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Salt And Peppa: The Smoke-Phase Gobbler

Erika Cochran | April 3, 2019

For this only being Thomas Blackwell’s third turkey season and only his third gobbler, Thomas accomplished something pretty rare during the first day of the 2019 Georgia turkey season. The 24-year-old hunter from Tunnel Hill killed a smoke-phase gobbler, the only one GON has heard about so far this season.

On opening morning in the north Georgia mountains, Thomas hunted on his Murray County property and didn’t hear anything except for a neighbor’s gunshot. Unfortunately, he had to go to work, but he was able to hit the woods again that afternoon with a buddy. This time he went to a different piece of property in Murray County.

At this tract of land, Thomas had trail-camera pictures of a gobbler he nicknamed “Salt and Peppa” because of the unusual coloration of the bird in the pictures. So Thomas knew that there were at least turkeys in that area, and at least one unique gobbler, but little did he know that he would end up killing Salt and Peppa that day.

He was able to get into the woods around 2:30 that day with his friend. According to Thomas, they tried calling several times but got no response.

Thomas got up and walked around, scratching in the leaves as a turkey would, which apparently got a bird’s attention—he heard a gobble. Thomas told his buddy that the turkey sounded like it was across the river. He called a little more after hearing the first gobble, but the turkey still did not respond to the hens calls. Then, Thomas and his buddy spotted the gobbler across the river.

“He stood out,” said Thomas.

Thomas called again, and this time there was no doubt the gobbler heard the call and liked what he was hearing—the turkey flew across the river. As the gobbler was making its way to them, the hunters could hear him walking through the woods.

Thomas and his buddy were on top of a little hill, which is where they stayed put as the gobbler made its way toward them. They could see the gobbler’s head come across the hill looking around for the hen that he thought was there. Thomas said the gobbler went behind a tree, which is when he rose up from where he was sitting. When the gobbler came back around the tree, Thomas was able to lay the hammer down around 5:30 p.m. and kill ‘Salt and Peppa.’

“Although it was a tom, it had a very very small beard, and it had no spurs,” Thomas said.

What really stood out was the gray feather tips and light, almost white coloration on the bird’s wings and back.

When GON spoke with WRD Biologist Kevin Lowrey regarding the gobbler, he confirmed that it was a smoke-phase gobbler. He added that some say they are as rare as one in 100, while others say they are more like one in 1,000, which is where Kevin lands.

Scientifically, the coloration results from a melanin pigment irregularity. It’s can be described by terms such as leucistic or diluted albino. It is not a cross between a wild turkey and a domestic turkey, which are white. For turkey hunters, it’s just known as smoke-phase, and it makes a wild turkey gobbler even more striking and beautiful.

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