Garrett Collins of Reidsville bagged his first wild turkey on April 13, the opening day of North Carolina's spring gobblers-only season. He wasn't alone in that regard, but setting him apart from the state's other successful hunters was that his turkey carried the longest beard of any gobbler ever killed in the Tarheel State.

Collins was hunting on private, leased land in Rockingham County with his father, Randall, a Greensboro fireman, when he killed a gobbler whose beard measured 17 inches long.

 

Photos of the turkey and its beard have been submitted to the National Wild Turkey Federation, which confirmed the record. Collins' gobbler eclipsed the previous state-record, a Davie County bird killed in 2003 by Matt Wall that carried a 16 ¼-inch beard.

 

Collins, a 24-year-old Rockingham County H.S. graduate who was a military policeman at Fort Bragg, admitted that the turkey's huge beard wasn't the only thing unusual about the hunt. First of all, Collins had hunted turkeys "maybe four or five times in my life," he admitted. He and his father got interested in turkeys only after seeing several while deer-hunting on the property. Also, they didn't even get into the woods until 2:30 p.m. And on the way to a food plot they wanted to watch, Collins and his father spooked a big gobbler, which Randall Collins believes was the bird his son eventually killed.

 

Sitting along the edge of a food plot of winter wheat surrounded by mature timber, they saw only three whitetail does in the next three hours. While waiting and watching, Collins yelped intermittently using a mouth call, and his father used a slate call.

 

"We didn't hear anything until I shot the turkey," the younger Collins said. "For some reason, my dad told me to look behind us in the woods, and that's when I saw him."

 

At 5:30, Collins raised his Remington 870, drew a bead on the turkey's head and pulled the trigger on a Nitro Turkey Load just as the bird gobbled, the only sound it made that evening.

 

"He fell right there," Collins said, "about 30 yards from us. It was a true coincidence that I looked behind us, and he was there. I was surprised to see a nice gobbler coming up through the woods, so I asked my dad if he was a shooter, and he said, 'Oh, yeah,' and I pulled the trigger."

 

Collins' bird, which weighed 22 pounds, had spurs that measured 1 1/8 and 1 ¼ inches.

 

"Since it was my first turkey, I had no idea about the beard length, other than I could see it dragging the ground when he was walking toward us, but when my dad saw the beard, he said, 'Holy smokes, this is a big deal,' " Collins said.

 

The turkey's beard is bushy for about the first 10 or 11 inches, then it has a handful of long strands that reach the 17-inch mark.

 

Randall Collins visited the NWTF's Website, discovered his son's bird might be a record, and learned what evidence the NWTF needed for certification, including the signature of a witness who was an NWTF member: Reidsville's Lindsay Robertson. With the proper photos taken, Collins sent the submission to the NWTF.