McDuffie County Boss Gobbler With Six Beards

Hunter's Journal: GON readers share their favorite hunt stories.

Reader Contributed | June 11, 2018

By Chris Palmer

This journey starts well before the season came in. I noticed the bird from trail-camera photos and field observations the weeks leading up to the season. This gobbler ruled the area and would become my obsession during the season. Like most turkey hunters in Georgia, I wondered if the good breeding action, gobbling and strutting would still be going on by the time the season started.

Before actually taking the bird, I had six encounters with him within 50 yards. Once, while I had my bow and video camera, he came by at about 8 yards, but I couldn’t pull back without spooking him. We had such a history that I began to call him Houdini. No matter what tricks I tried, he was always a step ahead of me.

He roosted in one of two trees every night, and I would try to ease in before daylight and get set up, but in typical Houdini fashion, he would always disappear once he hit the ground. The bird knew his area so well, that no matter how camouflaged I thought I was, he would pick out the new blob leaned against the tree and stay at that safe 50- to 80-yard mark.

I got a lot of good video of him, even of him breeding a hen. This bird would not play the typical games, and no matter the decoy spread, he would not close the gap. Once I eased a strutter decoy out to the edge of a field he was strutting in 200 yards away. When he saw the decoy, his head went fire red. He eased in toward the decoy, stopped at 70 yards and strutted back and forth in what looked like a challenge, until he finally gave up and went on his way.

Chris Palmer with his McDuffie County gobbler.

The next morning, I enlisted the help of a friend of mine, John Russell Deverger. We formulated a plan based on the previous experiences of how the old bird would always know exactly where the calls were coming from and stay just far enough away to assess the area from a distance.

We planned to put JR in a thicket 150 yards away from Houdini’s roost. I set up 30 yards closer to the bird. JR would do some light calling once the bird flew off of the roost. The goal was that Houdini would ease in to his typical 70 yards to investigate the “lonely hen,” which would put him 30 to 40 yards away from the end of my barrel.

Just as planned, the bird flew down, JR did some light calling, and Houdini was shaking the oak bottom with his responses. I could see the bird strutting and easing my way. I just knew it was about to happen! Just at the 40- to 50-yard mark and a few steps away from feeling the wrath of my Mossberg 935, Houdini did what he does best… disappeared.

A few minutes passed, and I slowly turned back to my right to see two longbeards almost on top of JR. I had told JR that there were a few 2-year-old birds that hung around, and luckily, he knew our mission was for Houdini, so they got the pass. I appreciated JR’s regard for what we were trying to accomplish.

We stayed put, let the woods clear out and eased back to the truck.  Through all of the encounters, I would never get up and try to make a move on the bird. I would always wait on him to make it out of sight, and then I would ease out and formulate a plan for the next day. He was always in the same small hardwood bottom near a cow pasture, so my goal was to never spook him and keep trying different angles until the stars would align.

Finally, I used his smarts against him. I put a hen decoy out in the pasture in front of me, and the bird was roosted 150 yards behind me. I tucked myself deep into a massive blown-down oak tree and got comfy. When he flew down, I did the lightest yelps, just to give him something to be looking for, and then I went quiet.

Twenty minutes later I could hear drumming directly behind me, but I could not see over the blown-down oak’s massive trunk. I sat tight, and another 10 minutes passed.

Something sparked him to gobble, and he had worked right past me and was no more than 40 yards through some brush where I couldn’t see him. I spun my shotgun around from facing the pasture to facing the tree line, let out the softest purrs that I could produce and waited.

As anticipated, he skirted the decoy that was 60 yards out in the pasture and worked the oak bottom right back toward me. He came in to 30 yards through some massive oaks and never saw me tucked in the blowdown. As he eased into my lane, I settled myself, got down on the bead and squeezed off the shot. Hammered him!

My patience had finally paid off. I knew he was an old mature bird, but I never imagined what I was about to walk up on. He had six beards totaling 40.5 inches (11 inches down to 5 inches), 1 1/4-inch spurs and weighed 20.8 pounds for a total NWTF score of 122.24.

This bird taught me so much about mature bird behavior and will be forever etched in my mind. I felt a great deal of gratitude for the sleepless nights, the second guessing and the roller coaster of emotions that we as hunters experience. A great adventure, a great lesson in patience, and a huge shout out to the man upstairs for His many blessings.

Chris’ bird had six beards totalling 40.5 inches (11 inches down to 5 inches), 1 1/4-inch spurs and weighed 20.8 pounds for a total NWTF score of 122.24.

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