Hunting April 22 on private land in the Friendship area of Oconee County, Johnson killed a mature gobbler that, upon closer inspection, sported beards measured 10 3/4, 8 1/4, 8, 5 1/4 and 5 inches.
According to biologists, multiple beards on a male turkey is simply a random occurrence. It occurs with no rhyme or reason or environmental factors. It just happens. On occasion, turkey hunters will bag gobblers sporting more than one beard, but in Johnson's case, his trophy sported five.
"The morning of the hunt, I got on a bird pretty quick by locating his strut zone," Johnson said. "I set up on that bird and worked him to me with my call and killed him at about 20 yards. I knew he had been in the company of several other gobblers, and after I had him on the ground, I realized the other gobblers he was with were coming too. Since you're allowed to take two birds a day, I sat back down near an old roadbed and started working the other birds."
With one 20-pound prize in hand, Johnson began methodically calling. He guessed there might have been as many as five more gobblers in the woods in front of him, but two birds approached him over the rise.
"I had no idea there was anything different about the other birds; I just picked the bigger of the two as they came within range and shot," Johnson said. "It wasn't until after I'd shot him that I saw he had a bunch of beards growing out of his chest."
Thinking the turkey, which weighed 16 pounds and had 3/4-inch spurs, may have been some type of record for the species, Johnson snapped a couple of quick photos on his phone and drove with the bird to the SCDNR office in Clemson to inquire.
"I met a game warden in the parking lot who looked at the bird and said that the SCDNR didn't keep any kind of records for turkeys, but he said he had seen several birds this year that had multiple beards," he said.
Though the hunter was unable to officially document his trophy, he does plan to have the animal mounted.
The successful hunt marked a turn-around for Johnson in what he was afraid was going to be a below-average season. An avid hunter who has been hunting for more than 20 years, Johnson hunts an average of four to five days a week during the spring season.
"I did kill a gobbler right after the season opened," Johnson said, "but after that, I kind of hit a dry spell. I could get birds to gobble back at me, but it just seemed like they weren't interested in working."