A Great Florida Hunting Story

(With a sad ending)

I love the way our hunting traditions get passed down from generation to generation.  That’s how it happened in my life.  Both of my Grandfathers hunted.  My Dad and all of my Uncles hunted.  I started hunting at a very early age, myself.  Some of my greatest memories are of hunts that I shared as a very young boy with my Dad and those guys.  I have proudly passed the hunting lifestyle on to my children.  This story is about a recent turkey hunt in Florida that I shared with two of my kids, Zach and Anna.  It was a fun and successful hunt, but a chance meeting after we tagged-out left me with a sad feeling.

When I was filming my television show, MacMillan River Adventures for Outdoor Channel, I was blessed to hunt all over the world.  I have had the opportunity to kill all four of the American turkey sub-species, but my kids have not.  Zach and Anna decided that they wanted to hunt all the sub-species this Spring, starting with the Osceola down in Florida.  I just couldn’t possibly let them have all the fun, so I decided to go.

Whenever we are heading to Florida to hunt, the first call we make is to the Parlier family, who owns and operates Wild Florida Outfitters.  My first encounter with them was many years ago when myself, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and my sons, Zach and Jacob, went alligator hunting with them.  Of course, any time you get to hunt, or spend time with WWE legends and Hall-of-Famers like Shawn Michaels and Triple H is a great time, but Terry Parlier and his two sons, Keith and Kurt, provided us with the most amazing gator hunt with our bows that you could ever dream of.  In fact, we have been back gator hunting with them many times since, including last Summer.  If you haven’t seen the MRA episodes from those hunts, you are really missing out.  Anyway, in addition to the incredible gator hunts, they offer the same quality hunts for Osceola turkey, so we booked our hunt with them.

When we arrived, we decided that I would hunt with Anna, and Zach would go another direction.  Keith and Kurt guided us, and the landowner, Tucker Ellis, would guide Zach.  The full moon that shined in the cloudless Florida sky allowed us to see our way past a large swamp, then across a field to the corner where a blown down tree provided a natural blind for us.  As helpful as the moon was for us, we knew that it would require us to get to our setup earlier and stealthier than normal.  We were up to the task.  We set out three decoys: a feeding hen, a laying down hen, and a jake standing just behind the laying hen.  Then, we settled in with great anticipation.

One of my favorite things about hunting is to be in the outdoors before sunrise and to hear the natural world wake up.  From the birds to the wind, it’s like God recreates the world with every new sunrise.  This morning was no different.  As the sun just started to lighten the Eastern sky, a turkey gobbled off to our right.  We heard another gobble near the first bird, then we heard at least six or seven more birds open up, further away, but all around us.  I looked over at my daughter Anna, as she hadn’t yet pulled her facemask up, I could see she had a big smile on her face.  Those of you reading this that are already parents will know exactly how good I felt at that moment.

The birds all gobbled at each other, and then, at the crows and owls who chimed in to provide us with a symphony of incredible sounds that morning.  Once the first bird flew down, Kurt started calling.  The gobbler responded immediately.  His next gobble was closer, and then closer again.  In just a few short minutes, the bird walked into our field, through a barbwire fence, and headed straight for our setup.  When the tom got within twenty yards of the decoy, he went into full strut.  At that time, a second and bigger gobbler came under the fence and ran toward the decoys.

When the first bird saw the bigger tom heading in, he attacked the jake decoy.  In seconds, the bigger tom jumped into the fray by running the first tom back a bit.  Then, the bigger and more dominant tom, started attacking the poor jake decoy.  As we were filming for an upcoming new episode of MRA, Anna let the ruckus play out a while so we could capture some exciting footage for the show.  Finally, Anna’s patience ran out and she dropped that dominant Osceola gobbler right on top of the jake decoy.

When we walked out to recover Anna’s bird, we discovered that he had an 11-inch beard and over an inch and three-quarter hooks!  Everyone was ecstatic except Keith Parlier, as the tight pattern that Anna’s Benelli Super Black Eagle II fired through the Carlson’s turkey choke left enough pellets in the jake decoy’s head that it can now be used as a maraca!

hunter-nation-tales-from-wheat-creek-turkey-01-anna_1200x628

When we walked out to recover Anna’s bird, we discovered that he had an 11-inch beard and over an inch and three-quarter hooks!  Everyone was ecstatic except Keith Parlier, as the tight pattern that Anna’s Benelli Super Black Eagle II fired through the Carlson’s turkey choke left enough pellets in the jake decoy’s head that it can now be used as a maraca!

Zach had some close encounters that morning, but just couldn’t call one into range.  So, Zach went out for an afternoon hunt, and I grabbed my shotgun and headed out with Anna to do the same.  Not long into our set, we saw a half dozen jakes come out in the field in front of us about two-hundred yards out.  Then, a handful of hens came out and through my binoculars, I thought I could see a long-beard with them, but he stayed back in the trees.  I let out a series of calls hoping to entice the flock to come check out our decoys.  I utilized the same setup that we had used for Anna that morning thinking, “Why mess with success?”

