John's Journal...


More of the Hunt for the Osceola

Click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: Osceola - the very word rings with defiance. The man who bore this name and blazed it into the history of this nation was one of the greatest Indian chieftains who ever lived. He led his Seminole people into battle against one of America's finest generals, Andrew Jackson, and handed Jackson his only defeat in the great Indian wars of the 1800s. So powerful was the Seminole nation that they never signed a peace treaty with the American government but chose instead to retreat to the swamps of Georgia and Florida. Chief Osceola was a guerilla fighter who effectively used hit-and-run tactics to defeat Jackson's army. Because Osceola and his men would appear and just as quickly disappear, many soldiers under Jackson attributed supernatural powers to Osceola. Even today the turkey that bear his name, Meleagris gallopavo osceola, also known as the Florida turkey, the only place where it's found, is believed by many of the Seminole nation to be spirit-possessed.

Click to enlargeAs I belly crawled to the ditch, I listened to Jenkins telling Osceola how the hunt should go. There was no question in his mind or mine that if the turkey came into range, Osceola would be able to put the gobbler down. Osceola had shot competitively on the trap-and-skeet circuit and was a certified master with a shotgun. If the bird was in range, years of training and shooting thousands of targets would make Osceola's aim deadly accurate. While crawling through a small patch of briars to reach a vantage point to watch the drama unfold, I was confident in Jenkins' ability to call and Osceola's skill in shooting. The only factor in the equation that was unknown was the turkey's willingness to come to the call. Peeping over the edge of the ditch and scanning the field with my binoculars, I couldn't see the gobbler. The tom had quit talking, and the field was empty.

Because Jenkins and I are friends and have hunted together for many seasons, I knew what to expect next. Jenkins is a patient hunter and disagrees with the idea that anyone should hunt aggressively. If in my eagerness to get to a vantage point to see the action I spooked the Click to enlargegobbler, I was certain that Jenkins would provide a tongue lashing that would have made the great Seminole Indian War appear to be a minor disagreement between two close friends. For 10 long minutes of silence, the field was empty. Then I spotted a huge, black dot in the very back of the field.

Jenkins explained later to me, "John, when you were crawling, the bird in the field gobbled. Just as he did, a second tom gobbled. When the turkey in the field heard the second tom gobble, he hushed and left the field. Apparently the tom in the woods was the dominant gobbler, because he flew into the field after the subordinate gobbler left." As I watched through the binoculars, I studied the legendary ghost of the swamp. The Florida turkey, as the Osceola is sometimes called, was a much-darker bird than the eastern wild turkey. Smaller too in body than the eastern, the Osceola turkey was just as proud when he strutted and gobbled. When Jenkins began to call, the gobbler seemed to key in to the sound like a beagle dog would lock into the fresh scent of a rabbit the dog was pursuing. The turkey would gobble, walk a few steps and then strut. Then the tom would run a few steps, stop, strut and gobble. The bird was coming, and I had a ringside seat for the show.

Click to enlargeBack in the blind, Jenkins told Osceola, "That gobbler's coming in quick. Sit on your leg, and get braced to take the shot. When the turkey reaches the edge of that little ditch, I'll make him stop with my calling and stick his neck up. Then shoot for the wattles where the feathers join the neck. By aiming there, you'll put more pellets in the kill zone." Osceola waited anxiously as the gobbler continued to close ground - just like his forefathers historically had bagged turkeys in the palmettos. However, instead of a master-crafted shotgun and high brass shells, they used longbows and wooden arrows they had whittled from sticks. As I watched, the turkey continued to close ground while Jenkins sounded like the sexiest hen a gobbler ever had heard. The bird moving toward us meant to waste no time meeting and courting this anxious hen.



Check back each day this week for more about OSCEOLA - A BIRD OF SUPERSTITION

Day 1: How I Came to Hunt Osceolas
Day 2: The Mystery of the Swamp Magician
Day 3: The Hunt for the Osceola
Day 4: More of the Hunt for the Osceola
Day 5: The Hunt for the Osceola Ends



Entry 297, Day 4