Halfway there

Winner of Florida raffle now halfway to slam

Jeff Neill has several years’ experience hunting turkeys in his native Wisconsin, but traveling the country and encountering the different strategies that go along with differing terrain has heated his passion for the springtime pursuit to a fever pitch.

“Hunting with the TFT guys was a blast from the get-go,” Neill, 35, of West Bend, Wisconsin, said. “From the moment I got picked up at the airport and they asked me if I liked Dairy Queen, I knew I liked them already.”

Neill won this spring’s TFT raffle for a Florida turkey hunt, which was hosted near Gainesville by Bobby Adams. Adams is a local Florida guy who simply loves turkeys and wanted to help TFT any way he could. His donation of the Osceola hunt to raffle, along with all the hospitality that went along with it, was a tremendous benefit to TFT’s mission. Assisting Adams in the hosting duties were the group’s Pete Daugherty and Terry Rohm. Daugherty is TFT’s director of outreach and Rohm, a two-time national champion caller, serves on the board.

Turkey hunting in the oakmonts and the cattle pastures throughout the central strip of the Sunshine State can be cataclysmically hot or cold, so hosts Daugherty, Rohm and Adams hit the woods with Neill on opening morning, if anything, more nervous than he could be. They needn’t have worried. Adams’ land management practices have kept the birds on his place comfortable and content, exposing them to the bare minimum of pressure.

“We heard several different gobblers from the roost,” Neill said of their opening morning’s setup. They’d positioned themselves in a prepared position next to a cattle pasture the longbeards like to use.

“They all went quiet after fly down, though,” Neill continued. “Terry was sitting right next to me telling me we had to be patient. I told him I was in it for the long haul, no matter what. I was enjoying the peace of the woods anyway.”

Hens picked their way through the guys’ hunting spot early on, and then, a little more than an hour after they’d heard their last gobble, a longbeard appeared off to their left and began working his way toward where they sat. The gobbler’s attention was intercepted by the hens that had come through earlier, though, and soon their setup was all quiet and empty once again.

Another hour passed as the sun climbed higher into the sky.

This time the tranquility was broken by the sight of two longbeards that appeared, walking in from the same direction as had the customer that came through before.

“Terry did what Terry does best,” Neill said. “A little magic calling convinced the two longbeards their best options lay with us, rather than with hens far away.”

Neill clobbered the dominant bird that morning at 9:45, and Daugherty caught it all on video. That left Neill with photography and footage to keep the hunt’s memories fresh forever. Afterward, Neill then got to enjoy a few days’ relaxation, wrapped around hunting camp life for the balance of his trip.

“Since I’d shot my bird right away, I spent the next few days with them scouting, looking for other turkeys for other hunters to chase, and just seeing new country,” Neill said. “It was a great experience all the way around. The whole TFT experience was enjoyable, with top-notch guys who were very professional. They know the topic of turkeys very well, and I was learning things from them constantly, both about hunting and about turkey biology. They were very knowledgeable and were great hosts.”

Daugherty put on a Southern shrimp boil for the entire crew, and they all made Neill feel most welcome.

“It was just as comfortable as hanging out with my buddies back home,” he said. “We spent the week sharing stories and swapping experiences, comparing our different hunting cultures from different parts of the country. For the shrimp boil, Bobby’s extended family came over and it was a great experience all the way around.”

The experience has kindled a fire in the adventurer’s soul for Neill. With Easterns and now an Osceola to his credit, he’s halfway to the wild turkey Grand Slam.

“I’ll definitely enter the TFT raffle again next year,” he said. “The one that really intrigues me is the Rio. I have a buddy who can help me with the Merriam’s, but where the Rio is concerned, I don’t have a particular place to start, so I’ll start with next spring’s TFT raffle and go from there.”

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