MDC congratulates a young hunter who harvested an all-white wild turkey

News from the region
Kansas City
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Kansas City, Mo. – Turkey hunters tell stories, and Chayson Emmons has one worthy of a lifetime. Emmons, 7, harvested his first wild turkey on April 1 during the Spring Youth Season, and the gobbler was all white, rather than the usual black with a touch of brown.

The young hunter from Blue Springs shot the turkey with help from his father and a friend at the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Settle’s Ford Conservation Area south of Kansas City.

“I saw something white moving across a field, and I thought, is that a cat?” said David Emmons, the hunter’s father. When he realized it was a turkey, he helped Chayson get ready to shoot with his .410 shotgun. Their hunting buddy, Justin Youngblood, was hidden 10 yards behind and giving hen turkey calls. The white turkey gobbled back at the calls a few times. When it got close, Chayson fired, and the turkey dropped. Chayson was excited that he had bagged a turkey. His guides were amazed.

“We were looking at it, and we were stunned,” David Emmons said. “I’ve got it at the taxidermist now.”

Nick Oakley, MDC scientist and wild turkey management biologist, viewed photos of the bird and determined that it was a wild turkey, not an escaped domestic turkey. The turkey had a leucism condition. Its feathers were all white, but it was not an albino. The black beard and smaller size of the waddles and rough scales on the leg are in line with a wild bird.

“All-white leucistic birds are extremely rare, only one or two are reported each year or two,” Oakley said. “The white coloration is caused by a lack of pigmentation in the feathers due to a genetic condition.”

MDC staff have seen this bird and a few other white turkeys at Settles Ford in past years. Besides the leucistic condition being unusual, an all-white coloration makes it harder for wildlife to evade predators.

“The survival rate for young turkeys (poults) is already low,” Oakley said. “But being all white would certainly make it more difficult to evade predation."  

On a day of firsts, Cass County Agent Landon Leonard in his first year of MDC service visited with the successful hunters. To help them celebrate, he issued Chayson a Sonic Drive-In citation, given to youths for kids caught practicing good behaviors in the outdoors, good for a free ice cream cone.

Chayson said that after he shot, he worried that it was a white duck. But then the hunters approached it and saw the black beard of an adult gobbler.

His first thought was “Oh my goodness,” he said about the excitement. “I thought, I may never see that again.”