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Saltwater Portrait

Chad Messick: Like grandfather, like grandson

Bags six-bearded turkey using poppop’s old gun, box call
Chad Messick showing off his record-setting turkey. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
May 30, 2017

Chad Messick says he doesn't know what his Poppop Johnny Rogers would say about the six-bearded, possibly record-breaking, turkey he bagged on the final day of this year's turkey season. But, he said, he knows poppop would be saying something.

"He'd probably be telling everybody in Sussex County," said Messick, 19, of Millsboro, laughing. "When I got my first turkey years ago, he was out there with me, and he was telling everybody that if he never shot another turkey it was worth it, because he was there for my first."

Messick is an avid hunter, and he said his poppop, who passed away Feb. 2 at age 87, loved nothing more than to take him along on his predawn treks through fields and woods.

The long obituary for Rogers that ran in the Feb. 7 Cape Gazette confirms this. A third of the obituary is the paragraph naming predeceased and living family members. Tucked near the bottom of the paragraph, Messick is called out personally.

It reads, "..., step-grandson and hunting buddy, Chad Messick."

Messick said he knew he was going to be mentioned, but he didn't know what it would say.

"I was the only one who really took him hunting and spent that much time with him, so I was really grateful to be recognized as such," he said.

By itself, Messick's once-in-a-lifetime turkey in the months following the death of his hunting mentor and buddy is a remarkable story. But, Messick said he was hunting with his poppop's Winchester Model 12 shotgun and box call, one that had been custom-made years ago in Pennsylvania.

"I killed my first turkey with him using that same gun in that same field, just on the other side," said Messick. "That's the only gun I've used turkey hunting."

He said he took the box call after Rogers' death. He just grabbed it and threw it in his bag, he said.

Two weeks after the possibly record-breaking hunt, Messick recalls the morning's events like he's telling the story the afternoon it happened.

He said he and his buddy, Jake, were out at first light – around 5:30 a.m. – in a farm field owned by Jake's family.

"We got on two birds first thing, but they never came in," he said. "They would babble back to the call, but they just never came our way."

Determined to get a turkey on the season's last day, the two hunters decided to move to another field close by.

"Let's just ride over there," he said to Jake.

Messick said as soon as they drove up – it's now about 7 a.m. – they saw a turkey making its way across the field. He said they were using a diaphragm turkey call but the turkey wasn't having any of it.

Again unsuccessful, Messick and his buddy moved to another field – the one where he bagged his first turkey with Poppop Johnny years before.

As they pulled up to the field, Messick said they didn't see anything, but then all of a sudden Jake noticed the fan of a turkey in strut.

"The only way to get out in front of him was to head toward the woods, which meant we had to run across the field," he said laughing.

"Yeah, you can imagine what that looked like."

The two hunters set up shop about 20 yards into the woods, set up a decoy and started making calls with the diaphragm again. Then, Messick said, he decided to switch to Poppop Johnny's box call.

The tom, a male turkey, was just following the call along, said Messick, but then he noticed a couple of hens following along. That's when he knew he was going to have to take the shot, because, he said, if the hens get bugged out, the tom isn't coming.

At this point, Messick said the turkey was still 50 yards out, but he knew it was now or never. He said he lined Poppop Johnny's Winchester Model 12 up and fired. He said he knew immediately he got the bird. He didn't realize how big it was.

"That's the furthest I've ever shot a turkey before. Everything else was less than 30 yards," he said. "I was just excited that I got what I thought was a nice turkey."

The excitement quickly changed from glad-to-get-this-season's-turkey to I-think-we-got-something-special as the two friends approached the bird. Messick said he was on the phone with his dad telling him about the bird, and Jake was in the background saying, "He's got two beards. No wait, he's got three. No, it's four. No, he's got six beards."

"That's really, really unusual. I never thought I'd see a six-bearded turkey, let alone shoot one," he said. "I was basically beside myself."

Messick said he didn't really think about the turkey point record until the taxidermist said he wasn't going to touch the bird until all the required measurements were taken.

The National Wild Turkey Federation keeps records throughout the United States. There are three measurements used to determine a turkey's point total – the combined total of the turkey's weight, converted to decimals; the measure of each spur, multiplied by 10; and the measure of each beard, multiplied by 2.

Messick said the federation has not yet told him if he set a record. He said it would be great if it happens, but it doesn't really matter because it's about impressing poppop.

"My grandmother is still saying, "Poppop's never killed a turkey that size,'" he said, proudly.

Messick said he and Poppop Johnny enjoyed all kinds of hunting together, but turkey hunting was their favorite. The turkeys can see so well that a hunter can't move, he said. There's an energy, a peacefulness, a connection with the outdoors when a person is sitting that still, he said.

"You've got to be on top of your game the whole time," he said.

Record-breaking or not, Messick said he's getting a full mount for the turkey, and he knows right where it's going.

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