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Hunting for an Osceola prize in Palmdale

Here in the middle of the Sunshine state you are about two hours from either of Florida’s coasts where high-rise condominiums feature garages which showcase such luxury brands as Mercedes, Lexus, Jaguar and a Bentley or two or four or more—a staple of resort living same as palmetto, palms and scrub oak are staples in these parts.

Pickups, and Polaris Rangers are best to ply the dirt roads and woods at FishEating Creek hunting camp. There is beauty (and beauties) on the beaches, and I go for that, but outdoor aficionados bent on bringing down a ten-point buck or outwitting a wily Osceola turkey—named for the great Seminole chief—are the state’s real people. I prefer it here.

Hosts Keith Beaty and Bill O’Leary are connected to the stock market and investment portfolios, among other pursuits.  Lately they have been taking hits like everybody else, but in good times and bad, you will find them seeking respite where nature smooths out negative wrinkles, becomes a buffer for all of life’s wayward flak and inspires grateful feelings for all good deeds and good times. 

Beaty hails from the South Georgia town of Moultrie. His modest upbringing spurred his ambition to succeed.  He matriculated at Georgia Tech and ultimately produced and manufactured medical devices, specializing in dental implants. A nicer person, you are not likely to meet.

O’Leary played tight end for Georgia, married into the Golden Bear family, specialized in landscaping in the golf industry along with golf course design, eventually evolving into real estate entrepreneurship.  All the while, he bagged big game in Africa (wake up in his guest suite, look around and you might think you should run for your life with all the animal mounts staring at you); he became a wing shooting and deer hunting connoisseur across the South, but glories in his connect with the Osceola turkey.  He is adept at iPhone video in the woods.

He and Keith lease the Fish Eating Creek camp grounds where the landlord inserted into the lease agreement that they would diligently try to kill a wild hog every day—if not legally binding, it would be keenly appreciated. 

There was an unforgettable introduction to a local guide who knows the ways of the woods like Wyatt Earp knew gun slinging. Brandon Storey, blessed with rare woodsman’s instincts, takes the greatest pleasure in seeing friends experience success in an Osceola stalking.

In the last fortnight before the virus paralyzed our nation, Keith dropped Brandon and me off at an Osceola gathering place, which had been scouted out before the season opened. I have never been more aware that it is truly darkest before dawn. It was 5:30 a.m. Brandon, with flashlight in hand put out the decoys which looked more turkey than a turkey itself which is key to a successful hunt. Gobblers have been known to attack decoys with same intent to destroy, but for different reasons, that moves a lion to bring down a wildebeest.

At first light, Brandon said, “I hear gobblers.” I could not, but was aware that I was in a pop-up, camouflage tent with an expert who knows the woods as well as the wily Osceola. 

Daybreak came and so did a hen. She dropped into view, talking. Brandon talked back to her. Coming off the roost, an acre or two away, gobblers, with a bent for romance, heard the conversation but everything soon went eerily quiet. Enveloped in all that outdoor solitude, I actually dozed off.

Brandon was on alert, however.  He soon tapped me on the elbow. He could hear gobblers behind us, sashaying through the brush toward a rendezvous with the lone hen. A threesome of Osceola gobblers, fit for a Steve Penley portrait, strode confidently on the scene. “Let ‘em separate,” Brandon whispered.

The gobbler on the left, as if on cue, slid about three feet to his left and poked his head about, wary and alert, as gobblers are wont to do. Not being an expert marksman, I aimed where the gobbler’s long neck met his well-fed body.

Suddenly, there was thunder in the woods and also in my racing heart as I was overcome with emotion seeing my bounty lie motionless. Brandon offered a fist bump. Photographs would come next. Keith and Bill, on the other side of the property, heard the shot. Keith came to ferry us back to camp where they all helped me admire my Osceola prize. That ride back to camp was more fulfilling than a ride in a ticker tape parade in Manhattan.