FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tom Edwards has stared down a charging cape buffalo in Zimbabwe, chased ibex in the mountains of Mongolia and flew 35 missions over Europe in a B-24 bomber as a U.S. Air Force pilot during World War II. But few things excite him more than hearing the gobble of a wild turkey as he comes in to your calls.
“It’s something I really look forward to,” said Edwards of spring turkey season, which opens March 3 in South Florida and March 17 in the rest of the state.
Edwards, of Fort Lauderdale, who’ll be 89 next month, takes his turkey hunting seriously.
Some hunters try to get a grand slam, which consists of the four subspecies of wild turkey in the United States.
The former real estate agent is one of the few who has a world slam, having taken all six turkey subspecies — Osceola, Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s and Ocellated.
On one of his most memorable hunts, he walked barefoot through the jungle in the Yucatan in search of the Ocellated turkey.
“That was a real neat hunt,” Edwards said, smiling at the memory. “I saw ruins in the jungle that no one knows about. It was really wild.
“We had Mayan guides who didn’t speak English and we were told to do whatever they did.
My guide took off his shoes, so I took off my shoes.”
The guide knew where turkeys liked to roost and in the dim light of dawn, he pointed one out in a tree to Edwards, who was using an ancient gun provided by the outfitter. It had two shotgun barrels on top and a blown-out rifle barrel on bottom and two triggers.
Edwards took aim, pulled the front trigger and nothing happened. He tried again — nothing. So then he pulled the second trigger and both barrels went off.
“It darn near knocked me down,” said Edwards, who bagged the colorful bird, which sported 2-inch spurs.
Ocellated turkeys don’t gobble — Edwards said they make a “deep-throated peep” — and don’t readily come to calls, which is why they’re hunted on the roost. Edwards asked if he could try to shoot one during daylight hours on the ground and two days later, a flock of birds walked his way peeping to each other and he got his second Ocellated.
That gave Edwards five of the six turkeys, so a year later, in April 2003, he went to northwestern Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains to complete his slam with a Gould’s.
The gobblers were vocal, but they were more interested in meeting up with live hen turkeys than coming to the hen calls made by Edwards and his guide.
On the third day, a bunch of gobblers were walking along a dry creekbed to the hens when curiosity got the best of one bird and he came up over the bank and strutted toward Edwards.
“He was looking around, then he got suspicious and dropped his wings and started to walk off,” Edwards said, “and I popped him.”
Not bad for guy who didn’t get his first turkey until he was 59. That was an Eastern in Georgia hunting with his close friend Ed Buchser, who had been a Marine Corps fighter pilot.
Unbeknownst to either man, the bird was a hen turkey with a 9-inch beard.
“You should’ve seen Ed’s eyes when those eggs popped out when we cleaned it,” Edwards said.
After getting a Merriam’s in Montana, Edwards figured he would try for a career grand slam and got his Osceola at Fisheating Creek and a Rio in Texas.
Since achieving the world slam, Edwards, who has hunted on six continents, has been content to hunt turkeys in Florida. He’s gotten a bird each of the last four seasons and offered sound advice that works wherever you hunt turkeys.
“I don’t call nearly as much or as loud as I used to, and they can hear you,” Edwards said. “It’s amazing.”