A Georgia hunter who bagged a rare cinnamon phase turkey that he’d been hunting for two years says he almost let the gobbler walk after being struck by the vividly colored bird’s beauty.

“When it came out and the sunlight hit him, I just sat there and looked at him,” Jamal Lane told Georgia Outdoor News. “He was so beautiful I didn’t know if I could shoot him.”

Lane, a landscaper and experienced outdoorsman who lives in Chula, Georgia, was hunting on family land in Tift County. He set up for the morning hunt by putting out one strutter and several hen decoys, then settled in with his back against an oak tree at the top of a pasture hill.

His crow call drew an immediate response from the tom. He heard the bird fly down from the roost about 100 yards away, then listened as the talkative gobbler made its way down a fence row, ducked under the fence, and started strutting after spotting the decoys. 

Lane says he just watched the show for a while, appreciating that he was looking at what he called ” a once-in-a-lifetime bird.” Finally, when the turkey closed to 40 yards, he decided the chance to tag out for the season on such a stunning specimen was too good to pass. 

“I ran up to him and saw those red wings, and I couldn’t believe it,” said Lane, who added that he saw the bird several times over the last two seasons but never close enough to shoot.

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“Cinnamon” or red-phase turkeys get their unique coloration from erythrism, a condition that results from a lack of dark pigment that normally gives wild turkey feathers their black and brown tints. Other non-standard color phases include leucistic (all-white), smoke (variations of black, gray, and white plumage that often appear all-white from a distance), and melanistic (all black). The unusual coloration is not due to interbreeding with domestic turkeys, but is instead the result of a genetic anomaly, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). Biologists have estimated that smoke phase coloration shows up in 1 in 100 turkeys, while leucistic plumage is a 1 in 100,000 occurrence. 

Lane says he intends to preserve his unique trophy with a full fan mount featuring the 12-inch beard and 1 ¼-inch spurs.