Hunting on private land near Sparta, Michael Heffernon's opening day of spring turkey season landed him in the record books.
The bowhunter from Ozark shot a wild Eastern tom turkey that's now the Missouri record for a turkey taken with an arrow.
"I'm a veteran turkey hunter, but this was my first year hunting the spring season with a bow and arrow," Heffernon said.
A game camera previously set up at the site he planned to hunt had captured several very large turkeys, so Heffernon knew his opening day might yield something special.
And it did.
"We got in our blind well before daylight, and when daylight hit, within 10 minutes we started hearing gobbles in the distance," he said. "Right off, a hen stepped into our food plot and we heard a big gobbler behind us."
That hen ran off and the big tom moved on. Three more hens angled their way toward Heffernon's blind. Heffernon worked his turkey call subtly, and not too frequently. Call too often and a veteran tom will know something odd is up.
"That's when we saw two big boys coming in," Heffernon said. "The bigger of the two came all the way in to our decoys and started beating them up."
Heffernon knew he had the shot and placed the arrow perfectly.
"The bird went 15 yards and died," he said.
And it was a big one. The gobbler weighed 26.1 pounds. The spurs on its legs, which turkeys use to fight each other, measured 1.5 inches and 1 3/8 inches respectively. The turkey's beard — long feathers growing from its chest — measured 11.5 inches.
He took the big bird to a taxidermist, but a friend of his on the local HuntCo hunting TV show took one look and urged Heffernon to see if it was big enough to be a record.
Using the National Wild Turkey Federation's formula of weight, spur length and beard length, the bird scored 77.8. Heffernon suddenly realized this was no ordinary bird.
"Holy cow, this is the No. 1 bird for Missouri, taken with a bow," he said.
Heffernon had the turkey weighed on official scales and filled out the National Wild Turkey Federation's paperwork, with two witnesses attesting to the measurements. According to NWTF records, Heffernon's turkey eclipsed by nearly two points a gobbler killed by bowhunter David Randolph last year in Cape Girardeau. His bird scored 76.3 points.
Once certified by NWTF, Heffernon's record turkey will earn him a pin and plaque noting the bird's Missouri record status. He still plans to have the bird mounted as a living-room reminder of the hunt.
He'll also be able to relive the moment in an upcoming episode of the HuntCo outdoors TV show. Heffernon's record turkey kill was filmed as it happened and will air on an upcoming HuntCo. show on season 4, which begins in January. The Hunt Co. airs at 6 p.m. on Saturdays on the local KOZL station, as well as on the Pursuit channel on national TV at 7:30 a.m. Sunday mornings and also on online network CarbonTV.
Springfield News Leader