Since he was 12, turkey hunting has been Ray Kinley Jr.'s all-time favorite activity.
Now 45, Kinley, who lives in Montoursville, also hunts deer and bear.
In 1994, he collected what was called a grand slam in the realm of big game hunting - shooting two turkeys, a white-tailed buck and a black bear that year.
It was an achievement he is very proud of, but now he has hit another great milestone - making the National Wild Turkey Federation's record books for shooting a bird with three beards.
On May 16, Kinley was out for spring gobbler, looking to bag a tom on a family friend's property in northern Lycoming County. He carried a special turkey call he had made and he had the added benefit of his own voice. He has spent much time perfecting the sounds a turkey makes.
Kinley was just 8 years old when he began imitating turkeys.
"I learned by my neighbor's four turkeys they had in a pen," he said.
The talent means Kinley can skip the push buttons, chalk and diaphragms used by thousands of other hunters to attract turkeys. All he needs is his voice and noise variations he makes by using his throat and mouth.
In 1995, Kinley was crowned the New York state champion in natural voice turkey calling. He demonstrated gobbles, clucks and purrs.
"This is how I learned," Kinley said, pointing to his throat. "When you watch a turkey, their waddle goes up and down."
He demonstrates, released a call that sounds much like a wild turkey.
"Some people say they never heard anything like this before," he said.
Once, when Kinley was in a local grocery store, he watched a woman pick up a turkey and he threw out a gobble.
"She dropped that turkey as fast as she picked it up," he said.
Kinley often uses his natural turkey calling skills in the wild when he is out on the hunt.
"I have called hunters in. I have called turkeys away from hunters. Now, that was cool," he said with a smile.
"I take a lot of effort and pride, and I just love being out there with them," he said of turkey hunting with his friends.
He got in the woods before dark that day.
"I got up there real early. I like getting in the woods at dark and I say a prayer. I talk to God while I am out there," he said.
After a run-in with an opossum and a button buck that walked so close to Kinley that he said he could feel the breeze it made as it walked by, he saw a turkey in a field above him.
It was too late for him to call the bird in, though. It moved out of sight.
Then he saw something laying down in the field. He walked up to within inches of it and discovered it was a hen, or female, turkey.
"I thought, 'Holy smokes, what is wrong with this bird,' " Kinley said. "(It had) no eggs, no nest. This was weird."
The hen got up and moved, beginning to cluck and purr.
"I thought, 'This is the best decoy you could ever have,' " he said.
He took cover by a brush pile and heard a gobbler in the distance.
But Kinley opted to leave the spot and return to his vehicle to unload some of his clothes. He then went on to one of his favorite spots on the property. In the past, he'd bagged another unique turkey there, a hen that sported an eight-inch beard. Usually only male turkeys, called toms, have beards.
The waiting game
While Kinley hunkered down at his spot, he passed the time with some modern technology. As he was playing a game on his cellphone, he heard the gobble that eventually would put him in the record books.
"I didn't think my voice was going to carry down there," he said.
So Kinley used the call he made. He described it as an over-and-under call with slate on the bottom and glass on the top.
After exchanging calls with the bird, he knew the game was on.
"I wanted him to come to me. I was not going to him," he said.
When he could hear he had the bird close, he leveled his .838 Mossberg shotgun toward a field near a logging road. He figured the turkey would come up that direction.
He was wrong.
A little while later, Kinley heard a gobble.
"You could feel the vibration right through your whole body. He was that close," he said.
Now the bird was within 5 to 7 yards and walking right by him.
"I turned my eyeball to the left and I saw him. My heart was pounding. I am surprised he didn't hear my heart beating," Kinley said.
The bird began to drum, a sound male turkeys make in the spring from deep within their chests. Kinley hoped it soon would walk away from him so he could take a shot.
"He was so close I could spit on him," he said.
When the gobbler moved off about 15 yards, Kinley fired, and had his bird.
Uncommon, not rare
At first, Kinley only saw two beards on the gobbler. After he took it to Laylon's Taxidermy, of Montoursville, the third beard was found.
Kinley submitted his prize to the National Wild Turkey Federation. In the federation's record books, his bird is listed as an Eastern atypical wild turkey taken with a modern firearm. It earned a ranking of 457 on the NWTF's judging scale, which is based on multiple measurements, including the bird's beard(s), spurs and weight.
The gobbler weighed 21 1/2 pounds, had beards measuring 10 6/16, 8 and 7 14/16 inches and sported spurs measuring 1 2/16 inches, all of which earned a grand total score of 96.5.
The NWTF's website allows viewers to search its "Wild Turkey Records" and "compare toms by size, beard length, spur length, state, subspecies or by the hunter's name," according to the site. "Since the NWTF started keeping records in 1982, more than 17,000 birds have been registered."
"It is uncommon, but I wouldn't say it's rare," Mary Jo Casalena, turkey biologist with the state Game Commission, said of a three-bearded bird.
As the beard number increases, it does, however, become more rare.
She said the Game Commission staffers have seen turkeys with more than three beards.
"The beards are a type of feather. It is an adaptation," she said.
Beards grow throughout the life of a bird.
"They usually start dragging on the ground and breaking off at about 12 inches. They can't grow more than 12 inches," Casalena said.