- May 20, 2020
It has been a rather fast-paced – and hectic at times – three weeks. It began on Thursday, March 14th as I arrived to help Jeff Budz, a turkey guide and outfitter in central Florida. He had asked me last year to join him this spring and do some guiding for several of his hunter/clients
It has been a rather fast-paced – and hectic at times – three weeks. It began on Thursday, March 14th as I arrived to help Jeff Budz, a turkey guide and outfitter in central Florida. He had asked me last year to join him this spring and do some guiding for several of his hunter/clients who were interested in getting their Oceola turkeys – the subspecies found only in Florida. I was curious and anxious to see his operation, so I was happy to join him for what would turn out to be an intense 12 days of guiding for turkeys and trapping feral hogs.
For the two days before the opening of the north zone season on Saturday, March 16, we scouted for turkeys at daybreak, and then spend the rest of the time setting ground blinds, checking hog traps and laying out a game plan for the hunters who would join us during for the first 10 days of the season. During the first morning of scouting, we located 11 jakes (young gobblers) and 38 longbearded mature gobblers, along with an untold number of hens as well. After the initial onslaught of clients, things would settle down and Jeff would be able to handle the rest of the hunters for the remainder of the season.
The feral hog trapping was intermittent since guiding hunters to a successful conclusion was the first priority. Secondarily, we would set traps (a large heavy wire fencing enclosure with a trap door) on the few days that hunters would not be with us. Feral hogs in Florida are very numerous and do an excessive amount of crop damage throughout the year, so the landowners were very happy to have Jeff trap and remove these destructive critters whenever possible.
The turkey hunters came from all across the country in high hopes of taking an Oceola turkey that would be part of their pursuit of a Grand Slam of gobblers – one each of the Oceola, Rio Grande, Merriam and Eastern subspecies. We guided the hunters on several parcels of private land that were under lease, including a 13,000 acre orange grove.
On opening day, there were 18 hunters who had solicited Jeff Budz’s services to get their Oceola. All 18 got their birds and 8 of them who wanted a second gobbler were successful in doing so. Rather amazing statistics and if I had not been there to see it myself, I really would have doubted such an achievement. It was a fun and action packed 12 days during which time I was able to guide hunters on 7 different successful hunts.
Having wrapped up the Florida hunting, I made a quick run to the hill country of central Texas. Here, in the hills outside of San Saba, I planned to hunt for Rio Grande turkeys and see if I couldn’t find a Western diamondback rattler or two. I had been successful hunting spring gobblers there in years past, and there was an underground cave on the property where I planned to hunt. There were two openings to the cave, and reportedly this was the time of year that the snakes would begin to leave their dens and lay in the warmth of the sun for days until they finally slithered off to hunt for food.
I arrived late in the afternoon and decided to scout the property until sunset. I looked for the two supposed openings of the cave, but never did locate them, then turned my attention to scouting for turkeys. Hiking several miles, I covered a good portion of the ranch, following cattle trails and old roadbeds, but saw absolutely no sign of turkeys. No tracks, no areas where they had dusted, no feathers and no droppings were to be seen. As darkness fell, I listened intently in hopes of hearing a bird gobble or hear turkeys flying up to their roosts, but the sounds never came.
For the next two full days, I would arrive at daylight and stay until dark, listening, scouring the hillsides with binoculars, hiking as I looked for signs of turkey activity and carefully walking the areas where the cave openings were supposed to be. But, there were no signs of turkeys and no sightings of snakes.
From Florida, which had produced an over-abundance of turkeys and turkey activity to the lack of any such activity here in Texas, all I could do was shake my head in wonderment. The turkeys were here in years past. Where were they now? Why was there absolutely no sign of them having been on the property in months? Would they be here later this spring? Would they return for next spring? So many questions and the answers will have to wait for next spring.