Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Mark Peterson of World Wide Trophy adventures completed a turkey world slam in just 1 turkey season.
WORLD TURKEY SLAM – FLORIDA OSCEOLA’S BY MARK PETERSON
With the first turkey season of the year opening in Florida, it was easy to decide that my first Turkey hunt of the Spring would be for an Osceola turkey in central Florida. The southern zones of Florida open up the first week of March, which is much earlier than the start dates in other states. The Osceola turkey lives on the Florida peninsula and is not found anywhere else in the world. They have one of the smallest territories of any of the subspecies of turkey. The Osceola’s may have a small range, but they also have an extremely healthy population. Based upon National Wild Turkey Federation numbers, there are over 100,000 Osceola’s. Osceola’s are similar to the Eastern subspecies but tend to be slightly smaller and darker in color, with less white barring on their wings. The white bars on their wings are narrower and often broken, giving them a darker appearance than traditional Eastern. Their feathers also show more iridescent green and red colors than Eastern.
Osceola’s are nicknamed “Swamp Walkers” because they often live near thick swamp areas. It is because of this habitat that they are one of the most challenging turkeys to hunt. These thick areas also have a number of predators that call them home. It’s often said that the Osceola’s are the most vocal turkeys on the roost, but then one of the quietest once they hit the ground. This is probably because of the thick, swamp habitat that they live in, which is perfect for predators to sneak up close versus the open fields used by northern turkeys.
I have been fortunate to hunt Osceola’s twice before this trip, so I had a good idea of what to expect. From my past experiences, hunting Osceola’s is quite different than hunting Easterns in my home state of Michigan. In general Osceola’s can become call and decoy shy very early in the season, and a lot of the Osceola hunting is done similar to deer hunting, where the hunter sets up on a known turkey travel corridor. That tactic is usually the key to Osceola hunting success.
I arrived into Florida at the start of the northern Osceola season, which was in mid-March. A big part of success in hunting Osceola’s is making sure that you are with a good outfitter. WTA has had a great deal of success with the outfitter that I chose to go with. The week before I arrived, he led a group of five WTA clients on a hunt for Osceola’s. They went 100% on great birds. As their pics were posted during their hunt, my anticipation built. Our outfitter, Billy, has close to 30 separate leases for turkeys. This allows him to move to where the turkeys are throughout the season, while at the same time he does not over-pressure the birds by continually hunting the same groups. This leads to dramatically increasing the success of his clients.
In talking with Billy prior to our hunt, it was obvious that he had everything set and ready to roll. He had the birds patterned on the lease we would be hunting, and he also had trail cams set up on the lease. As a result, he had a great idea of the number of total turkeys and the number of mature turkeys, being 3 years or older. Billy didn’t just have the birds patterned and trail cams set on the lease we were hunting, but he was set up like this on all of his leases. You can you tell why WTA has a great relationship with this highly professional outfitter!
The Lease we hunted was a large cow pasture of about 125 acres surrounding by extremely dense palmetto thickets. Visibility, once in the palmetto, was 3-4 feet in most areas. The field had a natural finger of woods that stuck out into the pasture and right on the point of this finger, we stuck a popup blind. Based on Billy’s scouting there were close to 100 turkeys that used this field throughout the day. With that many eyes, the popup blind would help to hide our movement. It was also nice to have regular chairs as the hunt could take 15 minutes or 10 hours depending on where the birds had roosted. From the point where we were set up, the turkeys either roosted behind us, or on our right or left. No matter, at some point during the day they would probably pass in front of us.
The temperatures hit the high 80’s in Florida early in February this year and that seemed to kick off turkey breeding earlier than normal. On this lease, Billy had noticed that a lot of the hens were already sitting on nests during mid-day, but also that the turkeys had started to group up and the gobblers were with big groups of hens. Because of this, we decided not to use a decoy and only do very light calling. With our blind position on the point, we could call depending upon where the turkeys were in the field and make it seem like the calling was out of their sight on the other side of the field.
Before first light, we could hear a couple of different gobblers off to our left, but this was the position that most likely would lead to a very long sit. Because of this, we didn’t do any calling and just wanted the turkeys to go about their normal activities. While in the trees, they were gobbling their heads off but the second they hit the ground there was dead silence. As we sat there doing the normal discussion of should we call or not, we decided to stick to the plan. Soon, we spotted the first hen off to our left at about 100 yards, and she was followed up by 13 other hens. We had a group of 14 hens all together, and right as the last hen came into view, we heard our first gobble on the ground. It quickly went from quiet to crazy. There were now two long beards strutting together following the group of hens. Next, a group of jakes sounded off on the far right of the field and that instantly led to another group of 2 year olds also sounding off to our hard right. The jakes and the 2 year olds met up at about 350 yards out in front of our blind. The 2 long beards were not breaking strut and continued to follow the hens at 100 yards out moving from our left to the center of the field.
