How Old Is That Gobbler?

Thursday, March 24, 2011 - by Joel Glover, Alabama Division of Wildlife
- photo by Sam Brocato

Joel Glover is a Certified Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

"I got a good 7-year-old bird," the camo-clad hunter proudly stated when I asked if he'd had any luck. When I asked how he knew the age of the bird, I received a look of disdain and then he picked up the gobbler and thrust its legs toward me so I could examine a nice set of spurs. "Sharp as a tack," was all he said.

While it is generally accepted that spur length is a fairly reliable characteristic for determining the age of a gobbler, that only holds true until a turkey reaches about 3 years of age. Truthfully, aging a mature gobbler is a difficult task. While a juvenile gobbler -- or "jake" -- is fairly easy to identify based on his uneven tail fan, short beard and less than one-half-inch spurs, it becomes more difficult as a bird matures. Two-year-old gobblers are probably harvested at a higher rate than any other. This is often due to the fact that while they have mastered the ability to gobble and enjoy hearing themselves do it, they have not yet learned that every yelp doesn't come from a turkey hen. The 2-year-old is often lured by the sweet tone of a well-chalked box or the quick cuts of a mouth call. The majority of these young gobblers will sport somewhat blunt spurs less than an inch long and beards around 9 inches.

Three-year-old birds typically have a beard around 10 inches long and pointed spurs of an inch or more. I hope you noticed the word "typically." The truth is I've witnessed a mature adult turkey with a 4-inch beard and one with no beard whatsoever. I witnessed a 4-year-old known age bird with 5/8-inch spurs. I've harvested numerous mature gobblers that had no spurs or only one spur, and I've witnessed turkeys with multiple spurs on each leg.

Whenever dealing with wildlife be very careful about using the words "never" or "always." It was my good fortune to assist on a long-term turkey research project conducted on the Tallahala Wildlife Management Area in south Mississippi. In addition to the volumes of data recorded during the study, we also made several interesting observations while trapping turkeys. I found it interesting that turkeys trapped as mature adults and tagged were later recaptured and found to have shorter spurs. In addition, one bird captured and tagged as a juvenile was harvested by a hunter the next year. Although the bird was less than 2 years old, it sported a set of sharp spurs that were 1½ inches long!

Therefore, while body size, beard and spur length are normally fairly reliable for identifying birds as juveniles, adults and mature adults, after a turkey reaches 3 years old, its exact age is pretty much a mystery. The next time you have the privilege to take a wise old limb hanger, realize that it doesn't really make any difference how old he was. Remember the words an old turkey hunter once told me: "They're all good ones."


Tennessee Highway Patrol Urges Motorists To Watch Out For Deer

The Tennessee Highway Patrol urges motorists to exercise caution on the roadways this time of year due to deer-mating and -hunting season. Last year, two people were killed in traffic crashes involving deer on state roadways.  “The fall season is the most active time of year for deer-related crashes. We want to remind drivers to watch out for deer on or around the roadways, ... (click for more)

Friends Of Outdoor Chattanooga Issue Scholarship Challenge For Climbing League

The Friends of Outdoor Chattanooga (FOC) have issued a challenge to area organizations and businesses to support the City of Chattanooga, Outdoor Chattanooga’s Interscholastic Climbing League (CAICL). Eleven area high schools have built teams for students in grades 9-12 to compete in meets at area indoor climbing gyms during the current school year. The CAICL program, which ... (click for more)

Architect/Contractor Selected By Erlanger For New Children's/Women's Hospital

HKS has been selected as the architect and McCarthy as the construction manager for a new Children’s and Women’s Hospital at the Erlanger campus on East Third Street. The Atlanta team competed against another Atlanta group for the major construction project. Erlanger officials announced Monday that $11.5 million is being set aside in a debt restructuring for the new $30 ... (click for more)

Westfield Charged In Burning, Torture Of Kitten At Cleveland

An arrest has been made in the case of a kitten who was burned and tortured in Cleveland, Tn. At 12:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Gary A. Westfield, 31, of Cleveland, was placed in custody on a warrant obtained by Lt. Robert Harbison and Detective Matt Jenkins of the Criminal Investigations Division. Westfield was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, which is a Class E felony. ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Has Lost Its Most Popular Citizen - Luther Masingill

Chattanooga has lost its most popular citizen – Luther Masingill. Although we are saddened we cherish the memories.  All of us have a Luther story.  Mine is the first time I met Luther.  This was before TV and all of Chattanooga listened to Luther on the radio.  I was 12-years-old.  Some of my buddies and I had gone to the State Theater in downtown ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: An Election Day Fable

Every day I am peppered with emails that friends send to me from across the country so I am unsure of where the fable you are about to read originated. But with early voting for the November general election now in full swing, I think everyone who will -- or will not -- take part in freedom’s greatest privilege should read this story because I believe there is a great lesson contained ... (click for more)