Welcome to Florida Turkey Hunting!

I have known many turkey hunters over the years and have guided many others. They come from all walks of life and have a widely varying degree of hunting experience. Once in a great while I run across one that is exceptional.

In late 2013 I received a call from a guy from SE Georgia wanting to book a public land turkey hunt with me. His name was Brian Threlkeld. We had numerous conversations and email exchanges over the coming weeks and developed a plan for a combination public/private hunt for the 2014 spring season.

Brian’s hunt date finally arrived and he and I spent the next three days, completely consumed with turkey hunting. We would rendezvous at my office at 5:00 AM and would be lucky to make it back by 10:00 PM that night. If we weren’t actively hunting a turkey we were talking about how, to hunt a turkey. I am not even sure we stopped for lunch every day!

Brian set up on the Camp Gobbler

  • A Master Hunter Leaves Nothing to Chance!

I quickly came to realize just how knowledgeable of a woodsmen Brian was and what an exceptional turkey hunter he is. Many hunters overlook just how important a role woodsmanship plays in being a successful turkey hunter. Brian probably didn’t know it but I was watching every move he made, how he called, when he called, what gear he carried, even where he walked. I scrutinized every word he spoke. There was no doubt I was hunting with a Master turkey hunter!

Brian using a trumpet turkey call


Brian with one of his favorite tools….a custom Marlin Watkins Trumpet Call!

Brian was meticulous about the equipment he carried. Every item had a purpose and a place. I could tell that each item carried a special meaning. One of his essential items was a custom long box made for him by Marlin Watkins that he used as his primary strike call. Another was a custom trumpet call also made by Marlin, each having a custom holster. His chosen weapon….an old Remington 870 with a 30” barrel and custom choke. He was particular about every item he carried and wore. Everything was not new but it was in top working order and performed even better. I have noticed that this is usually the case with the best hunters. The guy with all the latest, brand new gear is probably not the expert everyone thinks. 

Brian and I had a tremendous hunt and came close to pulling the trigger 3 different times before we finally killed a bird on the 2 nd. day at about 10:45 am. A number of the birds we hunted were struck well up in the morning including one at 12:00 noon! Another mark of a real turkey hunter. We hunted that bird until 2:00 PM before he and his flock of 5 hens finally moved off away from us. We repositioned on them twice and almost killed that bird both times. His death awaited but a couple yards away on each set-up. They never knew we were there.

The next morning, we hunted a bird early that I had roosted the evening before. When he came off the roost he landed behind a small cluster of gallberry bushes a mere 35 yds from our position only to walk straight away with the gallberries obscuring his exit.

Afterwards, we went back to hunt the gobbler from yesterday again. We struck him at 10:15 AM in some short sand pines. He died shortly after at 10:45.….following the same routine as the day before. We were successful due to having scouted heavily and located a number of birds. When one broke down we were able to move on to the next with current intel.

  • Are you missing the Big Picture?

Many turkey hunters seem to have no understanding of or Brian Threlkeld Osceola Gobbler with Larry Stephens - Bull Creek Outfittersmaybe just over look the big picture when it comes to hunting a turkey. What do I mean by this? They narrowly focus on the turkey and what is going on at that very moment. They neglect to consider why the bird is where he is at that time and a whole host of other factors like does this bird have a predictable routine, are there hens involved and what will they be doing as the morning progresses. For most hunters, If the bird does not gobble, fly down and move towards the hunter, they don’t know how to handle the situation. Basically, in their mind, the tom is gone at this point. Often times this is not the case and considering all factors involved will give you a good idea of what your next move should be.

The typical hunter knows how to strike a bird and move in and set up but what if the bird breaks down and stops calling and don’t show……he’s outa there looking for another bird. The run and gun strategy is a great one and exactly what we employed on the hunt above however, you need to bring more to the game than just one method of hunting. You need a hunting strategy for each different situation and be able to adapt to as needed. It is easy to get stuck in the run and gun mode. The problem is that you are walking away from often times, killable birds.

Here’s a good example;

I was recently on a hunt with Brian on a tract he owns in Georgia. Brian, knew a particular gobbler was using a few hundred yard stretch of black jack oak ridge that bordered a narrow creek drain. The drainage was predominately thick and impassible with a very small opening in the creek bottom here and there.

The vary scenario I described above happened to Brian and I on this hunt. The bird gobbled on the roost at us as we moved towards him owling. He was in a tight creek bottom with a terrible cut over adjoining the back side. We set up on the sand hill to his right knowing he pretty much had to come to the hill. Besides that, we had cut numerous hen tracks crossing the road in the dark. We surmised that they were roosting in the creek then moving up onto the hill to spend the day feeding and loafing.

I only gave the bird a few tree calls until it was time for a turkey to be on the ground. He never answered a single call! Brian was set up behind me about 30yds. After more than an hour of silence and no birds showing up, I moved over to Brian to discuss a new plan.

It was obvious the bird was not going to come to this spot. We were very close to the roost and he surly had moved away by now. I was ready to move on myself and though that decision happened to be technically right at that time (we discovered later), I instantly realized I had made a classic error when Brian suggested we relocate a little and give the bird an hour to start up. That was a Masters move! Someone that was seeing the whole picture. It was One of those, hit yourself in the forehead moments for me. “Damn it, why didn’t I think of that?” Though the odds of that bird coming to us that morning right there were not good, Brian’s move was the tactically correct one! You’re already on a bird dummy! It is typically a poor choice to leave a bird that you already have close to you in hopes of finding another! I guess, at least I was smart enough to recognize my mistake. I will not repeat it again.

