Osceola Turkeys, the Jewel of the Grand Slam
Osceola Turkeys, the Jewel of the Grand Slam
By Babe Winkelman
Every turkey hunter in the world dreams of taking the coveted “Grand Slam,” which means harvesting all four turkey sub-species in the same year: Eastern, Merriam’s, Rio Grande and Osceola. Of the four, the most difficult to harvest is the Osceola. One reason is because it’s a very wary subspecies. It’s not the MOST wary – no, that title belongs to the skittish Eastern. But the big reason the Osceola is such a huge challenge is because it lives in only one-half of one state: namely Florida.
If you’re on your way to achieving a Grand Slam this year, or plan to attempt it in the future, there’s one person you must talk to: Jeff Budz. To say that Jeff is a turkey hunting machine is a vast understatement. He didn’t even start hunting until his junior year in college, and he has already harvested a whopping 304 gobblers. And get this… while most hunters hope for one Grand Slam in their lives, Jeff Budz has 68 GRAND SLAMS! Nobody else in the world has that many. He has taken birds in 27 different states and intends to get one in every state.
After catching the hunting fever at age 22, it wasn’t long before this city boy from Illinois was outfitting and guiding wherever turkeys and large big game animals roamed. He started an outfitting business (online at www.tagitworldwide.com) and specializes in all turkey subspecies, whitetails, mule deer and elk – and guides hunters predomintly in Colorado, Kansas and Florida. He’s been at it for more than 15 years.
Of course it’s Florida where the Osceolas are, and the properties that Jeff has reserved for his clients are as good as it gets. I talked with him the other day and he already had 11 hunters at his operation through the early part of the season. All 11 killed gobblers, and most before 8:00 AM on the first day! According to Jeff, “we put very low pressure on those birds, and the result is happy hunters with mature longbeard gobblers.”
Speaking of longbeards… despite the fact that the Osceola is the smallest of the wild turkey subspecies (a mature tom will tip the scales at 16-18 pounds), Osceolas will typically have longer beards and spurs than their cousins. Their compact size, overall dark coloration and cautious behavior suits them perfectly in the oak and palmetto hammocks, pine forests and swampy habitats of Florida.
Osceola turkeys behave very much like the Eastern subspecies, and the tactics for taking one with a bow or gun are virtually identical. The same calls and decoys you use on other turkeys will work their magic on the beautiful Osceola. Proper concealment, in camouflage or a ground blind, is critical since turkeys have such uncanny eyesight and won’t stick around long if they see something that doesn’t belong in their world.
Since spring turkey hunting typically coincides with the resurgence of biting insects and ticks, it’s important to be prepared for them. This is especially critical when it comes to ticks, which can make you very, very sick. In North America, the following diseases are caused by tick bites: Lyme disease, human granulocytic and monocytic ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, tularemia, Q fever, and tick paralysis. All of them are bad.
I know that this year, I’ll be in the turkey woods prepared with some new hunting wear from Gamehide called ElimiTick Tick Repelling Clothing. This is the first-ever EPA-registered insect repellent clothing, and it works great. The fabric contains “Insect Shield” which is a natural repellent found in chrysanthemum flowers. It’s invisible and odorless, making it ideal for early-season deer hunting too. And the repellent remains active through 70 washings.
This year I’ll hunt Easterns in Minnesota, and I’ll also hunt Merriam’s Turkeys with Jeff Budz and all my daughters in South Dakota. I can hardly wait! I won’t make it to Florida for another Osceola (where Jeff guided me toward getting my first Grand Slam). But I hope to make it next year, and if you decide to do the same, Jeff is your man. Drop him a line at email@example.com or visit TagItWorldwide.com to book your own Osceola adventure. I’ve hunted with a lot of amazing turkey hunters and callers in my life, and nobody can match the skill and enthusiasm of this turkey hunting machine.
Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for nearly 30 years. Watch his award-winning “Good Fishing” and “Outdoor Secrets” television shows on Versus (VS.), Fox Sports Net, Wild TV and many local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times where you live.