Jeffery Hutchison was standing next to a tree on March 27, with his shotgun up and his focus clearly on one of three gobblers approaching his position along a logging road in Attala County.
Maintaining that focus was easy, even though there were three gobblers headed his way, each one gobbling, and one was already in gun range.
The bird he wanted was white.
“When they rounded the curve, I was surprised to see the white gobbler,” Hutchison said. “We’d gotten pictures of him in the 2012-13 deer season and he had about a 7- or 8-inch beard then. We never saw him during the last turkey season and figured somebody had killed him.
“Then we got a couple of pictures of him last deer season.”
And, then, there the big bird was, walking right into Hutchison’s trap.
Killing it, however, would not be easy, and we will get to that shortly. But let’s start at the beginning of the story, which involves Hutchinson’s dad, David, who had been hunting the white bird since opening day.
“Dad had hunted that area pretty hard for two weeks and actually had come close to getting the white gobbler three times,” Hutchinson said. “He had gotten him within 100 yards three times, had seen him fly down, and one time he got him to within 60 yards. But the bird always hung up and wouldn’t give him a shot.”
On a cool, crisp Thursday morning, the two Hutchinsons decided to make an early hunt before Jeffery had to go to work.
“We have this old logging road down through our property that connects land that we own and more that we lease and we hang cameras on it during deer season to see what game is there, and also to see if anyone is passing through there who ought not be,” Hutchison said. “There are two access points to the road, one at each end, and we had a bit of miscommunication that morning.
“I had told Dad I was going to enter from the end with our cabin and he went there, too, and was already down the road when I walked in. I had gone a few hundred yards and I ran into his 4-wheeler and figured I’d run into him on down there in the bottom where the white gobbler and some other gobblers had been roosting.”
Hutchinson said he made his way down the road a piece before he hit his owl call, getting a series of gobbles in return.
“I backed off out of the bottom back into the edge of the pine plantation and sat down,” he said. “As it started getting light, I looked over and there was Dad, sitting about 30 yards from me.”
They worked the gobblers together, and heard another group not far away. At fly-down, the group the two men were hunting went the other way toward their neighbor’s property.
“I told Dad we should go check that other group we’d heard gobbling, but he said he figured those original birds would come back into the bottom where we were,” Hutchison said. “He wanted to wait there, and he was right. They did come back.
“I got up and went to the road and started heading toward where the other gobbling had come from. I walked down the road until I was out of Dad’s area before I yelped, and all three gobblers responded. I knew it was three of them because they gobbled in a row, one, two, three. But, they were heading away from me and they kept going.”
Hutchinson said he caught up to them again at a spot with a huge hill, and the gobblers were on the other side of the steep drop out of sight.
“They were over the hill so I sat down and called and they gobbled,” he said. “They were coming back and I think they got to within 15 yards of the road where I was but were under the crest of the hill and I never saw them. They crossed the road in a curve and stayed under the hill. I still did not know the white bird was there.
“It was getting on up around 7:30 and I had to go to work, so I got up and started walking back to my truck. I decided to hit the Lynch Fool Proof Box one more time and I yelped once.”
Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!
“All three birds responded and sounded pretty close so I stopped in a curve and looked through the trees and saw the three gobblers walking up the road toward me,” Hutchison said. “They were about 30 or 40 yards around that curve coming and had not seen me through the trees, so I eased over to some trees and got behind one next to the road.
“I got my shotgun up and was on the white bird waiting for a shot. They kept coming and at one point I was on him but it was between trees and I was standing up and I figured no way was I going to be able to pull that off.”
By this time, one of the other two gobblers had reached the point in the road where the hunter was standing.
“I knew he was going to see me,” Hutchison said. “I still did not have what I considered a good shot so I knew then I was going to have to move to get one. I thought if I stepped out it would spook the birds but I would have time to get a shot before the white bird flew off.
“So I stepped out and the first bird immediately took off flying. The other gobbler and the white one didn’t fly right away, and instead turned and started to run. I was about 15 to 20 yards from the white one and I got on him before he was at full sprint.”
Hutchison slapped the trigger on his Mossburg 835 pump shotgun, sending a load of No. 4 shot from a 3½-inch Winchester turkey shell at the back of the white gobbler’s head.
It was a perfect shot and the bird was down.
“I called Dad immediately, even though I could hear birds gobbling down there around him,” he said. “I had been surprised I hadn’t heard him shoot already and I knew he heard me shoot, so I called. If he was working a bird he just wouldn’t answer but he answered right away.
“He said ‘did you get him?’ and I told him ‘yep, and it’s the white gobbler.’ He said ‘What, are you kidding?’ I said no, and then I started feeling pretty bad about it, because he’d been hunting that bird so hard and had come so close I figured it should have been him killing it.”
But like most fathers, none of that mattered. As soon as he rode up on his 4-wheeler, the dad rejoiced with the son as they admired the rare bird.
“I didn’t weigh him but I promise you he was over 20 pounds; he was a big gobbler,” Hutchison said. “His feathers were solid white. His head and his legs were normal color, and his beard was 10½ inches and solid black. His spurs were ¾ inch. I am getting a full-body strut mount.”
So what’s up with the white coloration? Most turkey hunters have seen light-colored birds in the wild, but solid white? And a gobbler, too?
Biologist Dave Godwin, the turkey program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, has seen photos of the bird and says it is definitely not an albino.
“A true albino would have pink eyes and its head and feet would be light, and this bird has a normal head, eyes, legs and beard,” he said. “This bird is going to be what we call the smoky-gray phase, even though he is whiter than most smoky-grays are. Normally in smoky-gray, you will see darker feathers on the wings and in the back and maybe on the breast.
“The really rare thing about this one is that it is a gobbler. In all the years I’ve worked turkeys, I’ve probably seen 35 to 50 smoky-grays in Mississippi and not once have I seen a gobbler. It is a recessive trait that shows up, and yes, there are albinos, too, and that’s why I think we see it more in hens because it is easier to pass on to the female offspring.”
Hutchison hopes his dad gets another crack at a white gobbler one day, and feels it is possible despite long, long odds.
“A couple of weeks ago (mid May after the turkey season), my wife and kids and I were out riding in our Ranger down in that same bottom one day,” he said. “We were close to the creek that winds through it and we looked over and saw a white hen on the bank. She had a little bit of a red tint to her wings but she was pretty much solid white.
“Who knows? I just hope that the fact we still have a white hen means she or one of her female offspring may produce another white gobbler sometime down the road. If it happens, I sure hope Dad is there to get it.”