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Courtesy of Michael Pauley
Michael Pauley killed this Merriam's bearded hen in Nebraska to complete what he hoped would be a Grand Slam.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
When Michael Pauley traveled from his home in Virginia this spring to hunt turkeys in Nebraska, he surprised his guide when he told him his goal was to kill a bearded hen.
"Let me get this straight, you want to shoot a bearded hen over a gobbler?" guide Mike Moody asked.
"Yes sir," came the answer.
The next day, Pauley, an accomplished turkey hunter who lives in Botetourt County, killed a Merriam's turkey. That made four different subspecies he had collected: Eastern, Rio Grande, Osceola (Florida) and Merriam's. All were bearded hens, which was precisely what Pauley was hunting, even to the point of turning down shots at long-bearded toms.
Hunters are honored Grand Slam status by the National Wild Turkey Federation for killing four subspecies of turkeys found in the United States, a fete that requires considerable travel, logistics and hunting skills.
Pauley figured it would be even sweeter and more difficult to earn a slam with bearded hens, which make up a small percentage of the turkey population.
"I've always been fascinated by bearded hens," he said. "So I decided to go after a Grand Slam. It was something I wanted to do; it was different."
He already had killed enough gobblers to establish two World Slams, which require six subspecies.
Pauley said he didn't find anything in the NWTF Grand Slam instructions and registration forms that prohibited bearded hens, which are legal targets in all the states in which he pursued them: Virginia, Florida, Kansas and Nebraska.
"On the Grand Slam form, it has gobblers and hens. There is nothing saying it must be male turkeys."
But when I checked with Karen Cavender, the NWTF records coordinator, she said: "Hens can not be used toward a slam."
"Yeah, that's a disappointment," said Pauley. "If it is a legally harvested bird, then they should have a category for it."
Cavender explained it this way: "Although it is perfectly legal to harvest hens, we don't try to encourage hunters to do so. We feel if we begin listing hens separately, this may become a problem."
Pauley killed his first turkey in the fall of 1987, when he was 11. He was hunting with his dad, Richard, the current president of the Botetourt Longbeards Chapter of the NWTF. It was a 7-pound hen he shot out of the air with a 20-gauge pump.
"It could have been a 30-pound gobbler and made no difference, I was extremely excited."
He has killed a half-dozen bearded hens in Botetourt County. The one he chose to include in his Grand Slam application was a bird from the 2007 season that weighed 13 pounds, 2 ounces and had an 8 1/4-inch beard. Most beards on hens are 4 or 5 inches long, thinner than a tom's and with a distinct crinkle. Studies show there is no significant difference in productivity between bearded and non-bearded hens.
When Pauley killed his Florida entry, he told his guide he didn't plan to shoot a gobbler unless it was something out of the ordinary. He held his fire when two mature toms were strutting 30 to 40 yards away, each with a 10-plus-inch beard. Then a bearded hen appeared with a flock of other hens so thick Pauley had to hold his fire and let them spread out for fear of killing more than one. When he got the shot, he had killed a hen with an 8 1/2-inch beard and spurs that measured one-half and one-eighth-inch apiece.
On the last day of a hunt for a Rio Grande turkey in Kansas, Pauley was running out of time, so he decided to bag the gobbler coming to his call, then he noticed that a follow-up bird was a massive bearded hen.
"It was like bells and whistles were going off in my head: 'Bearded hen! Bearded hen! Abort! Abort on the gobbler!'"
The bearded lady weighed 12 pounds, 9 ounces and had an 8 1/4-inch beard.
Pauley remains hopeful that eventually his efforts will lead to a new Grand Slam category for bearded hens. He finds comfort in the fact that the NWTF recently established a U.S. Super Slam for killing a turkey in all 49 states where they are found.
Daniel Rorrer of Pulaski County was the first to register that accomplishment in 2011.
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