2nd Grader Shoots Stunning Leucistic Wild Turkey

Eight-year-old Vaughn Siver went on his first turkey hunt in early May—and it paid off big time when he bagged a bearded hen with a smoke-phase coloration, according to his dad, Cody Vaughn, who took the boy hunting on a friend’s farm in western South Dakota.

The father-son duo arrived on Friday, May 4, and set up camp. The next morning, they scouted for birds and located the roosts of a couple of toms. That afternoon, they set up ground blinds near the roosts, returned to camp for lunch, then went hunting.

“At 3:30 p.m., we got in the blinds and set the decoys out,” Cody tells Field & Stream. “Vaughn was playing on his phone and eating snacks. After about 45 minutes, we finally spotted the gobblers we were after.”

The gobblers started coming in slowly from 500 yards. As the birds meandered toward them, something unexpected happened. “All of a sudden, I heard something behind us. I thought it was one of our buddies messing with me,” says Cody. “Vaughn was dozing off about this time. Then I saw it 40 yards from us and thought, oh boy, what is this thing?

The bird was gray and had a 6-inch beard, according to Cody, which made him think it was a tom. Cody roused Vaughn and got him into position. At first Vaughn struggled to get a clear shot on the bird with his 20-gauge. Finally, he made a 35-yard shot and dropped the bird. Neither Vaughn nor Cody had ever seen anything quite like it before.

Despite the excitement, the duo decided to stay in the blind; Cody still had a tag to fill and the group of toms was still coming in. About a half hour later, Cody dropped one of the toms. Cody tells Field & Stream that they rushed to recover Vaughn’s oddly colored bird and realized it was not only a smoke-phased turkey, but it was also a bearded hen.

“I was kind of confused because I didn’t know there was such a thing as a white turkey,” says Vaughn. “I had no clue what it was until my dad started yelling and screaming, saying ‘Oh my gosh, this is a once-in-a-lifetime turkey.’”

The hunters shot their birds in western South Dakota. Cody Siver

According to the National Wild Turkey Foundation, a smoke phase turkey results from an unusual recessive condition known as leucism that affects the pigmentation of the birds’ feathers. It’s related to but distinct from albinism. Additionally, bearded hens are unusual in that they grow beards like male birds, which hunters use to judge a bird’s sex in the field, while most hens don’t.

Read Next: Massachusetts Hunter Bags First Confirmed Leucistic Black Duck

But for Vaughn, a second grader, his first turkey hunting experience will be one to remember, not just because of the unique bird he shot. “It was pretty boring until the turkey came up, then I was just out of this world. I was really happy,” he says. “I just really liked camping down by the river. I liked staying in a tent. It was so fun.”

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