A Greensboro hunter ended a year-long quest last week when he killed a rare, silver-phase turkey gobbler on a hunt in Stokes County.
Jason Pickard first saw the silver-phase gobbler last spring after a woman whose farm he was hunting had mentioned seeing a “white” turkey. He and hunting buddy Jeremy Evans of Browns Summit stumbled on the bird one day and tried for the better part of last season and the first half of this season to get the bird on film for Evans’ cable TV outdoors show, “Forever Wild Outdoors.”
“I probably hunted him 15 day last year, but I was only seeing him in the afternoon,” Pickard said. “We saw him all through deer season last fall; he was with six other gobblers. And I hunted him three different times this year.”
Finally, on April 19, Pickard and Evans got the bird in range. Unfortunately, when he strolled up around 8 a.m., they’d been filming multiple gobblers all morning, and both had run their camera batteries down to nothing, so there’s no video of Pickard knocking off the 22-pound bird, which carried a 9 3/4-inch beard and spurs that measured 1 1/4 and 1 1/8 inches.
“He was a big bird, you could tell. When he was with the other gobblers, he stuck out like a sore thumb,” Pickard said. “Everybody I’ve taken hunting this spring, I’ve told them, you can kill any bird you see except the white one.”
Biologists also refer to silver-phase turkey as “smoke-phase,” and believe they make up about one percent of all wild turkeys. They have white or gray feathers that are black-tipped and are among the most beautiful of all wild turkeys. The National Wild Turkey Federation recognizes four distinct color variations from what is considered typical plumage: silver/smoke, red, melanistic or black, and true albinos — pure white with pink eyes. Recessive genes or mutations account for color abnormalities.
Pickard said gobblers were sounding off from the roost almost from the time he left his vehicle well before daylight. When they set up with Avian X hen and jake decoys, they drew in a huge gobbler to 40 yards, and Evans was whispering to Pickard to take the bird, but Pickard had seen the silver-phase bird well behind the lead gobbler, at around 120 yards, and passed on the bigger bird because he was saving a tag for the silver one.
The gobblers left, but after a while, the silver-phase bird returned, and Evans and Pickard called him into shotgun range with a slate and copper calls made by Swamp Stud Nation, a North Carolina-based company.
“He never gobbled that much,” Pickard said. “Even when he came in, he wasn’t gobbling. He came in with another big gobbler that probably had a 12-inch beard.”