Each spring I try to get in a little spring training with a southern hunt. It provides a chance to get myself and my gear in shape before the home season begins, not to mention field test some new equipment. This year’s was on a Florida hunt hosted by old friend Gary Sefton. Sefton leveraged some of his contacts to put together a media hunt for several writers and industry folks.

I was particularly excited about this hunt. Not only would it provide a chance to spend time with old friends and meet new ones, but it would be a rare opportunity to hunt Osceola turkeys, only found in Florida. The other races that make up a wild turkey grand slam – eastern, Merriam’s and Rio Grande – are more widespread.

Given the relatively small size and open habitat of the parcels we would be hunting, and the Osceola’s sensitivity to disturbance, we were advised to forgo the running and gunning, and just pick a spot and sit tight. That provided a convenient excuse to test Cabela’s new Species ground blind. It has some nice features, including size enough for several hunters, 360 degrees of windows and larger diamond-shaped corner windows for bow hunters.

We wouldn’t need the corner windows but the replaceable shoot-through mesh would be a nice feature for our gun hunt.

I shared a blind the first morning with J.J. Reich, PR/communications manager for Vista Outdoor, which gave me a chance to learn more about the guns and ammo we were using. The gun was a new Stevens 320 field-grade Turkey Pump shotgun in 12 gauge, equipped with a Weaver VZT turkey scope. The pump or slide action seems to be preferred among turkey hunters and the 320 is a solid, reliable yet very affordable option.

Reich was particularly proud of the VZT scope because he had a hand in designing the oval Vertical Zone reticle, which is also ideally suited to turkey hunting.

So are the Federal Premium 3rd Degree loads we used. The latest trend in turkey loads is long range, but tighter long-range patterns sometimes result in close range misses because the pattern is too tight.

Federal took a different approach by creating a three-stage payload. The first stage (20 percent) consists of “Saturn-shaped” No. 6 Flitestopper pellets that disperse quickly for a larger pattern inside 20 yards. That’s followed up by the second stage (40 percent) of No. 5 copper-plated lead for mid-range shots. Then the Flite-Control wad and third stage (40 percent) of No. 7 Heavyweight pellets combine for shots at 40 yards and beyond.

We tested guns and loads on the range before hunting and found they produced effective patterns throughout the recommended ranges, but the real test was yet to come.

Field & Stream hunting editor Will Brantley and Newt Borowski from Cabela’s were the first to score one-shot kills the first morning. Brantley’s was in decoy range while Borowski’s shot was a bit longer, but still within what might be considered average range. Reich and I heard several gobblers and had one pass by just out of range. The rest of our group also drew a blank.

My opportunity came the following day on a bird that slipped in quickly and quietly in the rain, providing a very narrow window of opportunity. I had no problem acquiring the target in the VZT scope and the 3rd Degree load did him in at 35 yards. Last to connect was fellow scribe Steve Hickoff, who let his bird walk in especially close so he could test the load’s close-range capabilities. The result was more than sufficient at 12 paces.

The guns and loads performed well but the real key, regardless of what you’re using, is to pattern your gun before you hunt. Shoot first at 15 or 20 yards to make sure your sights are on and you’re hitting where you’re aiming. Then shoot at successively longer distances until you reach a point where your pattern no longer puts enough pellets in the kill zone. Subtract five yards and that’s your effective range.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]