When you have a first turkey hunt like 7-year-old Chayson Emmons did this year, all future turkey hunts might be a little duller by comparison. On April 1, Emmons, of Blue Springs, Missouri, harvested a rare, white gobbler at Settle’s Ford Conservation Area south of Kansas City, the Missouri Department of Conservation reports. This was during the state’s special youth-only turkey season that took place last weekend.
At first, Emmons’ father David thought the puff of white moving across the field was a cat, according to a press release from the MDC. When he eventually saw that it was a turkey, he helped Chayson shoulder his .410 and line up the shot. Family friend Justin Youngblood chirped out some hen calls from behind the pair, getting the turkey to gobble back and move closer. Chayson dropped the bird with his first shot.
Once the gobbler was on the ground, Chayson worried for a moment that it was actually a big white duck. His concerns evaporated when the hunting party approached the bird and he saw the telltale black beard. As it turns out, the wild, all-white turkey had a genetic condition known as leucism, which results in a loss of pigment in the animal’s skin or feathers.
“I thought, ‘I may never see that again,'” Chayson said. He might be right.
How Rare Are White (Leucistic) Gobblers in the Wild?
It might be hard to believe that a young kid could get that lucky. (Really, how many leucistic wild turkey grip-n-grins feature hunters missing their two front teeth?) But aside from the beard, the rough scales on the bird’s legs and smaller waddles confirm that the turkey is in fact wild and not a farmyard escapee, the MDC explains.
“All-white leucistic birds are extremely rare, only one or two are reported each year or two,” MDC turkey biologist Nick Oakley said. Oakley looked at photos of the bird to confirm that it was definitely wild. “The white coloration is caused by a lack of pigmentation in the feathers due to a genetic condition.”
The most surefire way to know a turkey is leucistic and not albino is by looking at its eyes. If they’re a normal dark color, the gobbler has leucism. If they’re red or pink, the turkey is albino. Leucism means a partial loss of pigmentation, whereas albinism (which is even more rare) indicates a complete lack of pigmentation. In leucistic wild turkeys, the feathers might be missing pigment while other parts of the body are still dark.
Chayson’s gobbler isn’t the first leucistic wild turkey to come through Settle’s Ford, according to MDC staff who have reportedly spotted a few over the years. Since the shock-white birds stand out so much, they’re at higher risk of predation, and hunting them is perfectly legal. In April 2022, Cliff Timmons tagged a leucistic wild turkey on Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky. That same month, North Carolinian Troy Cornett harvested one he’d been scouting for three years.
But what really set Chayson’s hunt apart from Cliff’s and Troy’s was the MDC-sponsored free ice cream cone from the Sonic Drive-In after the day’s events were over. Now Chayson has to wait patiently to receive his mounted bird.
“We were stunned,” David Emmons said. “I’ve got it at the taxidermist now.”