Justin Hutton of Madison readily admits that he didn’t know what he had the morning of March 19 at about 7 o’clock until he raced over to the gobbler he had just shot, flopping on the ground.
“I looked at him and I thought, ‘What in the world have I just killed?’” Hutton said. “I didn’t realize how special that bird was until then. I jumped on him and was trying to keep him from flopping around, to keep all his feathers intact.”
What Hutton had was perhaps the rarest of the rare: a turkey with plumage that combines two very uncommon color patterns: red- and smoke-phase.
Wild turkeys usually come in basic black, but four unusual color phases can show up from time to time.
- Smoke. The turkey’s plumage is basically gray and silver to white on a black background.
- Melanistic. The turkey is completely black, with none of the beautiful chestnut or tan colors usually present on the feathers.
- Red. The turkey’s plumage has a red tint instead of black. Aka cinnamon-phase.
- Albino. Completely white. The most rare color phase, because it’s a true genetic anomaly.
Hutton’s bird has the red coloration of a red-phase bird, but on a background of grey. It carried a 9 1/2-inch beard and half-inch spurs and was killed on his hunt club in Madison County.
How rare is it?
The odds on killing such an unusual turkey: maybe 1 in 10,000. Smoke-phase birds comprise 1% of all turkeys. Red-phase birds are much less common. The combination? Maybe the most unusual.
“When I called the bird in to report it to MDWFP (Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks), I talked to a biologist, and he said it was a red-phase turkey with a hint of smoke-phase. He told me that most of the time when you come across a turkey with a different color phase, it’s usually a hen,” Hutton said.
The unique gobbler was one of four that Hutton had strutting, drumming and spitting at 30 yards through a thicket. He was really set on taking the lead bird, but it never got to a spot where he had a clean shot. He had noticed one of the three birds that were following the lead bird had “a lot of white on his wings” but took that to be just a particular reflection of the sun.
“The first one, when I saw him, he was at 100 yards, and then I saw the others behind him. All of the sudden, they got to 35 or 40 yards in just 5 or 6 seconds, like they were running,” he said.
“I could see four birds all in a full strut at 35 yards, and I’ve got my gun across my lap. The first bird had a pretty good beard, and following him were the other three, about 10 yards behind.”
Hutton had his sights on a different bird
The undergrowth was thick enough for Hutton to get his gun to his shoulder and wait for a good shot. He planned on taking the first bird.
“I knew that one looked different, but I was so focused on shooting the other bird,” Hutton said. “But the first bird didn’t give me a shot, and this one stepped out and gave me a shot.”
Hutton dropped the gobbler with a load of Winchester Long Beard XRs from his 12-gauge Beretta A300, fitted with an Indian Creek choke.
“The place I was hunting was so thick, I took the XRs instead of TSS shells because I knew if I had a shot, it would be close, and I didn’t want to shoot a pattern so tight at 30 yards.”
Hutton took great care of the gobbler once he had it on the ground, even spreading out on the back seat of his truck to protect the feathers. He’s having John Beard of Birds Only Taxidermy in Dickson, Tenn., mount the bird in a full strut.