We let this play out for about 10 minutes, but then the hens turned and started to go directly away from us. At this point we said to the heck with the plan and gave a light call out the back of the blind. To the long beards, the hen call sounded like they were around the corner and out of sight. That light call caused those long beards to go crazy and burst into a sprint coming our way. This in turn caused the group of jakes and 2 year old birds to break into a sprint to come see what was going on as well. So, we had over 10 birds literally running towards us. The first long beard hit the corner 35 yards away from us; this was the first time that he could fully see around the corner to where he thought the calling was coming from. He looked like a baseball player sliding into home plate, as he went from a full on run to a sliding strut. It didn’t take him long to do what I like to call “the turkey eye” stare down when he didn’t see any turkeys there. That was my cue. I slowly slipped my shotgun out the window and made a good shot. My Osceola hunt was over, and a textbook Osceola hunt it was.
There is nothing like turkey excitement to get the heart pounding and remind a person what it feels like to be in the great outdoors. I can’t say enough positive about Billy’s turkey operation. Over the years, WTA has received nothing but great feedback from our clients who have hunted with Billy. Because of this, we book Billy out pretty far in advance. If you are interested in a great Osceola hunt, give the team at WTA a call and get it set up soon. 1-800-346-8747
WORLD TURKEY SLAM- HUNTING OCELLATED IN THE JUNGLES OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA – BY MARK PETERSON
There is no other turkey hunt like it anywhere in the world; hunting Ocellated turkeys deep in the jungles of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula! This was my 3rd trip to hunt the jungle and both of my previous trips had been amazing, so I was looking forward to this new adventure. No other hunting experience in the world is like hunting in the jungle. Visibility is extremely limited, so sound is just as important as sight as you seek the various game birds of the Jungle. Each day you head out with the target of a turkey, but you truly have no idea what you may see. This just adds to the intrigue and mystique of this hunt.
The Ocellated turkey lives in an area that is roughly 50,000 square miles, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, in the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Yucatan, Tabasco, and Chiapas. There are also a population in Belize and northern Guatemala. The Ocellated has brilliant copper and electric blue colors throughout their feathers. Ocellated turkeys don’t gobble, but rather they sing. They are also the only subspecies of turkey where the toms do not have a beard. However, the adult birds are known to have extremely long spurs, with some over 2 ½ inches and even some that push 3 inches. Their bodies are also smaller and weigh less than the other turkey subspecies. These differences from the other subspecies, is part of what makes this hunt so unique and special.
My trip into the jungle started with a flight into Campeche City, where we overnighted. From my previous trips to Campeche City, I have learned it is an amazing place for seafood and I look forward to my time in the city, both on the way in and way out of the jungle. Leaving Campeche City the next morning, we started our drive into the jungle with 3-4 hours on paved roads as we drove along the coast before turning into the central part of Campeche. Then, depending on which camp you hunt out of, the drive is an additional 3-4 hours on two track roads that start nice and then eventually turn into tight, highly vegetated jungle roads. The drive into the jungle is always interesting as less than 30 vehicles use these roads during a monthly period, and even less when it’s not hunting season. Each year the outfitter goes in before season and opens the roads back up from the over grown vegetation growth and makes them “usable” for the season. On most drives in, you will see numerous game birds that call the jungle home, as well as monkeys, Toucans, and various jungle floor animals.
Upon arriving into camp, we put our gear in open mesh tents. The mesh allows the breeze in as it is extremely hot and humid, but it helps to keep the bugs out as the jungle has plenty of insects. When setting up camp locations, the outfitter tries, whenever possible, to locate them next to a river. This is done because it is cooler next to the water but also you can also use the rivers to sit in during midday. Sitting in the water with 90-degree heat and high humidity makes for a very comfortable midday break. At dinner, your first night, you will meet your local guide for your hunt. These guides may not speak a lot of English, but they know the area and can spot animals that, to non-natives, are almost impossible to see. I’ve had a different local guide on each of my trips and they have all been phenomenal. There may be some communication issues, but this is just part of the experience.
