Chad Bell figures he earned every inch of beard his first gobbler sported, and, at 15.25 inches, that’s a whole lot of work.

“We’ve been trying, or rather I’ve been hunting and my friends have been working, to get me my first turkey for years,” said Bell, 41, of Baton Rouge. “On Sunday (March 29), I finally got it and that he had such a long beard, I figure the Good Lord was looking out for me.

“He gave me a good one that I can chase (to beat) the rest of my life.”

Bell killed the bird Sunday in the Big Black River bottoms north of Canton in Madison County. He was visiting the hunting camp of one of his Louisiana friends, Steve Sceroler, and hunting with mutual friend Loren McCon of Flowood.

“Steve and I became friends through business connections and I met Loren through him and I have made some good friends up in Mississippi through them,” Bell said. “I go up there to Steve’s place in Madison to hunt and fish just about every weekend or at least every other weekend.

“For several years, they’ve been trying to help me get my first turkey. Steve called one up for me two years ago in that same area and I missed it. Then last year, his brother called one up for me at their place in Natchez, and I missed it, too.”

It was McCon’s turn on Sunday and he was so intent on getting Bell his first gobbler, that he went unarmed.

“Loren didn’t carry a gun; all he did was bring his calls and accessories,” Bell said. “He said his job was to guide and call me up a turkey.”

Fortunately, they chose a morning and an area where the gobblers were in a playful mood. From Bell’s recount of the hunt, he and McCon were on birds from daylight to the time he shot the gobbler in mid-morning.

“We were hunting at Sceroler’s place in the Big Black River swamps and the river is high and out of the banks in some areas,” Bell said. “That kind of had the birds forced up out of the bottoms and McCon knew about this food plot that is on some of the highest ground in the camp. We went straight there, in the dark, and set up a couple of decoys in the field.”

The pair never had to call to locate the gobblers.

“We were set up by 6 a.m., and the first one gobbled at about 6:20 and after that, a bunch of them gobbled,” Bell said. “They weren’t all together. They sounded spread out.”

McCon’s calling got their attention and several gobblers approached the field, made a quick appearance, strutted around a bit and left without ever getting into gun range.

“Finally, we had one coming from behind us in a thicket,” Bell said. “He came to 30 yards, gobbling his head off. We could even hear him spitting and drumming  … and then he just shut up. I was facing the field and Loren was facing the thicket and he suggested I might want to turn in that direction.

“I didn’t think it was the right move because if he passed us and popped out into the field from that thicket I’d never be able to turn back around.”

Didn’t matter, it turns out. The gobbler never showed his face anywhere.

“We don’t know what happened but he left,” Bell said. “After a few minutes Loren called and the bird answered but he was 80 yards away and going the other way. But, then we heard two birds gobbling on the other side of the field and we decided that we needed to move on them.”

Thus began the chase that eventually ended with the kill.

The two men crossed the food plot, and walked about 175 to 200 yards down into the timber. They called and got their answer.

“Two birds gobbled and we felt they were coming up a 4-wheeler trail,” Bell said. “They sounded like they were 100 yards away and coming so we set up. When they got to 75 yards, I could see them and they were working their way around water toward us but kind of stopped at 75 yards.

“Meanwhile, another longbeard had slipped in on us, silently. Loren saw him coming and when the bird saw our decoys in the 4-wheeler trail he started running at them. Loren stared saying ‘Left, left, left,’ because he was coming from my left. The bird must have seen him move or something else that he didn’t like because he stopped and then walked off.”

The other two birds were still there, and with Bell yelping and McCon gobbling with his natural voice, the pair was steady gobbling, but not coming any closer. Eventually, they started moving away, and McCon made the decision that resulted in the victorious outcome.

“Loren said he thought the birds were headed to another food plot, one we had to pass on the way to the one we first set up on, so we got on the 4-wheeler and raced back to it,” Bell said. “We passed them on the way.”

When they reached the field, they called and got a gobble, causing Bell to break and run to the field to get the decoys up and then hidden. McCon followed but didn’t like what he saw.

“Loren said the field was flooded and said the birds would never come through it to the field,” Bell said. “He said we had to go to them. He said to forget the decoys, we didn’t need them, but we had to go right at them. That’s what we did. When we crossed the field and hit the water, we just headed toward the gobbling.

“We got down in there and called and they answered right out in front of us. I quickly sat up against a tree and while Loren was starting to sit, I saw one of the gobblers. I told him to get still, I was looking at them.”

The birds hung up at 35 yards and started milling around. McCon yelped a couple of times and the gobblers looked in their direction. Eventually, they eased to their right, which put one of them in Bell’s shooting lane.

“When he stepped clear of the trees, I shot him and he went straight to the ground,” Bell said. “Then it got kind of crazy because it turns out there weren’t two birds, there were three and the other two gobblers started jumping on the dead one and kicking him and pecking him.

“I swear I could have run out there and grabbed one by the neck had I wanted to. When I got up and out there, they did fly off.”

Bell went to his first gobbler and was pleased.

“He was probably 19 pounds and had spurs measuring about 1 3/8 inches,” he said. “Then there was the beard. At first it looked like about 11 inches, which is what the main part is, but then there were these six or seven long strands that went beyond the main beard.

“Most of them were 14 inches or so, but there’s one that reaches 15¼ inches. I couldn’t believe it.”

Bell is now attempting to arrange to have the bird officially scored, just so he’ll know.

“I waited a long time for that gobbler, and it was a good one,” he said.