Turkey Hunting in Florida

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  • B
  • 100,000

    Wild Turkey Population

  • Osceola estimate; Easterns live in the Panhandle; also some hybrids

    Turkey Subspecies

  • 73,000

    Number of Licenses Sold Annually

  • $27

    Resident annual hunting license ($17) and turkey permit ($10).

    Cost of Resident License and Permit

  • $171.50

    10-day non-resident hunting license ($46.50) and turkey permit ($125). An annual non-resident hunting license is $151.50.

    Cost of Non-Resident License and Permit

Want to kill an Osceola spring gobbler? Florida is your only official option. It's the most narrowly distributed of the wild turkey subspecies, but much sought after despite this. After all, you need one for your Grand Slam.

The so-called "intergrade" line in northern Florida is widely discussed as the border of demarcation for the Osceola. Conventional thinking over the years, along with biological data, has put Easterns in the Panhandle and Osceolas to the south.

Truth is, wild turkeys, best we can tell, don't read such game-management literature. They wander where they will. Florida turkeys go north; Easterns drift south.

Decades ago such controversial discussions were rare, and in truth, only a concern for those chasing a Slam. But there's more to this mystery ...

I've hunted intergrade-line Osceolas numerous times, and seen birds come into camp looking like Easterns, or hybrids of the two. At least one buddy has shared a photo of a gobbler killed in South Carolina's "Low Country" bearing spot-on characteristics of the Florida turkey (black barring on primary wing feathers, for instance). 

Of course the further south you go, many suggest, the greater chance of a pure Osceola exists. Southern Florida is a good bet. My visits there have indeed seen more typical Osceola distinguishing characteristics. Again, prominent black barring on the primary wing feathers. White bands are skinny, ragged and irregular. They seem to stand taller than the other subspecies.

All are wild turkeys, of course. 

They haunt swamps full of Spanish moss. They roost in piney woods. They favor cattle pastures and go shutmouthed on feeling pressure. They go where gators lurk. Poisonous snakes. All that.

Florida hunts are livelier because of it.

State Road 70

It's the timeworn line of demarcation for Osceola turkey hunters, as Florida annually establishes seasons based on it, with the "south of State Road 70" dates starting two weeks before those in the north. Special youth hunt weekends follow the same spacing, and down south it begins this year in late February.

Side options in my experience have also included bass fishing the famed Lake Okeechobee (a.k.a. Florida's inland sea), where our airboat guide jokingly referred to the light-tackle largemouth five pounders we caught as "babies" and enjoying a March spring training game (Red Sox vs. Pirates). So there's that, too.

As flightbound destinations go, north to south, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Fort Myers have all seen my travel gear and guns in their airport baggage claims.

 

Turkey Hunting in Florida. (c) Tes Randle Jolly photo

Fun to hunt? Absolutely. 

And what's cool as an historical detail goes is the wild turkey subspecies' name honors 19th Century Seminole Indian leader Chief Osceola.

– Steve Hickoff

More Realtree turkey hunting.