By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
A rarity and a rookie shared the spotlight this week at the Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt, which was headquartered in Montgomery.
The rookie was Ken Attaway of Academy Sports + Outdoors, who had never bagged a turkey. It was one particular feature of the turkey that guide Mike Brunson called to within 20 yards of Attaway that had all the turkey hunters, guides and landowners shaking their heads in awe.
After Attaway successfully capped the hunt with a perfect shot, the measuring tape came out and to their amazement, the turkey’s beard measured a whopping 12 9/16 inches.
Any turkey hunter celebrates a turkey with a 12-inch beard, but one that surpasses 12 1/2 inches is indeed special.
“It’s rare,” said Brunson, a veteran of the Alabama turkey woods.
Although the bird’s beard was exceptionally long, Brunson said the hunt was pretty much typical for this time of year in Alabama with one exception.
“Then a hen started yelping. Hunting in Alabama, I find a hen that really wants to talk about every three years. I just did what she did. Whatever she did, I did back. About eight or nine hens came up and went through a little saddle. Then we spotted the two gobblers strutting on the left headed our way. They needed to come about 10 yards. Ken had his gun up and ready. I said, ‘Right, left; no left.’ He shot the bird on the left, which had a much bigger beard. That’s a rare, rare beard.”
To go with that long beard, Attaway’s turkey weighed 19 pounds with spurs that measured 1 5/16 and 1 3/8. Under the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) system, the bird’s weight is a point per pounds, while the beard length is doubled. The spur lengths are multiplied by 10 and all are added together for the final score. Attaway’s bird scored 71 points to win the competition.
“This was my first turkey hunt,” Attaway said. “I loved it. I think this was the best turkey hunt a man could find, right here in Alabama.”
Bob Robb, an outdoor writer from Tucson, Ariz., said when it comes to turkey hunting it’s better to be lucky than good. Robb managed to take the second-place turkey this year with a score of 67.06, but the hunt didn’t go as planned with guide Preston Cauthen.
“There were a bunch of birds gobbling early this morning, but nothing would come to us,” Robb said. “I decided to take a little walk out to the edge of the woods. There was a little road between a couple of wood lots. I heard a gobble and then saw him sneak across the road. I made a couple of yelps, and the next thing you know he’s at 20 yards. It wasn’t a good day for him. It was a flash hunt that took a day-and-a-half. This is my second year, and this is a wonderful event.”
Another successful hunter traveled a great distance to participate in the governor’s hunt. Paul Bonderson, the incoming president of Ducks Unlimited, came all the way from Sunol, Calif., to participate and managed to bag the third-place bird with guide Cooper Rutland.
“Early this morning we heard one gobble on the creek,” Rutland said. “We didn’t hear anything else, not anything. So we decided to take a little ride on the cart. We’d stop
But it wasn’t quite that easy. The gobbler, which scored 65.5 points, stopped behind a pine tree. Although it gave Bonderson time to get his gun up, the turkey’s head remained out of sight.
“It seemed like a long time, but it probably wasn’t but about a minute or so,” Bonderson said. “He finally stuck his head out about 6 inches and I took the shot.”
Unlike the top three, the hunter who bagged the fourth-place bird only had a short drive to make the hunt. Joe Ward of Birmingham hunted with Chris Schnarr in Lee County.
“We got on one bird early in the morning, but he gobbled only a couple of times,” Schnarr said. “We sat there until 8. We made a move and went to an old roadbed. We spotted a bird way back up the roadbed. We sat down and called him right up over the top of the hill. Joe shot him at 35 yards. It was a classic, quick hunt.”
One of the celebrity hunters, Michael Waddell of Bone Collector fame, found out just how good the hunting can be in Alabama. He and his guest, Darren Smith, managed to kill a turkey each day of the hunt. Waddell’s best bird ended up in sixth place with 64 points.
“It was fun,” Waddell said. “What made it fun was it was the classic Alabama hunting in the swamps and hardwood drains.”
Waddell’s big bird took quite a bit of work and left him with wet, muddy boots from crossing a big creek that had the turkey hunt stymied.
“We finally got on the right side of the creek and circled around the turkeys,” he said. “We got within about 70-80 yards and started soft-calling. I had a Thunder Chicken decoy. I literally raised it up and showed them the decoy. When they saw that head and fan, they broke and came running, two big ol’ longbeards. We shot them at 10 steps. We got camera footage and everything, so it turned out really good.”
Unlike last year when the weather was uncooperative, hunters at this year’s event enjoyed ideal weather with sunny skies and warm temperatures. The 65 hunters managed to take 22 turkeys during the day-and-a-half of hunting.
“This is the most turkeys we’ve killed on this hunt in quite a while,” said Dan Moultrie, hunt chairman. “The fundraising was a big success. We had a big crowd at the banquet. We had people here from California and Utah. It is the biggest hunting event in the United States. That’s as good as it gets.”
Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. said the hunt is hosted by the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation and money raised at the event will go to a number of different programs, including the youth dove, deer and turkey hunts, Hunters Helping the Hungry and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman. Scholarships at Auburn University (Dan Moultrie Fund for Excellence) and the University of Alabama (Larry Drummond Scholarship in Arts and Sciences) also receive funding from the proceeds of the Governor’s Hunt.
“You can get trophies and material things in your life, but at the end of the day, we always talk about the relationships you build and the memories you have,” Guy said. “I hope that’s the greatest thing everybody takes away from the Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt.”
PHOTOS: (By Billy Pope) Hunt Chairman Dan Moultrie, left, joins Ken Attaway and guide Mike Brunson, right, to display the winning bird in the 2015 Alabama Governor's One-Shot Turkey Hunt, held this week in and around Montgomery. Attaway's bird sported a beard that measured 12 9/16 inches. Second place went to Bob Robb, left, an outdoor writer from Tucson, Ariz., who was guided by Preston Cauthen.