Cheatham County, TN — A longtime Cheatham County resident had a wild turkey he harvested in April certified by the National Wild Turkey Federation as the largest ever recorded in the county.
The 26.37-pound bird was the 34th largest turkey by weight the group has seen since it began taking records nationwide in 1971.
Steve Daniels, 63, has lived in Lebanon since he retired, but spent most of his life in Cheatham County. He is fiercely protective of the exact location where he shot the bird, a farm where he says he has always hunted.
"As far as I know, I'm the only person that's hunted turkeys on that farm," Daniels said.
The Eastern Wild Turkey weighed 26.37 pounds and had four beards, the bundles of hairlike feathers that hang down from a male turkey's chest which provide an informal measure of a turkey's age and are often preserved by turkey hunters as trophies, in much the same way that deer hunters keep antlers.
He said this was the first turkey that he had killed since 2006.
The longest beard was 11 inches long — 35th in the national records for Atypical Eastern Turkeys — and the total length of the beards was 32.62 inches.
The spurs — the claw-like protrusions pointing backward from the turkey's legs — on Daniels' turkey were 1.12 inches long, 22nd in the NWTF rankings.
The current record for beard length is held by Steve Overton of Sharp County, Arkansas. He shot an Eastern Turkey in April of 2000 with a 17.62-inch beard. In 2009, Jared Howe of Clay County, Georgia harvested a turkey with a two-inch spur.
In 1982, Jim Reynolds of Stewart County, Tennessee, west of Montgomery County, bagged a 29.5 pound turkey. He stands ranked 7th by the NWTF.
For weight and beard length, Daniels holds the highest records from Cheatham County. In the case of spur length, he is tied with a record from 1997.
This has been a big season for big game in the Middle Tennessee area. In Lincoln County, about 10 days after Daniels shot his bird, Randall Mills shot a 26.75 pound turkey.
Earlier this month, a 47-point buck, a possible world-record deer, was killed by a 26-year-old Gallatin man in Sumner County. That rack of antlers may be worth as much as $100,000.
'I do things a bit differently'
Daniels's style differs from many turkey hunters, he said, in that he sets up decoy hens in a blind and waits.
It took about 45 minutes of patient calling, using a Lynch box call made in 1965 that he inherited from his father-in-law, before the tom came within the short firing distance of Daniels's shotgun.
"You're making him do something against nature," said Daniels, who has been hunting turkeys since the 80's. "When he struts, the hens are supposed to go to him.
"I make the turkeys come to me," he said. "I do things a little bit differently."
"I was ecstatic when I saw it had four beards," Daniels said. "I'm thrilled to death."
A bird with more than one beard is considered "atypical" by the NWTF, and even three-bearded toms are quite rare.
"I was in the right place at the right time," he said.
Daniels said that his father-in-law must have had the Lynch call since before there were many wild turkeys in Tennessee. The old friction calls, made by an Alabama man named M.L. Lynch beginning in 1940, are often taken as collector's items, but Daniels said he has always used them in the field.
Wild turkeys can fly, and they can run up to 45 miles an hour for short periods of time," Daniels said. "They're a lot harder to kill that people think."
"Wait until you get right up close with them," he said.
Most hunters, when they bag such an impressive animal, would get it stuffed and mounted. Daniels thinks about the bird getting covered in dust and cobwebs.
"Everybody knows what a wild turkey looks like," Daniels said of the animal that was once—perhaps with tongue in cheek—suggested as a more appropriate bird than the Bald Eagle to be placed on America's national seal.
He elected to mount his certificate from the NWTF in a shadowbox with the four beards, and to share the meat of the bird with friends and family, including the man who owns the farm in Cheatham County where it was shot. He has smoked some of it, fried some of it in cornbread, and still has a breast left over in his refrigerator
"Most people would mount him. I ate him," Daniels said.
"Even the National Wild Turkey Federation thought I was crazy."
Max Smith is editor of The Ashland City Times. He can be reached at 615-792-0036 or on Twitter @maxrsmith217.