A Pair Of Rare Trophy Turkeys…
At least two rare trophy turkeys that were white in color were bagged in Michigan during the spring of 2008. One was a bearded hen and the other was a long-bearded gobbler. Coincidentally, both birds were bagged by hunters named Smith. Imagine that!
John Smith from Temperance got the bearded hen, which was smoky gray in color, on May 9 in Monroe County. The Cabela’s employee is a veteran turkey hunter, who started hunting turkeys in Michigan during the late 1980s. Although he’s taken his share of toms over the years, most of them have been jakes and 2-year-olds.
John’s best turkey, in terms of size, to date is a gobbler he got in 1994. It had a 10 1/2-inch beard and spurs that were 1 3/8 inches long. That bird weighed 22 pounds.
Although the bearded hen is smaller, it’s a unique trophy Smith is proud of. He said he thought the bird was a tom when he shot it. The smoky gray turkey was with six normally colored toms and one hen.
John was after a longbeard that morning that he thought was of state record proportions. He got a good look at the bird, but it wouldn’t come within shotgun range. After he walked off, Smith looked out a side window of his blind and spotted the group of eight birds.
As soon as he saw the beard on the white one, he didn’t waste any time shooting it with a load of Federal copper coated 5s out of his Browning shotgun. It wasn’t until after the bird was in hand that he realized it was a hen. The fact that it had a beard made it legal.
The white hen’s beard was about 5 inches long. John told me he heard of one other smoky gray bearded hen that was shot near Mason.
Lansing area hunter Dave Smith shot a white gobbler in Shiawassee County on the morning of May 30, the day before turkey season ended for the year, but the last day Dave could hunt. And he only had a couple of hours to hunt that morning before he had to go to work. Gabe VanWormer, who is one of the producers of the Michigan Out-of-Doors television show, and one of his friends, were Dave’s guides.
“I’ve been after this white turkey all year,” VanWormer told me via email. “I saw this bird before hunting season opened, but dismissed it as a domestic bird. As the season got closer, I realized that it acted much more like a normal wild turkey than a domestic bird. He strutted, gobbled, roosted and flew like a normal bird. He would jockey for position while strutting with other gobblers and be right in the thick of things. Seemed as wary as any gobbler I’ve hunted. By the time my season arrived in April, I decided to try to get the white gobbler.”
“I was out of state for part of my season, which reduced my chances of getting it, but I still managed to hunt it five straight days. I was disappointed not to kill that turkey, but I just had some unbelievable bad luck. I had two longbeards (one double beard) strutting in to me at 30 yards, with the white one right behind them strutting as well. They were on a beeline for me and I was just waiting for the other longbeards to move out of the way when all-of-a-sudden a coyote ran across the field about 100 yards away. The white one dropped out of strut and took off flying. The others just ran.”
“I was disappointed, but knew I’d get another chance. Two days later, I called him in down in a swamp and had him at about 30 yards, but couldn’t get a clear shot. I didn’t want to wound him or spook him. I passed up six other longbeards during this time. Then he disappeared for over three weeks and nobody that I know of saw him.”
“We were not targeting the white bird on the 30th,” Smith commented. “In fact, I would have taken any legal bird that day. I hunted with Gabe and his friend two or three times the last couple of weeks of turkey season and came close to getting nice toms a couple of times. On the morning of the 30th, we set up on the edge of a field first thing in the morning and had a mature tom and two jakes come down from their roost. Unfortunately, they were not interested in our setup and moved on. We quickly picked up and tried to get in front of them but were not able to. With time running out, Gabe and I jumped in his car to move to a new area to scan some fields in hope of locating some birds.”
“Gabe had not seen the white tom in several weeks. As we rounded the corner to check another field, he was excited to see it. It was with another tom (a real dandy) and three hens, one of which was a smoky gray color. Gabe knew the area well and had a good idea where the birds were headed. He thought we could traverse a ditch line at the edge of a woodlot and get ahead of them before they left the field.”
“We parked the car a couple fields away,” Dave continued, “and hoofed our way along a ditchline, stopping every once in a while to try to spot them. The mosquitos were horrible and the cover made it tough to locate them at times, but it also made our stalk much more possible. At one point, we nearly spooked the birds and they got a bit nervous.”
“Instead of crossing the ditchline at a natural spot, they continued to parallel it and we had to pick up again and try to move ahead of them. We quickly moved a couple hundred yards and I snuck up the ditch bank to get a look. I immediately saw the white tom only about 30 yards off to my right, but through thick cover. His white color really made him stick out as he was on the edge of a cut corn field with a lot of green grass in it.”
“I couldn’t see the other birds, but assumed they were there. After several minutes of waiting and watching the tom and debating on whether to try to sneak a shot through the brush, two of the hens appeared and scurried past me in the field. The tom held back for a minute or two, but then decided he wanted to catch up with the hens. He began to run to catch up with them and his quick movement caught me offguard a bit.”
“I had to move my gun quickly as the spot I thought I could get a shot through the brush turned out to be a bit of a low spot with tall grass and he disappeared in it as he moved from right to left in front of me. I quickly repositioned the gun off to my left and watched for him to reappear. As he did, I fired and the bird disappeared into the grass. I was confident I had made a good shot, but couldn’t locate the bird from my sitting position. As I stood, I could see several white feathers in the green grass and the bird laying on the edge of the field.”
“Gabe and I were very excited to see it up close and the beard was longer than we anticipated. It had about an 11 3/4 inch beard and the spurs were about 3/4 inches. We figured it weighed about 20 pounds.”
“Gabe’s scouting and knowledge of the land paid off,” Dave added.
“He anticipated where the birds were headed and what cover we could use to stalk them and it worked perfectly. I have not entered the white gobbler into state records, but am checking into doing that.”
Since shotgun kills only have to score 12, which combines the length of the beard an spurs, Smith’s bird easily qualifies for state records maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM). There’s no drying period for turkeys like there is for deer antlers and bear skulls. Both Gabe and Dave are convinced the turkey is a white color phase genetic mutation rather than an albino.
The bird’s beard is black and there’s coloration in the head and eyes. Gabe said the eyes were lighter in color than a normal turkey, but not pink. The white turkey’s legs were lighter in color than a normal, bird, too.
Due to the fact it was raining on the day Dave bagged the white tom, Gabe did not take out his video camera, so he didn’t get the kill on tape. VanWormer said he did manage to capture the unusual gobbler on video a previous day, however.
“I’ve actually got some footage of it strutting in a field with two other longbeards, some hens and one of the hens is a smoky gray. We’ve got a lot of smokey gray hens in our area. While taking my dad out the last day of the season, we saw three of them.”