Craig White looking to build on 2021 wild turkey Grand Slam this spring

One of the captivating things about spring turkey hunting is that no two hunts are ever the same.

Some hunts come together so easily that it hardly seems like a challenge. The hunter toots on a call to simulate a hen turkey playing hard to get and a love-sick gobbler comes shuffling into shotgun range like a puppet on string, colorful plumage puffed as it does a signature dance accompanied by boisterous fits of gobbling, spitting and drumming.

One shot. Lights out.

Other times closing out the deal isn’t so simple. Some birds may gobble once in response to a call and never say another peep. It can be especially frustrating when a gobbler answers a sexy invitation repeatedly, all the while heading off in the opposite direction.

Craig White of Huntington takes his spring turkey hunting more serious than most. White is a former president of the Texas State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. He has played the game many times in several different states over the years.

White finished out his wild turkey Grand Slam in 2021. A Grand Slam involves harvesting four of the six species of wild turkey – the Rio Grande, Eastern, Merriam’s and the Osceola. It is among the top feats recognized by the NWTF.

Completing the Grand Slam was a time-consuming task for White. It took 14 years for him to pull it off.

He hopes to fill out his Royal and World slams by taking a Gould’s and Ocellated gobbler in Mexico in the next 2-3 years.

“The Ocellated gobbler 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 has experienced some memorable hunts and bagged a number of trophy gobblers along the way.

Whites’ first gobbler – a Rio Grande with two beards measuring 10 inches and 9 inches – ranked as his best bird until this season. He topped it with a triple-bearded gobbler with an inch long spurs he shot on April 10 on a private ranch northeast of Brady in McCulloch County. The beards measured 9 1/2, 6 1/2 and 5 inches, respectively.

There is a good story behind the wily ol ‘Tom.

It was the final morning of a three-day hunt and the birds hadn’t been very cooperative. White said the birds were gobbling really well on the roost, but once they hit the ground they got pretty tight-lipped.

“You had to get pretty close to get one to bust loose and gobble, but they still weren’t real responsive,” he said. “I’m not sure if they were henned up or what.”

White had spent the first two days hunting from ground blinds with his wife, Melissa. He decided to change things up on the final morning by striking out alone. The plan was to walk for 100 yards or so, stop and call until he heard receptive bird.

The aggressive run and gun strategy eventually worked out.

White said he was slipping along a dry creek bottom when he came across a small herd of cattle loafing in his path. Not wanting to spook the cattle, White threw on the brakes, set-up and called like a lonesome hen.

He heard the definitive gobble a minute or so later.

“I could tell the bird was on the opposite side of the cows,” he said. “When I eased that direction the cows started running up the creek. I just followed along, kind of using them for cover as I picked up the pace. ”

White said he skirted along behind the cattle for about 150 yards before they peeled off and raced out of the creek bottom. Not sure of the gobbler’s location, he hid in the brush and waited a couple of minutes before making a seductive yelp.

White could tell when the bird gobbled back that it was close. “He stuck his head out from behind some brush about 50 yards away,” he said. “I ended up shooting him at 40 yards.”

The story gets better. The firearm White used to blast the turkey wasn’t a conventional 12-gauge.

He used a TriStar Viper G2 .410 bore semi-automatic. The pistol-grip shotgun was matched with Federal Heavyweight TSS 3-inch shotshells packed with No. 9 shot and a JEBS “Head Hunter” XX Turkey Choke to throw a tight shot pattern.

“I bought the shotgun for my wife and that’s the first time I’d used it,” White said. “It patterns really sweet. Plus, it weighs about half as much as my 12 gauge. ”

White retrieved the bird, but didn’t pay much attention to its credentials until after he arrived back at camp. There, he discovered it had three beards instead of one.

It’s not every day that you hear about a spring hunter taking a gobbler with multiple beards, but Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wild turkey program leader Jason Hardin says it happens more often than some may think.

“It’s always cool to see, but it’s not that rare,” Hardin said. “I’ve killed a couple with multiple beards myself. I’ve seen gobblers with no beard and some with no spurs. There’s all kinds of stuff running around out there. Birds with 2-3 beards – even more – are more common than those with no beard or no spurs. ”

Turkey hunters place a lot of emphasis on beard and spur length when assessing the quality of a bird. Those traits, combined with the weight, are also taken into account when scoring a turkey for the NWTF’s Wild Turkey Records Program.

The recognition program started in 1982 and has since registered more than 27,000 birds nationwide. NWTF maintains a searchable database of records by state and county on its website, nwtf.org.

Additionally, there is an interactive map with clickable pins that display the total number of birds harvested by county, along with the average and top score, weight, beard and spur length of the birds recorded by county. It costs $ 15 to enter a bird using simple instructions. Birds can be entered by current NWTF members online or by mail.

Records are maintained in several categories for Rio Grande, Eastern, Gould’s, Merriam’s, Florida and Ocellated turkeys. Two of those subspecies are found in Texas – the Rio Grande and Eastern.

Birds are ranked according to spur length, beard length, weight and total points. The are divisions for turkeys taken by modern firearm, archery and muzzleloader, and two “types” of turkey – typical and atypical.

Several Texas birds that rank high among the national records. In 2007, Cody May of New Boston shot a Bowie County eastern gobbler that ranks no. 1 overall in the beard length category for typical Eastern gobblers nationwide. May’s bird had one beard measuring a 22.5-inches long.

Texas Rio Grande gobblers occupy the eight of the Top 10 national spots for the longest spur, including three at 2.0 inches. Kansas holds the number one spot for spur length 2.25 inches.

The heaviest typical eastern is a 37.61-pounder killed in Kentucky. The top Texas eastern bird by weight is a 28,125 pounder from Red River Co. Texas’ heaviest Rio is a 30.75-pounder from Montague Co.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches, Tx. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

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