Fresh AfieldMore posts

How Old Is My Turkey?

May 14, 2010

Surely one of the things that causes most head scratching among turkey hunters is the question of how old a particular gobbler is. Jakes are easy to identify by their short beards and stubby spurs. However, once a gobbler’s beard grows beyond 6 or 7 inches and the spurs develop a conical shape, aging a tom becomes more difficult.

There is an answer to this perennial question, though.

Forget about beard length. Beards--short, long, thick, thin, single and multiple – are fun to look at and brag about, but they reveal nothing about a bird’s age. Huge, old gobblers sometimes sport dinky beards, and a 2-year-old can have a 12-incher. Beards aren’t even reliable indicators of sex. Between 10 and 20 percent of all hens have beards, according to some estimates.

Furthermore, I can attest that some gobblers don’t have beards at all. Two years ago, I called in a nice 22 1/2-pound tom for my son-in-law and experienced a moment of panic when I couldn’t find a beard anywhere. He had spurs in excess of 1 inch, vivid red wattles and a bright white head, and he had been gobbling and strutting up a storm before Brett shot him. But when we plucked him later we found only a dark, thickened patch of skin on his breast where his beard should have been. He was still a legal bird, since the Wildlife Code says you can take a “male turkey or turkey with visible beard.” Still mighty puzzling, though.

But getting back to gobbler age, spurs are the key. Their length and shape are closely related to age. Way back in 1975, the Conservation Department developed an index for determining gobbler age according to spur length. If your bird’s spurs are ½-inch or shorter with rounded tips, your bird is a jake--a one-year-old. If the spurs are between 1/2 and 7/8 inches long and straight, with a blunt tip, you’ve got a 2-year-old bird. Slightly curved, pointed spurs between 1 and 1 1/2 inches long indicate a 2- or 3-year-old gobbler. If the spurs are more curved, more than 1 1/2 inches long and sharp at the tips, the bird is at least 4 years old.

Turkey Spurs

The owner of this spur was between 2 and 3 years old. Note the slight curvature, length under 1 1/2 inches and pointed, but not sharp, tip.

Beyond that, feel free to say your turkey is any age you think your audience will believe.

These guidelines are for spring turkeys. Fall gobblers have had six months or more to add to their spur length, so the break-off points must be adjusted accordingly.

Recent Posts

Jacks Fork River

On the Water: Rivers and Streams

Jul 16, 2018

COOL OFF On the Water this summer.  With more than 110,000 miles of rivers and streams, Missouri has many chill choices for floating, fishing, exploring and more.  Discover where to go, find helpful tips, and take a musical journey along Missouri waterways in this week's Discover Nature Note

Invasive Bush Honeysuckle

Space Invaders

Jul 09, 2018

Space Invaders:  It's no game when invasive plants take over your backyard or property.  They can become costly and hard to control and displace native plants and animals.  Learn how you can help stop the invasion and join the fight in this week's Discover Nature Note.

Water flowing around mossy green rocks at Big Spring.

Red, White, and Blue in Nature

Jul 02, 2018

Happy Independence Week! To mark the holiday, we are celebrating red, white, and blue in nature. It's surprising how often these colors appear and where. You can see patriotic colors on display in the wild, watch a video, and learn more in this week's Discover Nature Note.