When Jungle hunting Ocellated turkeys, you don’t call or set up for them. The goal is to catch them on the roost before they disappear to the jungle floor, not to be seen or heard of again until that night. This hunting method took some getting used to on my first trip, but then you understand that this is truly the only way to successful jungle hunt Ocellated turkeys. This method has been used by the locals for hundreds of years and it’s all part of this amazing experience. The goal when hunting Ocellated in the jungle is to try to locate the turkeys as they go to roost at night and start singing. Just like the other subspecies of turkeys who gobble going to and from roost, the Ocellated sing going to and from their roost. Once you have located them in the evening, you know where to go the next morning. For hunters who haven’t hunted the jungle, this may sound easy, but it is anything but easy. The turkeys are often roosted off of the two tracks at a distance of ½ mile or more. There are no trails to get to the birds, so you need to work your way through the jungle, literally “the jungle”, before the Ocellated flies off of the roost. If you make too much noise or take too long after it starts to lighten up, your turkey is gone.
The outfitter also has 2 or 3 scouts in each camp, covering upwards of 20 miles a day, scouting for turkeys. The scouts had located a turkey the night we arrived into camp, so we had a plan for our first morning. Over the past 6 months the jungle had been extremely dry, causing a lot of the water holes to dry up. This has changed animal behavior as those water holes are such a key part of survival. The guides told us that the turkeys hadn’t been singing as regular as normal. So, a turkey may sing going to roost but not again in the morning. That is exactly what we experienced our first morning. We went about 35 minutes from camp and set up on an old foot trail near to where the scout had heard the turkey singing the night before. But, as the sun started to rise, we didn’t hear a single peep. As it got lighter, we realized the turkey was not going to be singing that morning, so we walked in a half mile circle around where the turkey was thought to be. While doing this we heard, by chance, another turkey singing on a roost a long distance away from where we were. Knowing that we didn’t have much time, we hurried as fast as we could towards the singing. After about 15 minutes of hard walking, we had closed the distance to less than 100 yards and caught our first glimpse of the turkey. As we attempted to move in closer, he flew off the roost and was gone.
So, the turkey hunt may have been over for the morning, but this is where the unknown happens. Once the turkey hunt is over, it’s time to hunt for other game birds and animals of the jungle. There are many, such as Grey and Red Brocket Deer, Peccary, Crested Guan, Coati, Curasaw, Chucker, Quail, Chacaloca, Paca and others. Having been twice previously in the Campeche jungle, I am still amazed that you never know what you are going to see while walking the jungle. On this morning, we saw male and female Curasaw, Crested Guan, and Coati. Near the time we were getting ready to head back to camp for the afternoon break, my guide spotted a Tinamou. These are very tough to spot in the jungle, and it took a while for my guide to assist me in seeing it through the thick jungle vegetation. I was able to make a good shot and had my first jungle bird of the trip.
When hunting in the jungle, the best time is in the morning, followed by the last two hours of daylight. The afternoon is spent resting from very short nights, as you wake up extremely early to head out turkey hunting. So, you rest and try to stay cool.
Our main goal of our first evening hunt was to head out and try to locate a turkey going to roost. We heard not one, but three different turkeys in three different locations. We had options. We made a plan to hunt the area we thought was best because the underbrush wouldn’t be as thick as the other two areas. But remember, less thick in the jungle is still darn thick. That night in camp it started to rain, which was great for the dry jungle. However, this rain turned into a major thunderstorm and when we woke for the morning hunt, it was still coming down hard. The new plan was to stay in camp until it stopped and then head out. The rain cut down to a light drizzle about 30 minutes before light and we decided to go and make a play on the turkey we had roosted the night before. Time would be tight as we had waited longer in camp because of the rain.
As we got to the spot from the night before, our turkey was singing but the light was already starting to come up. Knowing we only had a short time until he would fly from his roost, we worked our way in as quickly as possible. The rain from the night had all of the leaves wet and quiet and this allowed us to go in fast with very little noise. As we moved closer the signing got louder, until we worked our way within 50 yards. We saw him in the tree and with a well-placed shot, I had my Ocellated turkey. The Ocellated is one of the most breathtaking birds and their colors are just amazing when you see them in person.
As we had another day to hunt before going back to Campeche, we hunted that evening and saw a lot of other game birds. We went out the next morning as well and started by scouting for Brocket Deer. There were hunters coming in, later in the season, and the guides wanted to make sure they had lots of options to hunt. I was happy to tag along and pick up knowledge on what to look for in setting up a Brocket Deer hunt. I had learned a long time ago, always carry your gun when doing things like this as you never know what may happen. After finding an absolutely amazing Brockett Deer area, my guide stopped dead in his tracks and quickly started pointing into the thick jungle and said “Peccary”. It took me a while to see it’s outline. I was lucky as I had buckshot in my shotgun, just in case I saw a Brocket Deer while scouting. I quickly raised and squeezed and had my first jungle Peccary! Again, you never know what you’ll see in the jungle.
