Hayden Cardwell got a slow start on North Carolina’s youth-only turkey season. The morning hunt on Saturday, April 1, was not fruitful, but the 12-year-old Rockingham County resident made up for it that afternoon, taking a hen turkey that sported a 9-inch beard.
For Cardwell’s father, Josh Cardwell, who accompanied Hayden on the hunt, along with grandfather Robert Cardwell, a little deja vu might have been appropriate. Several seasons ago, on a nearby farm, Josh Cardwell also killed a bearded hen.
"We didn't realize it was a bearded hen until after I shot," Hayden Cardwell said. "Neither Dad nor I picked up on that. We were walking through a stand of hardwoods behind our house and got surprised by a hen being where it shouldn't have been. We had to dive for cover, and there wasn't much. As we were watching her, several other turkeys came in, and at least two had beards."
The turkeys were out of range but milling about, so the Cardwells dug in, and Josh Cardwell called to see if he could entice them to move closer. One of the gobblers responded, but it wouldn't leave the hens, and after a while, the group began to move away. That gave the Cardwells a chance to circle, get in front of the turkeys and set up.
When the turkeys moved into range, they were shielded from the Cardwells by a big log.
"I told Hayden they were moving down the other log and would clear it in a few seconds," Josh Cardwell said. "He eased up in position to shoot, but staying as low as possible on the log. I told him the second bird in line was a gobbler; I thought it was. In the excitement of the stalk and getting in position, I hadn't looked beyond it having a pretty good beard."
Hayden Cardwell was ready, and when the bearded turkey stepped from behind the log it paused briefly, and he pulled the trigger, sending a 3 1/2-inch, 12-gauge load of No. 5 pellets at the bird, which collapsed exactly at 4 p.m. — three hours after they first saw the hen turkey.
When Hayden Cardwell ran out to retrieve the turkey, he realized something wasn't right. The turkey had a beard, but it didn't have any spurs, and its coloration was rather drab. One look told Josh Cardwell that it was a bearded hen.