Emilia Cote and Grayson Cote of Connor Township in Aroostook County were excited to go on their first turkey hunt this spring with their uncle Jesse Cote, a registered Maine guide. But none could have imagined the surprise they encountered in the field.
When Emilia, 8, Grayson, 7, and Jesse Cote arrived back at the truck after a successful hunt, they noticed something unusual; the adult male turkey, or tom, had four beards.
“Two beards would have been cool. Four beards is just crazy,” said Jesse Cote, who operates Backwoods Guide Service.
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the beard on turkeys are actually bristle-like feathers that protrude from the chest.
In this case, the turkey shot by Emilia Cote actually sported four distinguishable beards.
Emelia and Grayson have hunted deer in the past, each harvesting an animal, but neither had tried turkey hunting. That’s when Jesse Cote jumped at the opportunity to take them.
Their outing lasted less than two hours. And it wasn’t the typical scenario in which hunters get out and set up before dawn.
“They missed out on all that fun stuff,” Jesse Cote joked. “I picked them up …at 3:30 when school got out and they were back home at 5:30 that night.”
He took the youngsters to a spot he had been scouting with trail cameras. It was 20 minutes into the hunt, after doing some calling, that three jakes approached.
Grayson got first crack, and he didn’t miss.
“He took his time, got a good bead on him, he shot and he killed one, stone dead, right there,” Jesse Cote said.
The kids retrieved the bird and returned to the blind. The group let things settle down, then Jesse Cote resumed calling, knowing that there were other turkeys in the vicinity.
Immediately, there was a response. Jesse Cote helped Emilia get situated in preparation to take a shot at a big tom.
“She took her time, she got set up on it and she killed it,” Jesse Cote said.
They didn’t notice the multiple beards until they returned to the truck.
According to Audubon.org, a turkey’s beard can be an indication of dominance and health. It quotes the National Wild Turkey Federation as saying the longest beard it has recorded is 11.75 inches.
However, it also suggested a turkey could have up to 13 beards, although several of them are likely to be wispy, short feathers. It is estimated that fewer than two percent of turkeys have more than one beard.
Beards also can be found on approximately 10 percent of hens, but are thinner and shorter than those of the male birds.
Jesse Cote subsequently scored the bird based on NWTF guidelines and found that Emilia Cote’s turkey came in with a raw score of 89, which should place it among some of the highest-scoring toms shot this year in Maine.
Turkeys are scored based on their weight, beard length and the length of the spurs on their legs.
Emilia Cote’s tom weighed 21 pounds and had two spurs measuring just under one inch. The total combined length of the four beards was 25 inches.
“It’s a trophy bird. It’s probably the top three for the state for the year,” Jesse Cote said, referring to the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club’s annual compilation of harvest data.
Jesse Cote enjoys spending time with youth hunters, including his two sons and his niece and nephew. Watching them succeed is a thrill for the guide, father and uncle.
“It’s so rewarding to see the kids be successful,” he said. “Just the look on their face, the excitement. With the kids, it takes it to a whole other level.”
Aroostook County was among the last areas of Maine to establish a huntable population of wild turkeys. Hunters in most of the region (Wildlife Management Districts 1-6 and 8) may now harvest one bearded bird during the spring season.
“I’ve never seen as many turkeys as I’ve seen this year,” Jesse Cote said.
Even so, he admits turkey hunting entails its share of challenges.
“For every time I’ve had it work out in our favor and kill birds, 10 other times it hasn’t,” Jesse Cote said.
Maine’s spring turkey hunting season ends on Saturday, June 3.