On April 9, Fleharty and friend Zac Gaines headed to Waurika, Okla., for the spring rattlesnake festival, an annual gathering for serpent aficionados in the southwestern part of the state.
The duo decided to hunt turkeys before snakes and headed afield after failing to roost any gobblers the previous evening. In the pre-dawn darkness, Gaines’ crow call brought the distant trees to life with a cacophony of gobbles.
With darkness fading, the hunters moved closer to the turkeys, and then quickly set up their decoys after a hen flew down 80 yards away. Instantly, the hunters hit the deck, crawling to a low depression to cover them from the approaching hen.
Soon, a gobbler flew down and made a beeline for the decoys, which were just 10 yards from the excited hunters. In minutes, the longbeard was in full strut only eight yards away, spitting and drumming. Fleharty rose and shot, knocking the big tom backward and shattering the morning solitude. After exchanging high-fives with Gaines, Fleharty retrieved his tom and was amazed when he found the bushy beard was actually composed of seven distinct beards.
Fleharty contacted me to score his trophy, and I was amazed when we tallied the score. The 3-year-old longbeard weighed 22 pounds, 14 ounces, and had spurs that measured 11/4 and 13/8 inches. The gobbler’s seven beards measured 111/8, 82/8, 74/8, 72/8, 7, 62/8 and 65/8 inches, for a total of 54 inches.
The National Wild Turkey Federation’s scoring system has multiple categories, and Fleharty’s tom scored as the fourth-best atypical of all time. The atypical category recognizes turkeys with multiple beards. The score consists of the turkey’s weight, plus the length of both spurs multiplied by 10 and then the length of the beards multiplied by two. Fleharty’s trophy scored 157.125, easily eclipsing the top-scoring Oklahoma turkey by more than 40 inches and ranking No. 4 all time.
“The bird was amazing — not just an average bird, but a state record,” Fleharty said. “I am very pleased.”