- David Blanton
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Hunters: Mitch Ensor with guides David Blanton and Hoppy Kempfer and cameramen Steve Finch and John Tate
Location: Osceola Outfitters in St. Cloud, Florida
Species: Osceola gobblers
Weather: lows in 50s and highs in 70s
Several months ago, Realtree friend, Steve Finch, formally the producer of Realtree Road Trips, told me about a man named Mitch Ensor who he met a few years earlier. Steve shared with me that Mitch, an avid outdoorsman, was diagnosed one year ago with Lou Gehrig's Disease. Mitch made it known that before he passed away, he wanted to kill an Osceola turkey to complete his Grand Slam. He'd already killed an Eastern, Rio Grande and Merriam's, and he just needed the Osceola to round it out. He told Steve that he wanted to kill a Florida bird and would like for me to accompany him on that hunt, which I thought was an honor.
As soon as I heard about Mitch's request, I called Ralph Cianciarulo, co-host of Archer's Choice TV show, and asked him where would be a great spot to take Mitch for an Osceola hunt. He immediately suggested that we hunt at Osceola Outfitters with Hoppy Kempfer. When asked if we could setup a hunt there, Hoppy replied that he would be thrilled to host all of us, so we made our plans.
I gave Mitch a call and invited him to join us. He was thrilled. Then, I had the opportunity to meet him at the National Wild Turkey Federation Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. When I met Mitch, I was immediately impressed and touched by his gracious spirit. Even though he is fighting this terrible disease and losing more and more of his physical abilities each week, he considers himself to be lucky and blessed by God. Mitch truly inspires me. Despite the pain that he must deal with daily, he continues to give God the glory in everything he does.
Headed to Osceola Country
On March 31, John Tate, Steve Finch and I jumped in my truck and drove to St. Cloud where Mitch and his wife Kay who live in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky, joined us. They had flown to Orlando a few days earlier and spent some time at Disney World where they were able to enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation.
We were really fired up about the hunt and wanted to do all that we could to make Mitch's dream come true. Several people and companies pitched in to make this hunt a success. A wheelchair company that makes high-end, super duper wheelchairs that can be driven off pavement donated a chair to Mitch to use during the hunt. We laughed and called it the Hummer of all wheelchairs. Steve Finch ordered an apparatus that would hold the shotgun in front of Mitch so the he could reach up and pull the trigger with little effort. And, I took my Benelli 20-gauge shotgun with the Nikon red dot scope on it to make it a little easier for him to draw a bead on the turkey.
We arrived in camp that night and met Hoppy and his family. We all hit if off immediately. The Kempfers are fantastic Christian people. The next morning, Mitch, John, Steve, Hoppy, and I headed out for the hunt. To make it easier on Mitch, Hoppy hooked the utility trailer behind the truck so that Mitch could drive the wheelchair up onto the utility trailer and back it down with ease once we arrived at our hunting destination. Dressed in full camo, Mitch left camp on the back of the trailer in his wheelchair.
Three Birds No Shot
Hoppy had set out an Ameristep blind big enough to hold all of us. We set up in the blind the first morning and heard gobbling. The gobbler came in to the back end of the field with hens, but he didn't show a lot of dominance, and he remained out of range. He refused to come in to the decoy. Then, we heard some more birds gobbling behind us. We'd call and they'd gobble, we'd call and they'd gobble some more. They were walking straight down the road, and we knew that they'd walk right behind the blind, but Mitch couldn't turn to shoot. We just had to hope that they'd come out into the field in front of us.
Sure enough, two long beards strutted into the food plot. Hoppy commented that one of the birds had extremely long spurs and gave it the nickname Captain Hook. We hoped that they'd come to the decoys, but they didn't. Instead, the birds made their way to the other end of the field.
I told Mitch that those turkeys were going to run off the other gobbler first.
Sure enough, they went down to the far end of the field where the other gobbler was and established their dominance. But after they did this, they never came within shotgun range. They both just gobbled and strutted around on the other end of the field.
Jon Tate captured some incredible footage of the birds strutting, and Steve had a camera focused on us in the blind. We truly got the day off to a great start. I often saw Mitch tearing up because he was so thankful for the opportunity to be out there hunting. Throughout the morning Mitch continued to remark on how beautiful it all was – the birds strutting in the field, the crisp cool morning and the lush surroundings.
