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Smoky Gray Photos

Scott Justice of Chadron harvested this turkey of the erythristic, or red, color phase. (Submitted photo)
Scott Justice of Chadron harvested this turkey of the erythristic, or red, color phase. (Submitted photo)

“Smoky gray” isn’t often a quality we photographers seek in images, but it’s a different story when it comes to turkeys. I was pleased to receive a few photos of smoky gray phase wild turkeys after requesting them in a post last week.

While most of the responses I received were from northwestern Nebraska, it appears some really unique birds, ranging from all white plumage to a colorful mix, are seen on occasion throughout the state.

The most eye-catching of photos that I received is one of a bird shot in Dawes County by Scott Justice of Chadron.

Justice’s bird has the characteristics of a Merriam’s wild turkey, but has some really unique coloration. Rather than a smoky gray variation, it is a bird of the rare erythristic, or red, color phase — another recessive trait for turkey plumage. Justice said he’s talked to a number of turkey experts and has been assured that the bird’s plumage did not result from breeding with domesticated birds.

Two of the submissions came from Game and Parks wildlife staffers in the northwest district – Justin Powell and Rick Arnold. Arnold’s bird was white from claw to beak. Before you accuse him of raiding the Butterball plant, know that the bird was running with a group of about 20 normal looking hens west of Whitney.

Also, previously on his blog, Game and Parks fisheries biologist Daryl Bauer referred to smoky grays that he’s seen in May 2013 and April 2012.

If anyone is questioning the ethics of shooting such a turkey over a normal looking bird, please realize it’s legal and not the same as killing an animal of a rare species. The birds look the way they do because of recessive genes, traits generally considered to be inferior and detrimental to their survival.

Here’s a slideshow the others that were submitted either via email, text or social media.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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