Osceola Turkey hunters should consider the following when traveling to Florida in pursuit of a trophy long beard.
If you are interested in hunting Osceola turkeys in Florida, be sure that the hunting operation being considered offers them. Make sure they are wild turkeys, not turkeys purchased at a game farm and placed into an area just prior to the hunt. Research how to tell the difference between an Eastern, Rio Grande, Bronze, and an Osceola. Turkeys raised on farms have shorter legs and the feathers are ruffled and broken as they have been caged. The feathers on a wild bird should be in excellent condition. The only damage on the birds should be the ends of the primary wing feathers due to strutting. I am not currently aware of Osceola's being available for sale anywhere. However, Eastern, Rio Grande, and several crosses of these are readily available to the public for use in hunting preserves.
When considering any hunting operation, be sure to ask them about the property you will be hunting on. They should have some idea of their Osceola wild turkey population. This can be by turkeys per acre or just the total number of turkeys expected to be harvested during the upcoming season. Harvest records for the previous season will give you a good idea of what is currently taking place on the property. There should be some form of an active wildlife management program. If they are harvesting birds they need to be doing prescribed burning, mowing, and some form of supplemental feeding. Some operations only allow the harvest of trophy birds while others allow the harvest of any gobbler including jakes. Some operators offer hunts on public lands at a reduced cost to you and some without the reduced rate. If they explain you will be hunting a combination of public and private, be sure to find out how much public and how much private. You should have enough land available to you to work several birds if necessary. Florida is not like other states in this respect. In my opinion, you need a minimum of 800 to 1000 acres available to each hunter in your party. Your operator should have enough land available to you so that you are not hunting any of the land being hunted by others in your party or other parties for that matter. Some operators still only allow morning hunts. If you are hunting on public lands you are only allowed morning hunts. The Florida regulations allow for all-day hunting on private lands.
Turkey hunting, especially Osceola turkey hunting in Florida, in my opinion, you need an experienced guide. If you are coming in from out of state it is impossible for you to pattern the birds in the area you will be hunting. You have the topography of the area to consider, the areas where the birds are roosting and the areas that they are traveling, and at what time of day all of this occurs. You need to know where they are loafing, feeding, and most of all strutting. You have to know where to set up for your hunt as well as your approach to the set-up to consider. If you are looking for a trophy bird, this needs to be completely scouted prior to your arrival. There are just too many variables on a turkey hunt to come to Florida and try it without a knowledgeable guide.
Make sure you ask for references. Any legitimate operator will gladly supply references on request. Ask for references who have hunted with the operation more than once. Operations that have repeat customers are a good indication of a quality operation.
Success rates and how they are determined can be very tricky. You need to understand how each individual operator determines them. Just like our 1999-success rate was 15 hunters, 15 birds, however, we didn't achieve 100% success as one hunter went home without a bird and one hunter harvested two. Success rates should be based on successful hunters vs. non-successful hunters. Anything above 50% is a good rate if they are hunting fair chase and are being truthful about the rate. You have to remember that you are (with some operators) hunting wild birds in their environment and Osceola turkeys are the most difficult of all the sub-species to harvest. They are also considered to be the toughest North American game. So you take all this into consideration and you see why a lot of hunters go several seasons (hunting on their own or with other services) before harvesting their first bird, much less a trophy.
Hunting over bait in Florida is illegal (except on Indian reservations). Regardless, it is not ethical in my opinion. Hunting turkeys over bait is like hunting chickens in a hen house. It takes away from the experience and is definitely not a fair chase. It seems ridiculous to come to Florida to hunt over a pile of corn. It is not necessary if your guide is experienced and you have prime habitat with a good population of turkeys.
Lodging is up to the client. You should ask for a description of the lodge or camp. You might even ask for pictures of the inside. Pictures of ours are located on our Onsite lodging page. Florida offers everything from large extravagant lodges to tents in the bush.
The operation you choose should have a taxidermist available that handles lots of BIRDS. If at all possible ask for his name prior to the hunt and call and talk to him personally. If he is a legitimate taxidermist he should be able to answer any of your questions. This service should be included in the hunt. If not it should at least be available to you. If you are going to mount the bird the taxidermist doing the mount should skin it out. This will save future conflicts concerning the mount.
Please be careful in the selection of the hunting operation you choose for your recreation time in Florida. There are several legitimate operators in Florida. However, there are many more operators that are not. Remember to ask lots of questions, talk to the references they supply, get as much information as you can. Remember, research, research, and research.
There is a lot of false advertising from operations in Florida due to the demand for Osceola's. Websites that provide little or no information such as the operator's name, physical address, or phone number, and other important information concerning their operation must make you ask yourself why? Don't trust what the operator tells you.
Check operations out through other means. Contact the state of Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (www.myfwc.com). Contact the turkey biologist in the region you wish to hunt.
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