BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — A ten year quest for an Upshur County hunter ended this month in spectacular fashion. On March 1st, on the side of a volcano in Hawaii, Tanner Burns of Buckhannnon pulled the trigger on a wild turkey which completed his quest to kill a turkey in every state, often called the U.S. Super Slam.
Hawaii was #49, since there are no turkeys in Alaska, and it ended with him tagging an albino gobbler on public land. Tanner arrived on the Big Island and met up with his buddy Dave Owens, who has already completed the 49 state quest. Owens told him he had scouted an area and located gobblers–one of which happened to be an albino.
“I thought it was really cool, but we didn’t even think about it after he said that. I was just there to kill a turkey,” Burns explained in a recent conversation on West Virginia Outdoors.
But on the opening day of the Hawaii spring gobbler season, they located the three gobblers about 300 feet above them. Frustrated he couldn’t draw them closer, Tanner crawled on his belly toward the gobbles and laid eyes on the three birds–one of which was the white gobbler. They were gobbling, but working away and eventually climbed on a boulder and passed out of site over a lava wash.
“I sprinted for that boulder and knew when I got there I might catch them in shotgun range. I peaked over that boulder and they hadn’t seen me, they were just feeding down the hill,” he said.
Burns collected his thoughts, calmed his nerves, and needed to clear a few more feet to be away from brush to have a clean shot.
“I knew when I came up on my knees, they’d see me and I was going to shoot whatever turkey was in the clear. Just as luck would have it as I came up, the two regular colored gobblers were obscured by brush, but that white gobbler was wide open and in the clear. I put a shot on him and hit him perfectly,” he explained.
The echo of the shotgun blast off the volcanic backdrop brought his buddies forward and the celebration was on.
“It was an emotional moment. That was ten years coming together. I’ve been waiting ten years for that shot to happen. It was awesome,” Burns said.
Not only had he completed the 49 state quest and ended it with a color phased gobbler, but he became the youngest person to ever do it at age 30. Ironically the youngest before him to do it was his hunting companion Dave Owens who completed the quest at age 31. Not only is Burns the youngest to ever complete the 49 state quest, but only 16 have done it before him.
He admitted however, as much as he wanted to complete the challenge, there were some low moments.
“Louisiana was such a tough hunt. It took me seven days to kill a turkey there. There aren’t many turkeys in Louisiana. It took me four days to even find a group of turkeys and when I found them it took three days to get them in shotgun range and they were about three miles from where I parked the truck,” he recalled.
Burns admitted, the Sportsman’s Paradise nearly broke him.
“I remember that seventh morning it was driving rain and I had gotten a motel. I sat on the edge of the bed and was this close to calling it quits, but I decided to go and I’ll be danged if that wasn’t the day I got one in shotgun range,” Burns said.
Much of the quest went that way. Burns said it all came down to moments and in some cases split second decisions.
“More than half my states where I killed them were about a half second from going wrong. Not just about killing a turkey, but about making a decision about whether I should go here or there. So many things were so close to going wrong that went right for me. I like to think I’m a good hunter, but there was a lot of luck too,” he said.
Burns is a school teacher in the Lewis County School System and runs his own taxidermy shop. He’s also a husband and now a father of a baby boy….something he also admitted was starting to wear on his quest to finish up the 49 states.
“Last year with Covid we couldn’t go to school, so I was able to spend a LOT of time hunting. At the end of the season she sat me down and said, ‘I know you love it, but you can’t do that to me again,’ I told her I knew that..” Burns laughed.
It’s funny now, but all of us who are married are well aware, NOBODY was laughing during that conversation.
But the quest is complete and nobody can take it away. Behind the counter at Burns’ Full Draw Taxidermy shop is a picture of him with ever single turkey he killed and all of the states marked on the picture. The last one, the white gobbler, is a framed blown up print reflecting a special memory and a special accomplishment which few will ever enjoy.