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Tale of the tape

3/19/2010

Remember when mom, or whoever cooked your Thanksgiving turkey, worried that the big 24-pounder might not feed the army of relatives coming to feast?

"I got the biggest turkey they had," she'd say.

While those were domesticated, it leaves one wondering, with spring turkey seasons opening across the country, about the heaviest bird ever killed.

Karen Cavender knows. As record coordinator the National Wild Turkey Federation, she is privy to spurs and beards, and records in the various species.

With 17,000 birds registered with the NWTF, she might not have them all off the top of her head, but she's well-versed after 13 years on the job.

"When I first came, I knew very little," Cavender said. "I've just done a lot of research.
Of course, being here and working with hunters, you learn a lot."

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So, when asked about the largest bird, she knew it was a Rio Grande of 37 pounds, 2 ounces. Officially 37.1250 pounds, it was killed by Jacob Braught in Linn, Ore., on April 15, 2002.

In the sortable records on the NWTF web site, you can also learn that Braught's bird had one 12.3750-inch beard ranking 12th among Rio Grandes and its total score of 84.3750 ranks second. It also gives spur length and that it was brought in with a box call and firearm.

It was not the heaviest bird every reported, said Cavender, who also oversees the call making and taxidermy competitions at the NWTF conventions.

"We even got a 40-pounder one time," she said. "They were so very excited. So we looked into it and we found it to be domestically fed."

That made it ineligible, as well as taxing to carry to the dinner table.

Cavender said it's a rather simply process to get your bird registered with the NWTF, the first requirement being a member.

"People call and say, Karen I've harvested a bird, it's huge, and I know it's going to make the record book," she said. "This is what I'm going to tell you."

Step one, she says, is to access NWTF.org on the computer, then hit the Hunting link. Scroll down to Turkey Records.

That page is rather self-explanatory, showing hunters how to search records of registered turkeys.

In the Wild Turkey Tools box, hunters can learn how to score their bird, basically how to measure, and can access a scoring calculator. Punch in the figures and get your bird's score.

The How To Register link gets you to the page where you can download the official registration form.

"Once on the form, that's when people start having questions," Cavender said, "like where do I find a certified scale."

Verification of the weight is important, and she said state wildlife agencies, taxidermists and post offices and grocery store scales have been used.

"You have to provide proof of that weight," she said. "The person weighing the bird can write out an affidavit with info and sign it."

For spurs over 1 ½ inches and beards over 12 inches, photo documentation showing the tape measure in the picture is required.

For these above-average birds, a primary witness, either a current NWTF member or taxidermist, needs to sign the completed registration form and an additional witness also has to sign, though they don't have to be federation members. Cost is $10 to register each bird.

In six to eight weeks, the hunter will receive a certificate with name, the bird's specs and the state and national rank along with a lapel pin for each species, and some hunters might even receive a surprise.

When she receives forms, Cavender checks her slam database to see if that bird completed the hunter's Grand Slam (Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam's and Osceola) or Royal Slam (those four plus the Gould's) or World Slam (five plus the Ocellated).

The NWTF also recognizes the Mexican Slam (Rio Grande, Gould's and Ocellated) and the Canadian Slam (Eastern and Merriam's in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.)

It's rare someone would not know that they completed the slam, but it's happened, Cavender said. They've even called her somewhat surprised when they received their Grand Slam pin and certificate.

"I have caught a couple like that who didn't know they actually completed a slam," she said. "I've had a couple people call and say I didn't know we got this when we completed a slam.

"It's a wonderful thing to accomplish."

One thing Cavender said the NWTF doesn't keep up with is age, so determining the youngest or oldest to complete a slam is not recorded. But most are happy that the database has been accessible on the web site for about four years.

"Most of the hunters really, really like this," she said. "You can check out how you see statewide or nationally, you can see if you've fallen in any rank.

"And it's amazing how competitive this particular program can be. Some are very competitive."

She's most likely settled a few debates, like how Joseph Fuller's 2008 atypical Eastern turkey has the highest total score of 195.500. The 23.5-pound bird taken in Edgecombe, N.C., had 1.25-inch spurs but was pushed to the top by its eight beards totaling 73.5 inches.

How about the longest spurs? Topping the charts is Connie Bender's 2.315-inch spur on her 2007 Ocellated from Mexico that weighed 11 pounds.

For more on turkey scoring and record, visit NWTF.org.