I’ve been very fortunate to go on some awesome hunts that were auctioned off at conservation and charity banquets. Last year, I was able to win a hunt with Osceola Outdoors at an auction held at the World Turkey Hunting Championship to raise money for the Wounded Warriors United. I honestly hesitated bidding on it, because it was for one hunter, which meant I would probably venture out solo for this trip. However, the thought of adding another species of turkey toward an eventual Slam had me impulsively putting my hand in the air. The trip really sounded too good to be true—food, lodging and a guided Osceola hunt. I set a budget in my mind, and was surprised when I actually won it—under budget! (Don’t you just love how auctions make you feel like a winner, even though you are spending your money?)
Hunting Osceola turkeys for the first time was incredibly exciting. It was also the first time I had ever ventured out on a hunt alone without knowing the outfitter or people I would be hunting with, and to a place I had never been. It seems that I rarely have the opportunity to push myself toward new experiences, and this one brought with it the anxiousness you feel when you do anything for the first time. I am so thankful for the experience, and want to encourage other women to give it a try.
We find that about 33 percent of the women who go through our program don't hunt but want to. In Shoot Like A Girl's recent study on Women's Participation in Shooting Sports the reasons why women who wanted to hunt but didn't hunt were because they didn't know how, they didn't know where to hunt and they didn't have anyone to go with. For all those ladies out there, I would like to offer this solution. Go to a conservation banquet or an outdoor charity event, find interesting hunts, then bid on them. You can pre-set a budget, and you just might find a guided hunt within it. These guided hunts offer a welcoming atmosphere; the outfitter or guide service will help you prepare ahead of time and will be alongside you during your first hunting experience. You'll need to do a little preparatory work, but you will have assistance to make the most of your hunt.
Here's how I came to experience my first-ever successful Osceola hunt. Osceola Outdoors is located in Moore Haven, Fla. I cashed in some Delta Miles, flew there and rented a car. I immediately felt refreshed as I drove the hour and a half through Florida country roads. The breeze, the palm trees, the fresh country air, the water… “wait,” I thought, “the water … are there alligators where I’m hunting?” A little tiny panic attack swept over me as I pictured Wild Kingdom having an alligator jumping out of the water and eating a flamingo. Then I remembered that I was going to a very reputable guide service, and they would look after my safety.
As I arrived at the lodge, my nerves really set in. Even though I’m an accomplished hunter, I still recognized that I only know a little, and there is a lot to learn. I had the same apprehensions that many new hunters may have ….”Will they like me? Will I like them? Will I be successful? Can I do this?” These are normal feelings, and I don’t mind admitting that I had them when I arrived. As fast as those feelings of self-doubt arrived, they left. I was immediately welcomed by the caretaker and two guides. They seemed happy I was there, and helped me get my luggage inside—they treated me like a special guest in their home. My guide, Jimmy, told me we could go hunting that afternoon if I could get changed. I heard those magic words, “go hunting,” and I was filled with anticipation of what it would be like to hunt Osceolas.
We hunted that evening and the next two days. I informed my guide that I wanted to learn as much about hunting turkeys as I could, and in turn, he gave me tips throughout the hunt. I find that whenever I’m hunting with a guide or friend, they’re more than happy to share their knowledge and explain the “why” of what you’re doing. Here are a few things I learned:
1. When turkey hunting, you never know if they’re on the edge of the field, so you have to be still, even when you can’t see any birds. You need to keep your head still, and only move your eyes. It’s important to get as comfortable as you can so that you don’t move, and scan the field with your eyes.
2. You can make a natural blind with palmetto leaves. Clip them off about a foot from the leaves and stick them in the ground. The ground was hard where I was, so I used my knife to loosen the dirt. I had a very concealed hunting spot!
3. You can also make a blind with dead tree branches. Lay them down in front of you about three feet out, and build cover for yourself.
4. It is hot in Florida.
The day I got my bird, I started out in a beautiful spot. I wish everyone would go hunting one time to experience that special time where night turns to day. We were in a ground blind with the full moon setting directly in front of us. It was the time where it goes from completely eerily quiet to hearing an owl howl in the distance, a tweety bird chirp and the Sand Hill Cranes singing. The animals of the night say goodnight, and the sounds of animals that live in the day are mixed together in a beautiful chorus. The one sound we didn’t hear was a turkey gobble. It was disappointing, but we sat there for the morning, eagerly awaiting Mr. Tom’s arrival.
Apparently, he declined our invitation, as we only saw one hen “bugging” around—that’s Jimmy’s term for the birds moving around and eating bugs. We left that spot around 10:00 a.m. and walked through the trees to an open area. We saw lots of fresh turkey tracks, so we felt good about our odds. We set up in two different areas, making natural blinds like I described above in both places. Once again, the birds didn’t cooperate with us. We left and went to lunch, and Jimmy was plotting the afternoon’s hunt. He had heard where a bird was roosting, and we decided to go right after lunch to set up early. We walked almost three quarters of a mile to where we were hunting.
We got there, built a blind and I decided to try and take a quick nap. Jimmy made us hand fans from small palmetto leaves. I was restless and couldn’t sleep, so I decided to just set up. I was moving around, getting things in and out of my Alps Outdoorz turkey vest and all of a sudden, Jimmy was whisper yelling at me—“Karen, Karen, Karen!” He heard a turkey. He called and the turkey yelped. They were long drawn out yelps, and Jimmy said it was probably a Jake. I’m listening, and Jimmy says, “Get your gun ready.” With all the excitement I had going in, I almost forgot to be prepared.
I got my gun up and aimed toward the decoys. Jimmy told me to look to the right, and there he was. Right in front of me was a beautiful Tom in full strut. He looked like a three foot in diameter beach ball. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration of the actual size, but in the moment, that’s what I saw. The Tom went to the decoys, and Jimmy asked if I was ready. He called to the turkey, and when he looked up, I squeezed the trigger. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I’m always happy to be successful, but also I am aware of the reality of hunting, and so thankful for the bounty. I was extremely proud to carry that bird all the way back to the truck. We ended the day with an Osceola Outdoors tradition to celebrate wild turkey; you’ll have to visit them to experience it.
I can’t stress enough the opportunities that can be found at conservation and charity auctions. If you're someone that wants to hunt but aren’t sure where to start, I encourage you to go to an auction, bid on and win a hunt. Your money will be going toward a good cause, and you’ll have an experience of a lifetime. That is, until your next hunt.