One of the attractive things about turkey hunting in the spring is that no two hunts are ever alike.
Some of the catches come together so easily that it doesn’t seem like a challenge. The hunter beats a call to simulate a turkey playing with difficulty, and a love-sick player comes walking around in rifle range like a puppet on a string, colorful puffy feathers as he performs a distinct dance accompanied by loud fits of gorging, spitting and drumming.
one hit. Turn off the lights.
Other times, closing the deal is not so simple. Some birds may devour at once in response to a call and not say another chirp. It can be especially frustrating when a mocker answers a call repeatedly, all while heading in the opposite direction.
Craig White of Huntington takes spring turkey hunting more seriously than most. White is the former president of the Texas chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. He’s played the game a few times in several different states over the years.
White finished the wild turkey in the Grand Slam in 2021. The Grand Slam includes harvesting four of six wild turkeys—in the case of White, Rio Grande, Eastern, Miriam and Ossola. It is among the best feats recognized by the NWTF.
Completing the Grand Slam was a time-consuming task for White. It took 14 years for him to succeed.
He hopes to fill his Royal and World Championships by taking Gould’s and Ocellated gobbler in Mexico in the next 2-3 years.
“The eucalyptus bristle is a really cool looking bird,” he said. “It looks like a wild turkey mated with a peacock.”
White spends about 15 days in the field hunting turkeys each spring. He experienced some memorable catches and earned a number of trophy players along the way.
The first white bird – the Rio Grande with two beards measuring 10 inches by 9 inches – has been rated its best bird of the season. Top it off with a triple-bearded plaything with inch-long spurs he released on April 10 at a private farm northeast of Brady in McCulloch County. Beards measured 91/2, 61/2 and 5 inches.
There is a good story behind Feline Tom.
It was the last morning of a three day hunting trip and the birds were not very cooperative. White said the birds gorged really well on the roost, but as soon as they hit the ground they got really tight.
“You had to get very close to making one of them crumble and nibble, but they still didn’t really respond,” he said. “I’m not sure if they were covered or not.”
White spent the first two days fishing from the ground canopies with his wife, Melissa. He decided to turn things around on his last morning by going out on his own. The plan was to walk 100 yards or so, stop and call until he hears a receptive bird.
The aggressive running and bribery strategy eventually worked.
White said he was slipping along the bottom of a dry stream when he came across a small herd of cattle loitering in his path. Not wanting to frighten the cattle, White threw the brakes, set up and called like a lonely hen.
A final devouring was heard after a minute or so.
“I could tell the bird was on the other side of the cows,” he said. “When the trend eased, the cows started running into the creek. I just continued, sort of using them to cover as I soared at a brisk pace.”
White said he ducked behind the cattle for about 150 yards before they peeled and sped off to the bottom of the stream. Unsure of the gobbler’s location, he hid in the brush and waited a few minutes before making a seductive shout.
White can tell when the bird has devoured it close. “He raised his head from behind a brush about 50 yards,” he said. “I ended up shooting him at 40 yards.”
The story is getting better. The white firearm used to blast turkeys was not a conventional 12-gauge.
He used the TriStar Viper G2 .410 semi-auto. The pistol-grip rifle is matched with Federal 3-inch heavyweight TSS rounds packed with No. 9 lead and JEBS “Head Hunter” XX Turkey Choke to deliver a tight shot pattern.
“I bought the gun for my wife and this is the first time I have used it,” White said. “They are really nice patterns. Plus, it weighs about half of my 12” size.
White got the bird back, but didn’t care much about his credentials until after he got back to camp. There he discovered that she had three beards instead of one.
You don’t hear every day about a springtime hunter taking a spear with multiple beards, but the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife’s wild turkey program chief Jason Hardin says it happens more often than some might think.
“It’s always great to see, but it’s not rare,” Hardin said. “I myself have killed a couple with multiple beards. I have seen players with no beards and some without spurs. There are all kinds of things going around in there. Birds with 2-3 beards are – more – more common than ones without or without spurs.”
Turkey hunters focus a lot on beard length and spur when evaluating a bird’s quality. These traits, along with weight, are also taken into account when enrolling a turkey for the NWTF’s Wild Turkey Records Program.
The identification program began in 1982 and has since recorded more than 27,000 birds nationwide. The NWTF maintains a searchable database of records by state and territory on its website, nwtf.org.
Additionally, there is an interactive map with clickable pins that displays the total number of birds harvested by province, along with average, highest score, weight, beard, and spur length of birds that were recorded by province. It costs $15 to enter a bird with simple instructions. Birds can be entered by existing NWTF members online or by mail.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches, Texas. You can reach it by e-mail, [email protected].
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