Smoke-Phase Gobbler Killed In Murray County

After killing a rare turkey and surviving two of Sunday night's tornadoes, Derek Pritchett says he knows he's lucky.

Brad Gill | April 14, 2020

Derek Pritchett, of Chatsworth, has been called one of the luckiest guys alive after surviving a pair of tornadoes on Sunday night and killing two turkeys, one of them a rare smoke-phase gobbler, just two days earlier.

“Both of the tornadoes were not even an eighth of a mile on both sides of my house,” said Derek. “We didn’t get touched, but I live on a family farm of 49 acres, and our 18 acres of woods are destroyed.”

Despite such a horrific incident, Derek still finds satisfaction when talking about the pair of longbeards he killed just two days before Sunday’s weather event.

“That was the first two turkeys I’ve ever killed in my life,” said Derek.

On April 3, a regular-looking black gobbler showed up on the farm. Derek, who said he was really just having a good time with his grandfather, decided to put out hen and gobbler decoys in the front pasture.

“A week later I was working on my front porch, and we had to leave and go get some pry bars. We left, and in my dad’s front pasture were two birds strutting, not even 50 yards from his pole barn,” said Derek.

Amazingly, the two gobblers were strutting around the decoys and looked like they were fixing to fight. They were so focused on each other that they didn’t pay any attention to Derek and the Ranger he was riding in.

“They were fixing to lock up and fight,” said Derek. “They had attacked the decoys, they bent the metal rods.”

Derek, who says he was really interested in the delicious meat that wild turkey would put on his table, got into the pole barn and grabbed a shotgun. He was able to sneak up to the gobblers as they remained focused on the decoys and each other.

“I pulled the trigger on the black one, I figured it was the more dominant bird. It was bigger. I just wanted the bigger one, bigger breast, more food,” said Derek.

It wasn’t until after he killed the first bird that he noticed the second turkey wasn’t the traditional black-looking wild gobbler.

“I saw that other one and had never seen a bird like that,” said Derek.

Even after shooting the first tom, the smoke-phase gobbler wanted to pounce on the black bird.

“It wanted to show its dominance,” said Derek. This gave Derek the opportunity to double up and collect a rare trophy at the same time.

Derek Pritchett will have this smoke-phase gobbler mounted in a flying position in his Murray County home.

“I called a buddy of mine Ricky Phillips, who is an avid turkey hunter,” said Derek. “He didn’t answer because he was turkey hunting, so I sent him a picture. He said he’d never seen a turkey like that, but that he was on his way. I told him good, that he could show me how to breast them out.”

Derek wanted some turkey for the fryer, and he got it. His black turkey weighed 24-lbs., 11-ozs., had 1 1/4-inch spurs and an 11 1/4-inch beard. The smoke-phase gobbler weighed 21-lbs., 4-ozs., had 1 1/4-inch spurs and a 7 1/4-inch beard that had some beard rot.

“I was reading and they say gobblers don’t make it to adulthood when they are that color,” said Derek.

Emily Rushton, WRD’s wild turkey program coordinator, said the survival rate on smoke-phase gobblers isn’t great.

“These birds are likely more susceptible to predation, so seeing a mature bird will be less likely,” said Emily.

Although the likelihood of seeing a smoke-phase wild turkey will vary region by region, Emily says about one in 100 turkeys will posses the trait.

“The smoke phase is not the result of breeding with a domesticated bird, nor is it true albinism, which is much more rare in wild turkeys. Since it is genetic, you will sometimes see it persist in an area for several generations,” said Emily. “Interestingly, the vast majority of smoke-phase birds are hens, so seeing a gobbler with this coloring is pretty unique. Most of the ones I have seen also retain their dark banding on the tail feathers, so this one’s light brown tail fan is particularly neat. What a cool bird!”

Derek recognizes the uniqueness of his smoke-phase gobbler, and says he’s having it mounted in a flying position in his home.

If something unique happens to you in the woods this spring, contact us at [email protected].

Not only are most smoke-phase turkeys hens, they generally retain their dark banding on the tail feathers. A gobbler with a light brown tail fan is particularly unique.

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  1. huntnnut on April 15, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Nice bird, I’d recommend showing off that beautiful and unique tail spread in a mount.

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