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Hunting Public Land Turkeys

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By Tony Young

3Gobblers.tifLast year, my girlfriend, Katie Hughes, and I each applied for 2011 spring turkey quota hunt permits. You see, we have permission to hunt on a few small tracts of private property, but most of them have no turkey populations. Katie had never bagged a turkey before, so I really wanted her to have an opportunity to get one.

I was hoping the “guest permit” would increase the odds of us being able to hunt together. If I got drawn, we would obtain a guest permit in her name, and if she got drawn, she would take me as her guest.

After comparing our calendars and making sure we didn’t have any prior commitments, she put in for five hunt-date choices—on wildlife management areas (WMAs) near where we live, in Tallahassee. I did the same, except I applied for five different choices—to increase our chances for getting drawn.

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I was not successful that year in drawing a spring turkey quota permit, but Katie was, drawing a hunt on a nearby area.

For those who didn’t get drawn, missed the application period or want even more hunting opportunities, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has several WMAs where you don’t need a quota permit to hunt during all or parts of the spring turkey season. All you need in most cases is a hunting license ($17 for residents, $46 for a 10-day nonresident license), a management area permit ($26) and a turkey permit ($10 for residents, $125 for out-of-state hunters). On a few of them, you also need a daily quota or daily use permit, both of which are free and given out at the management areas’ check stations on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hunting pressure can be a bit higher on some of these non-quota management areas, especially on those with the better turkey populations or those closer to metropolitan areas. But, if you’ve done your homework, including adequate preseason scouting and studying aerial photographs, you can have a successful hunt.

Whenever someone from out of state, perhaps going for a wild turkey grand slam, asks me which WMAs (not requiring a quota permit) offer the best chance of taking the highly coveted Osceola, I refer them to Green Swamp, Bull Creek, Three Lakes and J.W. Corbett. And of the WMAs that are inhabited by the eastern subspecies, I recommend Joe Budd and the Spring Creek and Snipe Island units of Big Bend.

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Hunting spring turkeys on WMAs is much like hunting them on private property, except for a couple of things. The first exception is that you may not shoot a turkey past 1 p.m. on a WMA. On private lands, you may hunt them until sunset. The other thing I need to mention doesn’t have anything to do with legal requirements, but is arguably more important, and that is, that you don’t know who else is hunting around you on a WMA.

On private property, you may be the only person hunting a particular small tract of land. In the case of a hunting club or large piece of leased property, you might have to stay within a designated area or maybe have to mark where you’re going to be hunting that day on the camp’s check-in map. That way, everyone knows where everyone else is going to be.

On WMAs, however, you don’t have that luxury, so you should take even more proactive steps to ensure safe hunting. The FWC and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) stress to hunters to always positively identify your target before pulling the trigger.

As crazy as it sounds, in the past 30 years, 76 percent of turkey hunting accidents were a result of the victim being mistaken for a turkey.

Here are a few things you can do to help prevent such unwanted incidents:

Some of the turkey hunters you’re likely to run into out there are so good at their “calling” that it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s a nearby hunter making those sounds or if it’s the real thing. Always assume such questionable sounds and movements are being made by another hunter, until you can positively identify the source.

And if you do come across another turkey hunter, and you’re not sure if he sees you, wave your arms and whistle, or say something loud enough for him to hear you, to announce your presence.

Speaking of turkey calling, we brought with us your standard mouth (diaphragm) calls, slate, box call, crow call and owl tube, but there’s one turkey call I left at home, and that’s my gobble tube. I don’t mind other hunters thinking there may be a crow, owl or hen turkey nearby, but I sure don’t want to be shaking a gobble tube (imitating a gobbler) in the brush and have any hunters within hearing distance start heading my way—or, worse yet, make a hunter within gunshot range think there’s a big tom in the bushes.

While I might have left my gobble tube behind, one thing that we did bring and use, even though it’s not required during spring turkey season, is hunter-orange vests. We wore them when we walked to and from the truck and our set-up points. But, as soon as we settled in and got into position, we removed them and placed them out of sight of any approaching turkey.

As a safety precaution, the NWTF urges hunters not to stalk turkeys. But, when Katie and I did decide to pick up and go after a bird that was “henned up” and not responding to our calls—in order to get better position on him—you bet we both wore our orange vests.

Good luck and be safe out there, y’all. Oh, and if you’re wondering if Katie ever got that turkey, just look at the picture at the top right.

Photo by Jamie Adams

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