As an official Pope and Young Club measurer for bow-tagged whitetails and other big game animals, it’s a message that I’m used to getting several times a year.
Just not during spring turkey season, that is.
Because the text message from Kent Outdoors head man Dakota Stowers last Saturday morning simply said this: “What’s the Oklahoma state record?”
Not being as familiar with the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (www.nwtf.org) wild turkey scoring system as I am the P&Y big game records, I had to look.
Specifically at the NWTF’s online wild turkey scoring database that incorporates a gobbler’s weight, the length of its spurs and the total beard length (either for a single beard or multiple beards), a combination of numbers that results in a final score.
After navigating the information on my Smartphone, it didn’t take long to know that one of Stowers’ guides, Trent Jones, had tagged one of the biggest atypical Rio Grande gobblers in the Sooner State’s history.
Specifically, the Jones gobbler from Cotton County tipped the scales at 20-pounds, 8-ounces while sporting a left spur that measured 1 3/8 inches and a right spur that measured 1 2/8 inches.
But what really made the big gobbler shine was its six different beards, the longest measuring 9 7/8 inches and the shortest measuring 5 6/8 inches. Added all together, the total beard length of the gobbler in the NWTF scoring system checks in at 41.8125-inches.
That in and of itself put the Jones longbeard in pretty lofty territory since only two other Oklahoma Rio Grande toms have had longer total beard lengths.
But when all of the other numbers in the NWTF scoring system were crunched together, the Jones gobbler sported a final total score of 129.750 points.
Provided those numbers stand after NWTF officials take a look at the scoring application, the longbeard will check in as the third best Rio Grande Atypical bird in Sooner State history.
For the record, Michael Fleharty’s April 10, 2010 gobbler from Jefferson County is the state’s No. 1 Atypical Rio Grande gobbler (157.1250 total score / 7 beards, the longest being 11.125-inches / spur lengths of 1.375- and 1.250-inches / 22.8-pound total weight).
The state’s No. 2 Atypical Rio Grande gobbler is an April 20, 2014 tom taken in nearby Marshall County by Traven Bagley (146.8125 total score / 8 beards, the longest being 10.93-inches / longest spur length of .9375-inches / 20.5-pounds total weight).
And that leads us to Jones’ big longbeard, a gobbler apparently poised to surpass the previous No. 3 Atypical Rio Grande from Oklahoma, an April 8, 2012 bird that Gary Golden took in Jackson County with a final NWTF score of 125.8750 points.
All in all, that’s not a bad day’s worth of spring turkey hunting for Jones and his dad.
“We were in Oklahoma last Saturday morning just across the river, hunting a bottom area with some wheat fields above us,” said the hunter. “We first saw the gobblers strutting out in the open and there were about six of them.”
Carefully sneaking into a better position, Jones and his father set up and started calling.
“After 30 minutes or so of calling and doing everything we could to get them to come our way, they weren’t budging,” he said.
Finally, two of the birds broke ranks and came towards Jones’ calling with a Zink’s friction call and a Zink’s mouth diaphragm call, not to mention his Avian-X decoy set-up.
“I had no idea they were multiple bearded, just that they were big birds,” said Jones, noting that these longbeards only gobbled once during the whole ordeal.
When the gobblers closed to within 30 yards distance, Jones took the first bird, rolling it cleanly. When the second bird stood his ground, Jones took advantage of another empty tag in his pocket and rolled it too.
“I had no idea until I walked up on it that the gobbler had six beards and would score as the number three atypical Rio Grande bird ever killed in Oklahoma,” he said. “And the other was a double-bearded giant as well.”
But taking two big longbeards on back-to-back shots wasn’t what mattered most to Jones: “It’s a very cool feeling harvesting two huge birds, and even better that I got to experience it all with my dad sitting next to me.”
Later that morning, Jones, Stowers and others put the measuring tape to work and found out just how big the one gobbler really was.
“The NWTF scoring system was pretty self explanatory and it really was not hard to figure out,” said Jones. “I think that their record system is pretty cool.”
Stowers, now the head man of Kent Outdoors after the untimely passing of the outfitter’s namesake J.J. Kent in late February, totally agrees.
“It’s huge for us,” he said. “I mean what could be better for an outfitter than to be in the record books.”
What might be even better for Stowers and the other guides at the Bucks and Ducks Lodge near Bellevue, Texas is the outstanding spring turkey season that is unfolding for hunters on both sides of the Red River.
“Personally, we are having one of the best turkeys seasons I have ever experienced,” said Stowers. “I knew coming into the season that it was gonna be a great one but I didn’t know it was going to be a 40+ turkey season (from hunts conducted in both states). We have literally put every client we’ve had on turkeys so far this year.”
In addition to Jones top-end Rio Grande, there have been a number of other exceptional birds tagged by clients.
Stowers said those longbeards include a double-bearded gobbler that featured 20 6/8-inches of beard length measurements; another double-bearded bird that featured 15 3/8-inches of beard length measurements; a single-bearded gobbler that measured 12 3/8-inches and had twin spurs of 1 1/2-inches; and a big gobbler that tipped the scales at 22-pounds.
Despite having more than 40 birds harvested on the properties that Kent Outdoors has leased, Stowers said the overall numbers are still looking good.
“We cover so much land that even with us taking that many turkeys, it really hasn’t had much effect on the number of birds we have,” he said. “And next year is going to be great as well because we’re seeing TONS of jakes out in the field that we aren’t targeting.”
In some ways, Stowers said that it almost feels like there is someone watching over the hunting operation this spring.
“J.J. isn’t here physically this year, but I give him all of the credit for the outfitting business that he worked so hard to build up,” said Stowers. “And it’s almost like he’s looking down on us, leading us in the right direction to harvest each and every turkey that we have tagged this spring.”
As the final days of the 2017 seasons in North Texas (May 14) and Oklahoma (May 6) begin to appear on the calendar, Stowers admits that things might slow down a little bit.
“They almost have to, because this season has been on fire so far,” he laughed. “I would say that things ought to stay pretty good though because we’ve got a lot of property to hunt and because our guides work really hard at scouting and putting clients on good hunts.”
And who knows, with a number of spring turkey hunting days still to come – and with a bumper crop of turkeys roaming around this year – maybe the number one and number two spots in the Oklahoma Rio Grande turkey listings could be in jeopardy too.
Because it’s that kind of spring turkey hunting season that is unfolding in the Sooner State.
Just ask Trent Jones, he’s got 129.750 points of big gobbler proof to point to.
Lynn Burkhead is Senior Writer for the Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel and lives in Denison, Texas