Canada Smith of Beaufort and Stan Wells of Ridgeland came out on top on April 1 when the South Carolina Quail Project held its inaugural Savannah River Turkey Invitational on April 1.

Twelve 2-man teams paid an entry fee that benefited SCQP, with eligible areas including Allendale, Hampton, Bamberg and Jasper counties, plus any Savannah River lands in Georgia. Turkeys were judged on the basis of a combination of weight, beard length and spur length at the "weigh-in site" at Groton Plantation.

Smith and Wells hunted on John Carswell's Cypress Creek property and were one of five teams that took a total of six gobblers on the morning hunt. Their bird got big points for its 1-3/8-inch spurs – the longest in the competition – which earned Smith a custom box call donated by Champion Calls in Acworth, Ga., plus a free gobbler mount from Soggy Bottom Taxidermy in Guyton, Ga., for winning the overall title that Smith said he would donate to the Ridgeland environmental education center.

"That bird actually came through a good bit of water to get to us," Wells said. "He was not real talkative, but the hens more than made up for it, so I chatted with the hens and kept the big bird close enough until Canada could make a good shot."    

Biologists from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' Webb Wildlife Center handled the weights and measurements.
Bob Wright of Augusta, Ga., killed the heaviest tom, a 19-1/2-pound trophy. "He gobbled four times in the roost, and I shot (him) about three minutes after he flew down, just after 7 a.m.," Wright said.

Another Georgian, Billy Exley of Savannah, won for killing the gobbler with the longest beard, which measured 10 inches.

"I had a respectable bird to bring in, but early in the morning, I had two bigger birds work me that I was not able to get a good clean shot on. Lucky for me, I changed locations and was able to get back in the game," he said.

Jerald Sholar of Andrews, a Tall Timbers biologist who was one of the event's organizers, said the contest was modeled after one held by Tall Timbers along the Georgia-Florida border.

"This event raises funds that stay right here in South Carolina, where we already have quail habitat projects established in Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties," Sholar said. "This Invitational is modeled after the long-running contest that is held at our home office in the Red Hills area, which runs along the border of Florida and Georgia. Each year those two states field teams to decide that contest."

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