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."


Statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunts Set For Jan. 31 And Feb. 7

The 2015 Tennessee statewide youth waterfowl hunts are set for a pair of Saturdays on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7. The dates that appear in the annual Tennessee Wildlife Magazine calendar were listed incorrectly. Youths between six and 15 years old may participate in these two youth hunt days and bag limits are the same as during the regular waterfowl season.  F ederal regulations ... (click for more)

Norris Dam State Park Receives Excellence In Interpretation Award

Norris Dam State Park received the East Tennessee Excellence in Interpretation Award at the 2015 Tennessee State Parks Management meeting. Parks nominated for this award have demonstrated the ability to provide high quality and varied interpretive activities at their park. Interpretive activities may include but are not limited to presentations, guided hikes, workshops, living ... (click for more)

6,533 Apply For Chattanooga Housing Authority Voucher Program

The Chattanooga Housing Authority closed its Housing Choice Voucher Program application process Monday at 11:59 p.m.  A total of 6,533 people applied. CHA will randomly select 1,000 of those names on Monday, Feb. 2, for the voucher program waiting list.  Anyone who is not selected will need to apply again in the future.  The Housing Choice Voucher program is ... (click for more)

Bradley Commissioners Concerned About Firefighters Leaving For Better-Paying Jobs

The Bradley County Commission agreed during a Monday evening work session that they will have to look into the issue of many county firefighters leaving for better paying jobs elsewhere. The discussion comes after the city's recently announced plan to possibly create their own separate ambulance service.   In surrounding areas, firefighters can make as much as ... (click for more)

We Need The Chattanooga History Center

Having been on several of Dr. Daryl Black's walking tours, I can say that they weren't just informative, but a treat. The downtown, Fort Wood and Ninth Street of yesteryear were brought dramatically to life. We stood on the ground where Sherman had his headquarters (near the Ice Cream Show) and the corner where Bessie Smith sang as a young girl. And we also stood beneath the ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Big (Un)Easy: Mardi Gras

Not since Hurricane Katrina has New Orleans had a bigger problem. When over a million visitors flood the city for the annual Mardi Gras bash over the next three weeks, there will be signs all around town and into the French Quarter that blare, “CAUTION: Walk In Large Groups. We (heart symbol) love NOPD. We Just Need More Of Them.” In other words, it appears things are quite unsettled ... (click for more)