Opening morning of the youth turkey season turned into a numbers game for 12-year-old Gage McTaggart, who was hunting with his dad Todd and caller Brett Thompson at Homochitto National Forest in Southwest Mississippi.

First it was counting the gobblers charging toward the youngster’s 12-gauge, answering Thompson’s yelps.

“I was watching from about 10 feet behind where my son and Brett were set up together and I could hear Brett talking to Gage,” said Todd McTaggart. “I heard him say, ‘There’s a gobbler, do you see him,’ and then it was ‘Wait, there’s two’ and then ‘Wait, there’s three.’

“That kept going until five long-beards were right there on top of them. From my angle, I couldn’t see them but I could sure hear them. They were gobbling and they also sounded like horses coming through the woods.”

As the birds approached the three Albany hunters, Thompson readied his young friend for a shot. When the first bird was about 15 yards from the tree where they were sitting, it was time.

 “I heard Brett ask Gage, ‘You got a shot?’ and Gage said, ‘At which one?’” said Todd McTaggart. “Brett told him to take the first bird and then I heard my son’s 12 gauge roar, and Brett jumped up and was on that bird before it could flop and lose a feather.”

Then it was time to count again.

“Brett hollered out, ‘He’s got two beards, no three beards … this turkey has four beards,’” McTaggart said. “By then Gage was up there laughing and celebrating. We all were.”

When the counting and measuring ended, the youngster’s 3-year-old gobbler produced 28¾ inches of beards — 10½ inches, two at 6 inches each and the fourth 6¼ inches. It weighed 19 pounds, heavy for a public lands bird, and sported spurs of 1¼ inch and 1 inch.

“We had him scored twice and in a contest down in Louisiana it scored 95.5 inches, and we had a biologist score it higher at 105 up in Mississippi,” said the proud papa.

It was Gage McTaggert’s third gobbler and his first in Mississippi.

“We have strong Mississippi ties,” Todd McTaggert said. “I grew up in McComb and Brett grew up in Freewood, right there at Homochitto. Actually, it was Brett’s dad who still lives there who had gone and scouted out the turkeys.”

That advance knowledge, plus years of hunting at Homochitto, put the three hunters in the right spot on the opening morning of youth season on March 7.

“It was a perfect morning, blue-bird skies but it was 25 degrees so I was worried the birds might not gobble,” said Todd McTaggert. “But that morning, after we parked and walked a little ways, they opened up on their own and I think we heard eight different gobblers. We didn’t pick a particular bird, we just headed for the middle of the pack.”

It took three set-ups before the men garnered any attention.

“We didn’t do much at the first one, and at the second spot we had a bunch of hens come to us and the gobblers were there, but they never came into view for a shot,” McTaggert said. “We moved a third time, set up and this time when Brett gave two yelps, the five gobblers, all long beards, started running at us. We knew they were in the area but we had no idea how close, so we set up before he yelped.

“Good thing, because when he yelped, they all gobbled and were about 50 to 60 yards away. It didn’t take long from that point.”