Author’s note: Thirty-year-old Jason Daugherty from Desoto, Missouri, took one of the biggest Eastern wild turkey gobblers ever harvested, as certified by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). On his third turkey hunt ever, Daugherty had the opportunity to take the gobbler of a lifetime.
I had hunted deer on this piece of property before but never had hunted turkeys there. I had seen some gobblers on this land while scouting, so I called the landowner and got permission to hunt the property for one day once turkey season started. Rain was predicted, so I went ahead and put on my Mossy Oak Shadow Branch rainsuit. As the morning brightened, the wind was calm, and I didn’t hear a single turkey gobble. I decided to go to a 75-acre field of winter wheat that only was up about six inches. In the middle of the field, the property dropped off 25 degrees to the left and 25 degrees to the right. Just where the property started to go downhill, there was a cluster, about 15 feet in diameter, of pine trees at the very top of this ridge. Knowing that the rain was coming in that morning, I decided to set up in that little clump of pines, hoping not to get as wet.
I hurriedly tried to reach the pines before full daylight and I heard a turkey gobble on the west side of the field, in the direction I was traveling. I assumed the gobbler was roosted on the edge of the field below, and I knew he might see me if I tried to go directly to him. I sat down in the pines and decided to call the turkey. The bird only gobbled for about five minutes and then hushed. Five to 10 minutes later, I saw the bird walk out of the woods about 90 yards below me on the ridge in the middle of the field. Apparently, he had flown from the roost to this ridge where he could see the entire wheat field. As the tom hit the ground, he started gobbling. He was strutting, drumming, parading, and displaying in a five-yard circle. I gave some light tree calls with light putts and purrs on my Quaker Boy Turkey THUG slate call.
Finally, the gobbler started coming to me slowly. I looked to my left and spotted four hens coming out of the woods. I started calling more aggressively to keep the gobbler coming to me instead of going to the hens. I could tell this was a smart ole bird. Every time I used my slate call, he gobbled, strutted, and drummed, expecting the hen (me) to come to him. The bird also had given the nod to the four hens who just had stepped out of the woods but didn’t move toward them either. Every time I called, the gobbler would gobble, spit and drum, and then take a few more steps toward me. The four hens moved up the field toward me also but not toward the gobbler. The bird walked about 15 yards toward me. At 60 yards, he started strutting and drumming again. About that time, two more hens entered the field. Both groups of hens were still off to my right at about 80 yards, and the gobbler was off to my left at 60 yards. I was really surprised that the gobbler didn’t move toward the hens, and the hens didn’t go toward the gobbler.
Luckily, the hens seemed more interested in feeding. They were giving content putts and purrs as they fed. The gobbler focused most of his attention on me, because I was calling more aggressively and excitedly than the five hens. After I watched the hens and the gobbler for about 10 minutes, a second gobbler tom behind me and flew into the field. The hens started to walk toward the second gobbler. I could see the bird I was trying to call was getting a little nervous, so when he was at 62 yards, I squeezed the trigger on my Mossberg pump 2-3/4-inch 12 gauge shotgun. I had patterned this gun and felt confident I could take the bird at that distance shooting Federal 2-3/4-inch #4 shells. I was using a really nice Nikon scope on the gun. I aimed just below the wattles, shooting downhill.
This bird was only the second turkey I ever had shot. I wasn’t quite sure what to do after I shot the gobbler. I always had heard that you needed to get to the turkey as quickly as possible after you took the shot and pick the bird up by his feet. A turkey that only was stunned could still run a long way. As I hurried toward the turkey, he was flapping his wings and trying to get away. I grabbed for the legs, but I only got hold of one leg. As I tried to lift the bird up, he spurred me six times in the forearm with the leg that was free. I finally got the second leg and started swinging the turkey in a circle, because I thought he would bite me. Finally, within about 10 seconds, he expired. As I inspected the gobbler, I saw that three of the projectiles from the shell had entered the bird’s head.
When I took the bird out of the field and started heading home, I called a friend of mine in Illinois, Robert Dill. Robert and my uncle, Frank Daugherty, taught me how to turkey hunt and how to call turkeys. As I was talking to Robert and trying to describe the bird to him, I realized this turkey had three beards. Robert said, “Man, that’s really cool. A bird with multiple beards is much more uncommon than a bird with only one beard.” Then, Robert asked me, “How long is each beard?” I explained, “The bottom beard is 9-1/2 inches long, the middle beard is eight inches long, and the top beard is 8-1/2-inches long.” Robert told me how to measure the spurs and most were 1-1/4 inches long. He told me to bring a bathroom scale out to weigh the bird. I stood on the scales and weighed myself first. Then I picked up the bird and weighed both of us. There was a difference of 28 pounds and 2 ounces. I repeated the same process again and got the same weight both times. Robert wrote down all the measurements and said, “Let me call you back, after I check out some things.”
Later, Robert told me he went to the NWTF website and used the calculator there that teaches you how to score the turkeys you harvest by putting in the weight, the length of the beard or beards and the length of the spurs. Robert called me back and said, “Your gobbler scored 109 on the NWTF’s calculator.” The average score of a wild turkey is between 70 and 80. Robert suggested I call someone at the NWTF and find out what I needed to do to register the turkey. I talked to a lady named Nancy who told me to go to a place that had certified scales and have the turkey officially weighed on certified scales. Then, she told me to contact a game warden, a taxidermist, or a sheriff to certify the weight of the turkey and the measurement of the beards and spurs.
I took the turkey to a butcher shop that had state certified scales. On those scales, the bird weighed 29 pounds even. I called our game warden, Chris Boyd, and took the bird to him. He measured the beards and the spurs. He called the owner of the butcher shop, who saw the bird lying on the scales. The butcher shop owner told the game warden what the turkey weighed on his scales. Then I got the signatures of the game warden and the owner of the butcher shop, testifying to what the bird actually weighed and measured. After I had completed all the paperwork, I called Nancy and gave her the weight, the length of each beard and the length of the spurs. After she had entered all the statistics on my turkey, she told me that my gobbler was the sixty-sixth biggest atypical gobbler bird ever taken in the State of Missouri based on spur and beard lengths. When she factored the certified weight of the turkey, he was the number-one gobbler ever taken in the State of Missouri, and he scored as the seventh heaviest Eastern gobbler ever taken in the United States.
Images by John Phillips