Though no turkey was killed that morning, the experience was a valuable one. That lesson will without a doubt kill me some turkeys in the future.

  • Knowing what to do and when to do!

O.K., I know what your thinking, What was so important about Brian’s call to stay with that bird, you did Strut Sign from Brians Tomnot kill him anyway? First, through previous scouting and knowing the area, woodsmanship again, Brian knew the birds were in somewhat isolated pockets, very significant. This bird had himself a group of hens and they were roosting in a narrow creek drainage and then moving out onto an oak hill to feed and spend the day. They were using a relatively small area and it had everything they needed, also significant. There was no reason for them to wander out of the area. Therefore, by relocating up onto the hill a short distance, to where we had seen all the hen sign in the dark, we would be in a place were the flock was used to using at that time of day and they would not be to far away. Second, it was very likely that he stopped gobbling early once he saw his hens and then pitched to them. However, By going silent and giving him some time, it was highly likely that he would start up on his own a little later in the morning or we might strike him with an occasional call. Either way we should get a courtesy gobble at some point and we would go from there.

Therefore, with the knowledge that the birds were using a relatively small area, were in that area currently and we were in their wheel house undetected, the tactically correct decision was to stay with them and see what developed.

A turkey generally has a routine to his coming and goings. Day in and day out a turkeys day begins the same, progresses through the day and ends the same way. It is affected by many factors, including the type of woods, density of population, weather, water levels, phase of breeding/nesting, food availability, etc., etc. The list is endless but is paramount to the hunter to recognize as many of these factors as possible and take them into consideration when developing an attack plan. Now your looking at the big picture!

  • Another Masters Move!

Brian and I went back to hunt that creek bottom bird the next morning. We had discretely scouted the spot the Tom had been roosted after the hunt the morning before. We now knew his roost spot was a hole in the creek where the only option for him was to move from there onto the hill. We located a small game trail that we believed the turkeys were using to enter and exit the bottom and marked it for our return in the dark.

The next morning he was exactly where he was supposed to be. It was another Masters move! Brian stayed up on the hill and kept the bird gobbling so I could course him without calling and move in silently for the kill. This one was not a new one on me but is an advanced strategy.

That bird has no idea how close to death he came. A more solid plan has never been designed. I cannot say without any doubt that he never left the limb but I don’t see how he could have gotten it done. There were no solid spots in the canopy large enough to hide him gliding off?

I sat quietly on the bank of the little stained, sand bottom creek, a mere 60 yds from the roosted tom, watching intently for his departure from his limb. I am really confident he was still sitting there when I finally slipped out at 8:30. I know I did not fowl him getting set up! I have been close like that to a pile of turkeys and know what I can and can’t get away with. It is one of my most deadly tactics. Though I never actually saw the gobbler this was a great hunt. I was within a long shotgun shot of him for over and hour and a half, tight as a string the whole time. I just knew I was about to deal the death blow any second! Wow, that was a hunt!

In true turkey form that old tom made the only play possible, short of migrating out of there that could have kept him from getting shot……He sat right there on the roost until we just had to leave him due to our limited time to hunt that morning.

  • The Quickest of Turkey Hunts!

Brian had heard another tom hammering that morning so with only 45 minutes left to hunt, we charged Georgia Eastern 11 inch beard larry Stephensoff after him. We ended up striking the bird well down the road using Brian’s wing bone call. He couldn’t have been more than 175 yds at the most. We grabbed our gear and took off after him.

The bird was on a sandy hill with scattered black jack & live oak, some scattered pine, etc. with a ridge paralleling our movement. We stopped to call and course the bird after about 100yds and he responded immediately, just on the other side of the ridge. We barely had time to get set up.

I picked a group of 8-10” oaks and Brian dropped back to call. In just a few moments the bird topped the ridge in front of me within gun range. He turned slightly to follow the ridge and I immediately recognized that it was time. A quick shift of the camera and a load of #6 was on its way down range. Big gobbler down! I jumped up and ran to the flopping tom. Brian was standing where I had shot from when I came walking back up with the bird and a big smile. He looked at his watch…..”you know it’s only been 6 minutes since we struck this bird! That’s got to be a record!”

The big Georgia Eastern had a 11” beard and 1 1/8” spurs.

Brian & Larry - Georgia 11 inch beard 4-27-14

  • Modesty!

A trait that seems to be common among the best hunters I have met is Modesty. They have the confidence of experience. Brain was no different. He would never brag of the numbers of turkeys he had harvested. That was not even the point of hunting. Not at all, it is the new experience, sights and knowledge that each hunt brings. Every hunt without exception is different in some way. It may merely be something you have never seen your quarry do before. As a hunter, if you overlook these moments you are little more than a killer and the hunt is truly so much more than that.

Brian would seldom speak of his accomplishments or boast about what he owned, etc. I only received little tidbits of information about him as a side fact to some story he was conveying at the time. He wouldn’t just come out and tell you he owned numerous tracts of land, some of them substantial, nor did I ask. I figured he would tell me in his own time, if he wanted me to know.

Another thing I liked about Brian was that he didn’t come across as a know it all! He was willing to listen to your ideas then offer his own experience and reasoning. Conversations with Brian were always enjoyable and interspersed with stories of past hunts. All included valuable bits of information that could only be gained through countless hours spent afield. I sucked it all up like a sponge!

We are already planning some new hunting adventures for next year and to say that I am looking forward to it is quite an understatement.

Best of hunts,
Larry Stephens

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