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 Uncharted" Receives ACI Award As Nation's Top Outdoor Television Series

“Tennessee Uncharted” the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s television program, has been named as the best outdoors television series in the country by the Association for Conservation Information, Inc. (ACI). “Tennessee Uncharted” made its debut in October, 2014. TWRA partners with Knoxville-based Designsensory and production company PopFizz to bring the weekly program to ... (click for more)

New TWRA Bird Conservation Coordinator To Present August Nature At Noontime Program

David Hanni, recently-appointed Bird Conservation coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, will present the August Nature at Noontime program. The program will be held on Thursday, Aug. 6, from noon-1 p.m. at the TWRA’s Region II Ray Bell Building located in the Ellington Agriculture Complex. Mr. Hanni joined the TWRA from Colorado where he had served as the ... (click for more)

$40 Million Traffic Improvement Set To Connect Hamilton Place More Directly With I-75 And Ease Congestion On Shallowford Road

The city, state and CBL & Associates are cooperating on a $40 million plan to make the Hamilton Place section more accessible to Interstate 75. The upcoming project will provide a direct connection for southbound I-75 traffic with Hamilton Place Boulevard. The project will also provide a new connection for those on Hamilton Place Boulevard to enter I-75 northbound. ... (click for more)

Report Says Truck Driver Who Caused Wreck That Killed 6 People At Ooltewah Exceeded Allowable Driving Hours

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board on a June 25 wreck at the Ooltewah exit that killed six people says the driver of the truck that caused the multiple-vehicle wreck "had exceeded the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation hours-of-service when the crash occurred." It says Benjamin Brewer began his return trip to London, Ky., from Florida at 4:30 ... (click for more)

Why Is The City Diverting Federal Transportation Funds From Real Need?

The city of Chattanooga and CBL, owner of Hamilton Place Mall, would have the mass of taxpayers believe that improving mall access from the interstate is not impacting us financially.   Namely, CBL has committed to fund the city’s match of $8 million, so they will receive $32 million in Federal Transportation Funds that are allocated annually to local jurisdictions through ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Hero Is Coming Home

In late September, a very special funeral will be held in Bearden, Tenn., when 1 st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr., will finally come home to lie in peace with his family. Sandy’s been dead for 72 years now, ever since he was killed in combat on the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands on Nov. 22, 1943. He and a number of other Marine heroes were buried back then in a shallow ... (click for more)