Wild turkeys with beards measuring close to 10 inches long are considered trophies.

Especially if the bird carrying such a rope hanging from its chest is a hen.

That’s what hunter Josh Pruitt of Reidsville found out on Tuesday when he killed a Rockingham County hen that had a 9 1/2-inch beard that is likely the longest ever documented in North Carolina. Together with the bird’s 10-pound, 7-ounce weight, it scores approximately 29.42 points under the National Wild Turkey Federation’s scoring system.

Pruitt, a 28-year-old welder at Deere-Hitachi in Kernersville, was hidden in blowdowns before daylight, and his first, soft calls brought a handful of young gobblers, aka jakes, out of their roost trees. The flock headed toward a food plot on the land he manages and hunts, but he noticed one bird still visible on the roost at 7:15 a.m.

“I could see a nice beard, but something looked different,” Pruitt said. 

A few minutes later, the turkey flew down and headed in the direction of the food plot, and that’s when Pruitt figured out what was up. The bearded turkey was a hen he described as “sporting a rope that was dragging the ground.”

Pruitt soft-called to her with a few clucks and purrs on a diaphragm call he designed for Swamp Stud Nation Calls, and the hen turned and headed in his direction until she was within 10 yards before he took her with a load of No. 6 shot from a 3 1/2-inch Long Beard XRS from his 12-gauge Mossberg 835 Ultra Mag. 

The bearded hen was familiar to Pruitt, a pro-staff member of Forever Wild Outdoors and winner of the gobbling division in the 2016 N.C. State Turkey Calling Championships. He said he saw her during the 2014 season, and at that point, she sported a beard he guessed at 6 to 7 inches long. He didn’t see her during the 2015 season, but he did see her last summer while he was bush-hogging on the property, so he knew she was still around.

“I’ve seen bearded hens, and I’ve killed one in the past, and usually, they have real spindly, scraggly beards,” Pruitt said. “This one was thick, like a rope.

“I hadn't seen her this spring, but I was pretty sure I had a trail-cam photo of her,” he said. “I hadn’t hunted this place, but I had built a blind in there the afternoon before. I was in between where they roosted and a 3-acre clover field.”

The previous state-record hen was a Lake Waccamaw bird taken in 2013 by Revin Long that carried a 9 1/4-inch beard and scored 28.09 points.

Pruitt knew that this bird might be a state record; he killed another bearded hen several years ago and started to study up on the NWTF’s record-keeping system. Knowing that he needed a licensed hunter or NWTF to witness the weight and beard measurements, Pruitt got hold of Fred Cox of Reidsville, a former national ringbone-calling champion who owns Grand Slam Turkey Calls and has given Pruitt some pointers for calling contests.

“I told him if he would come do that for me, I’d give him the wing bones from this turkey for him to make calls from,” Pruitt said. “I’ve really been blessed this year. I won the gobbling (division) at the state turkey calling championships, and now this.”