On the morning of March 25, Tyler Anderson bagged a once-in-a-lifetime turkey while hunting at his deer camp outside Carthage, Mississippi. The bird—which sported three beards—showed signs of “erythrism”—a rare genetic abnormality that gave its feathers a distinct reddish hue. It’s what turkey biologists and turkey hunting fanatics refer to as a red-phase gobbler.
Anderson said he heard the turkey gobble for the first time exactly one week before he killed it. When he returned on the morning of March 25, it gobbled again while roosted on a limb about two miles back into his deer camp property, the hunter told Field & Stream. After he heard the bird fly down from the roost, he snuck up a nearby ridge to give the it some space.
“I’d been sitting on this ridge for about an hour when I decided to call,” Anderson told F&S. “Then he gobbled so loud that it echoed through the bottom. I knelt down beside a tree, and the next thing I knew I could hear him drumming. I could tell he was close at that point.”
Once he was set up against a tree, Anderson detected movement through the woods and saw the light-colored turkey moving in at full strut. “I thought: Damn, he looks white,” Anderson said. “I figured it must have been the way the sunlight was hitting his feathers.”
The bird continued to come in on a string, Anderson said, spitting and drumming as it approached, with two other long beards following close behind. Soon he could tell that it wasn’t just the sunlight playing tricks. “I let him get behind a tree, and as soon he came out on the other side—I shot,” he said. “I think I just about beat the wad of my shotgun running out there to pick him up. No one that I know of that hunts around here has ever seen or killed anything like him.”
Anderson’s bird bears a striking resemblance to another wild turkey harvested back in May 2021 by Justin Hutton of Madison, Mississippi. Hutton’s turkey was what Adam Butler, Wild Turkey Program Coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, called an “erythristic” or “red-phase” or “erythristic” gobbler. According to Butler, it’s one of several unusual color phases that occur in eastern wild turkeys, with the least rare being the “smoke phase.”
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Anderson said that a few other hunters have tried to cast doubt on his turkey, claiming that a bird of that color must have come from domestic stock. But he’s confident that those assertions are false. “If they knew where this turkey was, how far back in the woods he lived, they wouldn’t be saying that,” he said. “This was a wild bird in a wild place without any houses within 15 to 20 miles. A farm turkey wouldn’t last two days back in there.”