That afternoon after lunch, we returned to the field and Kay went along with us. We sat in the same blind that we used that morning. We saw a few hens way off in the distance, but we didn't see another gobbler although we heard some gobble right at dusk on their way to the roost.
In Pursuit of Captain Hook
That night back at camp, we discussed where to hunt the following day.
I asked, "Should we hunt where they roosted or return to the same blind?"
Mitch replied, "Let's go after Captain Hook."
Well, that settled it. Our plans were made.
So, the next morning, we loaded up at camp, drove out to the blind and got settled in just before daylight. At first light, we heard turkeys gobble at the far end of the food plot. We knew that they were close. Sure enough, the hens flew down and walked to the far end of the field, and not far behind them followed a big strutter.
Mitch whispered to me, "I'm taking my safety off."
The gobbler was in full strut at this point really putting on a show for the hens. Slowly, he began moving his way toward us. My heart started beating hard in my chest. I knew that Mitch was about to get his shot at an Osceola. Finally, when the bird reached 28 yards from us, I whispered, "Mitch, take the shot when you're ready."
I cut to the turkey, and he lifted his head. Mitch fired off a shot and downed the bird. It was an incredible experience. When his turkey hit the ground, I can tell you that everyone in that blind started crying. We were just so happy that Mitch had taken his Osceola and that we had been blessed enough to be part of the hunt. We sat in that blind for a good 15 minutes reliving the hunt and thanking God for Mitch's success. About 15 minutes later, we got out of the blind and retrieved the bird.
It was a phenomenal hunt. I can't begin to explain the awesome feeling we all shared. After Mitch killed his turkey, no one else wanted to try to kill another gobbler. Unlike in most camps, all hunting came to a halt. We all knew that this hunt was about Mitch over coming his obstacles and challenges to harvest his bird. It was truly one of the most memorable hunts of my life. I'll never forget it, and I'll never forget the look on Kay's face after Mitch shot the bird. She was just so happy for him.
My Dream Come True
By Mitch Ensor
Thanks to David, John, Hoppy and Steve, I learned that dreams can come true. My hunt for Osceolas meant more than me than I can express. To have my wife Kay and these guys with me when I completed my Grand Slam was absolutely phenomenal.
When David called me to invite me on the hunt, I got very emotional. All I could say was, "Thank you Lord and thank you Steve and David."
I don't know if there is a word or a group of words that can say what I felt at the moment I shot the Osceola turkey, but the sense of accomplishing a goal that thousands of turkey hunters dream of accomplishing was overwhelming.
I can't say enough about all of the guys that made this hunt possible for me. Hoppy is one of the best people I've ever met. His operation is second to none, and I ain't blowin' smoke. And my wife was especially impressed with David. To be in such a prestigious position, he has remained humble and is just a wonderful person. He is a truly kind man. I felt blessed to have completed the Grand Slam, but I felt even more blessed to have shared his company.
I never even dreamed that such a hunt was possible. It couldn't have happened any more perfectly. This hunt was truly one of the highest points of my life so far. I'm just so glad I was able to share the experience with my wife Kay and to tell my two children Shelby and Tanner about it. The word wonderful is simply an understatement.
Osceola Outfitters offers outstanding hunting opportunities for Osceola turkeys, wild hogs, whitetail and alligators. These hunts take place on a working, fifth generation Florida cattle ranch that is rich in history. As you hunt you will experience what Florida was truly like before the days of mass urbanization, having preserved the natural beauty of Florida's untamed wildlife.
Game limits in the state of Florida are liberal due to the vast amounts of game, yet Osceola Outfitters is still recognized in central Florida as having exceptional game populations. In addition, the outfit is well known for its trophy game management programs that consistently produce large trophy class animals in all species hunted. As you hunt in the natural surroundings of palmettos, cypress swamps, and pines, you can observe eagles, sandhill cranes and various waterfowl, just to name a few.
Osceola Outfitters is centrally located just a short drive from most of the Central Florida attractions like Disney World and Sea World. This may be good to keep in mind the next time you are considering a family vacation.
For more information, call (407) 957-3593, or check out www.osceolaoutfitters.com.
July through September 2007 Bill Jordan's Realtree Outdoors airs each Sunday at 9:00 a.m. on ESPN2