Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors

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He did WHAT in the turkey woods?

Posted by on in Hunting
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One of the perks of my career was hunting with the best of the best. As Hunting Editor of Outdoor Life, that was my job-- to seek out the experts and write about their techniques and strategies. I learned much along the way. There were failures as well as successes; each incident added to my store of knowledge.

I've had the good fortune to have hunted with many great turkey hunters, including Michael Waddell, Rob Keck, Charlie Elliott, Harold Knight, Ricky Joe Bishop, Billy McCoy, and many others. I recall many interesting hunts that are right at the top of my memory book. I learned profound lessons, but one incident with a legend stands out in my mind.

The late Lovett Williams was considered to be THE top expert on Osceola turkeys, a subspecies that lives in Florida. He was a turkey biologist and had written much about the Osceola, Gould's, and Oscellated, including several books. He earned a PhD in wildlife ecology, and was the Chief of the Florida Bureau of Wildlife Research. He worked 24 years with the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission. He was also a master turkey hunter.

So it was only natural that I was thrilled and excited to hunt my first Osceola turkey with him. Even better, we'd hunt out of his famous turkey camp at Fish Eatin' Creek. This place was known far and wide among turkey hunters.

The first morning we drove out into a spot with dense palmettos. We parked in the dark and listened. Finally, we heard a far off gobble that seemed to be a half mile away. Lovett walked toward the bird with me following. We crashed through the palmettos, sounding like a couple Patton tanks. I figured the bird would surely hear us, but Lovett forged on, finally stopping at the edge of a clearing. It was still dark, and I could barely make it out. Lovett whispered to find a comfortable spot and sit down, saying that we'd be there for a while. As it got light, Lovett explained that the clearing was actually a dry pond. He pointed out the purple irises that grew everywhere, explaining that turkeys love to eat the iris flower.

osceola.jz2Then Lovett began calling, using a wingbone call he'd constructed himself. I was rather astounded to see that Lovett wore no gloves or face mask, and in fact was wearing no camo clothing. He had on clothes that were muted greens and browns, including a baseball cap. This all was most interesting. In all my years with all the experts, we were camoed from our nose to our toes.

Lovett continued to call. An hour had passed and he still called. We hadn't heard a single gobble since that first one when we were parked in the dark. I was beginning to wonder about Lovett's credibility. Had it been me, I'd have left for another spot, hoping to hear another bird. I looked at my watch. We'd been there two hours, with Lovett calling a minute or so, then stopping for 5, then calling again, repeating the routine. Then he looked at me and said, "I hope a bird shows up soon. My mouth hurts like hell." To those unfamiliar with a wingbone call, you must draw air into the mouth to make it work. I've used them occasionally, but never to the extent that Lovett was. Not even close.

Another half hour of calling and waiting passed when Lovett whispered, "right there, right there." I turned my head to the left and saw two longbeards 25 yards away, standing stock still and glaring at us from the edge of the clearing. I slowly raised the gun, and just as a bird issued a warning putt, I fired. It was a good shot, and I had my first Osceola. I was ecstatic, but also astounded at the calling scenario. It was the quintessential example of patience and experience and knowledge, all put together.

True to form, we had a proper celebration back at Fish Eatin' Creek camp. Lovett loved his beer, and I was known to quaff one or three on occasion. For dinner, Lovett produced a large chunk of frozen rattlesnake meat. Then, while making a salad, he spotted an armadillo scurrying around near the porch. "Catch that thing," he yelled. "we'll eat it." Lovett grabbed a broom and swatted at the critter, but it dashed into a hole. Luckily, because I had no idea what to do with it if I'd caught it. Then Lovett grabbed a chainsaw and walked over to a palm tree of sorts that stood about 10 feet high. It had a thick base. With the saw, he cut the top off, and then made vertical cuts, resulting in a chunk of Palm wood about 14 inches long, and 2 inches by 2 inches wide. Back in camp he washed it off, and cut it into chunks. I was looking at Heart of Palm, that I'd seen only in jars in grocery stores. It went into the salad and was amazingly delicious.

The next day, Lovett showed me around the Florida woods, pointing out the various orchids that grew on trees. As a forester by education, I was thoroughly impressed. and I knew then why Lovett was such a likable, fun guy who loved turkeys and turkey hunting with a passion. Tragically, he passed away two years ago. Rest in Peace, Lovett. Your legacy lives on.

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