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."



New State Record Blue Catfish Beats Previous By More Than 12 Pounds

A day of fishing is good. A day you catch a new state record – and beat the old one by more than 12 pounds – is great! Richard Barrett is the new state record holder for the blue catfish. His catch, weighing 93 lb, 0 oz, beat the previous 2010 record of 80 pounds, 4 ounces, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.   Mr. ... (click for more)

Master Gardeners Of Hamilton County Offer Free Gardening Classes

The Master Gardeners of Hamilton County (MGHC), in association with the University of Tennessee Extension, extend their outreach with a series of Third Saturday Free Gardening Classes.  On Oct. 21, from 10 a.m.-noon, master gardener Bertha Livingston leads “Children in the Garden,” a workshop for adult/child partners.  MGHC classes take place at the UT Extension, ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain To Hold Public Meetings On Idea Of Setting Up Own School System

Discussion about follow-up public meetings regarding the Signal Mountain School System Viability Committee (SMSSVC) report dominated the council’s work session on Friday afternoon. Council member Dan Landrum’s opinion about how to proceed differed from the other four council members. Mr. Landrum argued to end the study and to hold no public meetings. His reason was that of the 738 ... (click for more)

Man Shot Multiple Times In Cleveland; Jesus Teague, 14, Is Arrested

On Saturday, at 6:12 a.m., Cleveland Police Department responded to 1210 Elrod Place SE in reference to a domestic disturbance.   A man sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was transported to Erlanger by Life Force. His condition is stable, at this time.   The suspect, Jesus Tyler Teague, 14, was located and was in custody as of 3:25 p.m. ... (click for more)

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Myth And Fact Check

My husband and I recently had the privilege of participating in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Chattanooga. I listened as my husband told the audience about how his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was nine and how she died from the disease when he was fourteen. As a child, my husband didn’t understand what breast cancer ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: It’s All About People

The leaders of Hamilton County’s Mental Health Court held a heart-warming open house Friday afternoon and it was announced that just since February, the creation has saved the county over $3 million in incarceration costs. But to hear County Mayor Jim Coppinger or Judge Don Poole tell it, that’s not what is important. “Soon after the court started, a kind, quiet man I’ll ... (click for more)