After three decades of turkey hunting experience, David Busta had a couple of career moments last spring.
The Kooskia, Idaho, hunter bagged not one but two turkeys with three beards each. He hopes the bigger one makes the record books as the largest in Idaho. The other bird could rank as high as second or third spot on the list.
Busta admits to being a turkey-hunting fanatic.
“Basically I hunt every day of the season,” he said. “Most of the guys I work for say there is no sense looking for Dave. He’s out hunting.”
He also guides elk hunters on the Salmon River during the fall, teaches hunter education classes and works for the Idaho Department of Lands. But turkey hunting is his favorite pastime.
“I love to hunt these things,” he says. “It’s just like bugling for elk, the same tactics, but it’s a whole lot easier packing turkeys out of the woods.”
The turkey season kicked off this past week in Idaho and Washington. Busta was out helping a pair of youngsters try for toms during the early youth seasons. But he’ll have a hard time finding birds to rival last year’s trophies.
“It’s just a blast. I’ve guided for just about everything on the North American continent. To me they are the biggest challenge.”
He says just about everything in the woods wants to eat turkeys from the moment they emerge from their shells. That makes them wary. And they are gifted with outstanding eyesight. If they are close enough they can see movements as miniscule as a hunter’s eyes blinking.
Sometimes they even scare themselves.
“I’ve seen them run from their own shadow.”
The key to a successful turkey hunt is sitting down in the right spot, calling and waiting, even if it seems as though nothing is happening.
“If you don’t have patience you might as well give it up,” he said. “I’ve had birds it took me four hours to call in.”
Toms don’t always announce their presence by gobbling. Sometimes they come slowly to a call without making a sound. Impatient hunters may call it quits and stand up, only to flush an approaching gobbler.
“They sure will make you look like a fool once in a while,” he said.
Though they are careful, cunning and wily, they also think they are pretty tough, especially during the spring breeding season. That is their downfall. They often give away their location by gobbling or calling at any noise they hear.
“They think they are the baddest thing in the woods,” he says. “They want to sound louder than anything in the woods.”
He points to one of the birds he bagged last year that has been preserved by Cougar Canyon Taxidermy of Kooskia.
“This bird died because of his girlfriend,” he says.
Busta tried to call the tom in for three days in a row. The calling drove the tom’s hen into a rage. He finally got himself in the right spot, called and she flew down and came charging right for him.
“She was jealous,” he said of her aggressiveness. “She didn’t want no other hens by her boyfriend. She was mad too. She was all puffed up. She was looking for me to whip me.”
He moved the gun barrel to keep her from running into him. When he did that, the hen putted — a warning call. Busta knew the tom was likely right behind the hen. Sure enough, the tom popped his head up when the hen putted. Busta shot.
He didn’t realize right off that the turkey had three beards. Two are quite visible but the third is small. His taxidermist pointed it out.
But there was no doubt the bigger bird had three beards. Busta shot it on the second day of the season. He says he usually looks at a lot more birds and doesn’t kill one until later in the season. But he says there was something different about this bird.
“I’m looking at him saying ‘Man, he’s pretty weird. I think he has three beards, I better shoot.’ ”
He has yet to hear from the National Wild Turkey Federation as to whether either bird will make the record book. Turkeys are compared to each other in three categories: beard length, weight and spur length. In the rare case of multiple beards, the lengths are added together.
His bigger bird had two 8 1/2-inch beards and one 71/2-inch beard. It weighed 177/8 pounds and was about 2 years old based on the length of its spurs.
The smaller bird had one 91/2- inch beard and two 41/2-inch beards. It weighed 167/8 pounds and was 3 years old.