Like so many animals in the world, the Ocellated turkey faces many threats, mainly from human expansion. The jungles of the Yucatan peninsula are known for their large numbers of Mahogany trees. Mahogany, being one of the most sought-after woods in the world, brings a high price. The jungle is supposed to be protected, but unfortunately, there is lot of illegal harvesting that takes place. When people go in to cut these trees down, there is no fancy equipment used. People use old saws and even older flatbed trucks in search of these highly sought-after trees.
When people head in and locate a Mahogany tree to cut, they have to first cut a path through the jungle to be able to get a flatbed truck to the site. Once there, they will cut the tree down and use a series of hand pulleys to load the tree on the flatbed and so they can move it out of the jungle. Because this process is all manual, it can take up to two weeks to get a single tree out. During this time, the illegal harvesters are living in that area of the jungle, illegally harvesting any and all game species to eat. In the jungle, they live off of the land. They leave garbage and burning fires around the campsites. As usually there will be a group of mahogany trees together in a spot, once they are done illegally cutting the trees, the surrounding area looks as though a tornado has gone through.
After the trees are cut, the jungle is more open than normal. At this point, local farmers go in and burn the areas where the tress have been harvested. Once burned, the areas are then used for livestock. Once this happens, that portion of the jungle is gone for-ever and the jungle is shrinking in size every day. What have we found, time and time again, is that to protect areas like this, hunting can be the key to the conservation of these resources. When Balam Outfitters set up legal hunting in the jungle, they gave the animals that live in the jungle a value. As a result, the locals protect them and also the jungle that they live in. Africa gets the most amount of attention with hunting as conservation, but it true that hunting as conservation has success stories all over the world. No matter what is said in the news, we as hunters know that this model works and protects wildlife. It is the only reason that in a lot of areas, animal numbers have held steady or increased. Hunting Ocellated turkeys and the other jungle animals give them a value for the locals and will ensure sustainable populations and wise land management. Remember, Hunting is Conservation!!!
Next up for me, is hunting Rios in Texas.
WORLD TURKEY SLAM- TEXAS RIO GRANDE BY MARK PETERSON
When I think of Rio turkeys, I think Texas!!! Rios are concentrated in the western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and other western states. But, to me, Rios and Texas just go together. As far as behavior, Rios are similar to Eastern turkeys but have tan colored tips on their tail feathers which separate them from the other subspecies of turkey. This hunt would be the second time that I have traveled to Texas for Rios and my first trip was a great hunt. The Rio populations throughout Texas are extremely healthy, so going to a good ranch with a great outfitter makes for an awesome trip.
The ranch we were hunting was in the northwest part of Texas about an hour outside of Amarillo. The ranch was a mix of thick scrub brush and deep ravines with a couple of agricultural fields and grazing pastures mixed in. It was truly a gorgeous ranch boosting high populations of Rios, Aoudad, Mule Deer and Whitetails. The outfitter, Gary, is one of WTA’s best, operating in both Texas and New Mexico. He has some great Antelope and Elk on his ranches in New Mexico; I can’t wait to get there for a hunt.
In this northwestern part of Texas, most of the trees are relatively short, with the higher trees located on the banks of the ravines or down in the bottoms of the ravines where the water is found on the ranches. Knowing where a good number of turkeys had been roosting, the plan for the first morning was simple. We were going to get between the roost and the nearby wheat field. We had roosted the birds the night before and they were in one of the tall tree areas at the bottom of a big ravine. Based on past experience, Gary said they sometimes fly off the roost to the bottom of the ravine or fly over and land on the upper rim of the canyon, which was only a quick walk over to eat in the field.
We found the perfect pinch point on the upper rim of the canyon where it first met an old pasture that led into the wheat field. As we walked to the blind, we could hear the gobblers sounding off in the canyon with their gobbles echoing throughout the canyon and up onto the rim. We were about 125 yards away, in the blind, as they sounded off from the roost. We couldn’t hear them fly down but we could tell the change in the gobble that let us know they were on the ground. It sounded like they were heading our way. After about 5 minutes of continuous gobbling, the morning turned quiet. Ten minutes after that, we caught movement out the backside of our blind and saw 3 long beards standing 15 yards away. They had stopped gobbling on their climb up the canyon wall and now were close. By the time we were able to adjust and get the camera and myself pointing out the back of the blind, the first 3 gobblers were gone. But, then a 4th gobbler appeared in the same opening as the previous 3. He didn’t give much time as he hurried through. My Kent’s did their job and with only 30 minutes into the Texas hunt, I had my Rio.