny and 80, which made failure much easier to accept.
The second day, we guessed wrong on our fly-down hunt and didn’t hear much. Walking and calling the rest of the morning netted nothing. That evening, we went to some land owned by a friend of Rollings and immediately got on a gobbler. Trouble was, the turkey had loads of hens with him, and although he’d gobble at almost anything we threw at him, he wouldn’t come closer.
Oh, and we were set up in a cypress swamp bordering the neighbor’s cow pasture. Before that day, I’d thought Wisconsin had more mosquitoes than any place in the country. I soon realized I’d been mistaken. This happened long before Thermacells, of course, so we had to suffer through it. When darkness finally fell and the turkeys flew up to roost, every piece of exposed flesh on my face and wrists was covered with bites.
Feeling a bit of panic, Pat, Brooks and I discussed strategy for the next day. We decided not to chase gobbles but to set up at a narrow clearcut where we’d found abundant sign the previous day. And we vowed to wait until at least midmorning.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to. From our clearcut setup, we heard some distant roost gobbling. When the birds flew down, we called here and there, but the turkeys had gone silent. That’s when Pat nudged me.
“There,” he whispered. “Far corner.”
Sure enough. One — no, two — longbeards and a pile of hens were marching along the edge of the woods toward us. Pat rolled video as I prepared for a shot. When the turkeys were directly in front of me, someone cutt on a mouth call. The lead bird gobbled but kept walking.
“Shoot!” Pat whispered, realizing the turkeys were on a mission and wouldn’t stop.
He didn’t need to tell me twice. I aimed at the lead longbeard and fired. Hunt saved. Gobbler down.
And what a memorable gobbler it was. Inch-plus spurs and two beards; not bad for a guy’s first Osceola. Pat offered to prepare the bird for taxidermy, and I agreed.
And with that, I had a plane to catch — not back home, mind you, but to the Florida panhandle, for another hunt.
Hey, like I said. March in Wisconsin stinks. Give me sunshine and tough turkeys any day.

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