Although the flock of turkeys in front of us seemed to have little interest in my calls, I kept trying.  Suddenly, in response to a series of yelps, a booming gobble erupted from the trees to the left and behind us.  Keith and I were discussing about how far we thought they were away when the bird gobbled again, and clearly, he was getting closer.  We all pulled our facemasks up, and I called again.  The bird gobbled immediately, and then another tom gobbled on top of his call.  My heart started beating a little quicker!  Then, a jake and two mature toms walked right into our decoys.  One of the toms was in full strut, and when he separated himself from the other two birds, I introduced him to a fist full of five’s through my Carlson’s “Bone Collector” turkey choke.  The longbeard dropped and flopped right there.

hunter-nation-tales-from-wheat-creek-turkey-02-keith-anna_1024x1024

As the turkey I shot started to flop, the jake ran over and started to attack him.  The other long beard, who had started to run off, got excited at the site of the jake attacking the flopping bird and came back.  Kurt let out a few yelps and the other longbeard ran in and attacked the jake decoy.  As I had two tags, I felt obligated to fill them both.  In just seconds, I had two Florida Osceola long beards lying dead just in front of me.

When we went out to recover my birds, Anna was more excited for me than she had been for herself.  I remember feeling that exact same way when my Dad had hunting success in the last few years we hunted together before he passed into heaven.  I’d be lying if I told you that the thought didn’t put a tear in my eyes.

We headed back to the trucks and texted Zach to see how he was doing.  Although he had seen two longbeards, they were both with a haram of hens and did not come into range.  So, the rest of us split up and went to see if we could roost some birds, in the event Zach wasn’t able to close the deal before dark.

We met up with Zach and Tucker at dark.  They told us that they saw two long beards, but after a long battle, the birds had exited the opposite end of the field with a flock of hens.  Although we had roosted several other toms, Tucker was confident that he knew where the two toms that had escaped them would roost.  So, he and Zach decided to go back into the same area that they had just hunted.

The following morning, Zach and Tucker set off to a place where they thought the birds would fly down to.  The plan appeared to be working perfectly as the two birds started to gobble at first light in the exact trees where Tucker predicted.  However, there was some disappointment when the birds pitched down in the opposite direction to a spot out of sight due to an outcrop of trees in the middle of the field.  After a series of calls, the birds walked around the finger of trees, and came into view just 150 yards from their setup.

This morning, there was no prolonged calling battle.  The two gobblers were alone and came straight into the decoys.  Unlike Anna, Zach wasted no time in shooting the more dominant bird, and once again, the Carlson’s “Bone Collector” turkey choke tube sent the tom into his final flop!

Once we received the news, Anna and I drove to the setup and celebrated Zach’s success.  In just a day and a morning, we had harvested four beautiful, mature Florida Osceola longbeards.  Seeing the smiles of Zach and Anna in the field that morning, I realized what a blessed man I am that I get to share this hunting lifestyle with my family.

After saying our goodbyes to our friends from Wild Florida Outfitters, we headed to Orlando for our flight back home.  As I sat in the airport, I started writing what I would call: “A Great Florida Hunting Story.”  But, here is where the sad ending comes in.  While sitting there with my kids, a man who was several years my junior, came up and sat next to us.  As Zach was wearing a camouflage Ted Nugent “Whackmaster” hat and I was wearing a Mossy Oak shirt and a Hunter Nation hat, the stranger asked if we were in Florida hunting.  When we said that we were, the success stories and pictures soon followed.  The man, who identified himself as Ernie, told us that he was also a hunter.

When Zach and Anna left to grab a couple of sandwiches for the flight, Ernie told me that he was from a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.  He told me that he had a son, who he hunted with from the time the boy was young.  He said that his son was twenty-seven, but he hadn’t seen or talked to him for almost two years.  He also shared that his son had a little boy almost a year ago, but he had never seen his only grandson.  Although I was probably out of bounds, I asked the stranger, “What could possibly have been so bad that you haven’t talked to your son and prevents you from seeing your only grandson?”  I was surprised when Ernie shared that, although he remembered the harsh words that were spoken between he and his son, he really couldn’t recall what started the fight.  He then added that I should consider myself lucky that I had such a good relationship with my adult children.  At that, he got up, saying his flight was boarding, and said goodbye.  As he started to walk away, I called his name, and he turned around.  I wanted to say something about how life is short and how important it was that he reach out to his son to make amends.  I wanted to say that we are not guaranteed our next breath and he needed to fix this sad situation so he could enjoy his son and meet his new grandson.  But, after an awkward pause, all I said was, “Goodbye.”  With that, Ernie turned and headed to his gate.

hunter-nation-tales-from-wheat-creek-turkey-03-zach_768x1024

As I pen these lines, I am still mad at myself.  I wish I would have said something profound that would have encouraged Ernie to reach out to his son and turn his sad situation into a happy ending.  But I didn’t.  So, I added this encounter to the end of this story hoping that Ernie, or his son, will read this.  Or maybe, one of you know an Ernie from Cleveland who is estranged from his son and will have the strength to say to him what I didn’t.  Also, if there is anyone else out there who is estranged from a family member or friend because of any reason, I pray that you search your own heart, then seek the wisdom to forgive and seek forgiveness.  Life is short and every day that passes is a day we cannot get back.  I would hate to think any of us would miss out on wonderful family time together, like the incredible hunt I shared with Zach and Anna in Florida, because of some disagreement, large or small.  Remember, “For with God all things are possible.”  Mark 10:27

 

God Bless!

KeithMark-Sign-200x80

Keith Mark

 

If anyone is looking for an incredible hunting experience in Florida, for turkeys or alligators, I highly recommend you check out: WildFloridaOutfitters.com

Leave a Comment