Trophy Turkey Hunting
Deer hunters talk about three things that lead to trophy size deer: age, food, and genetics. With turkeys, it appears that there are two things that lead to trophy birds: subspecies and age.
In the United States, there are four basic subspecies of wild turkeys: Eastern, Merriam, Osceola and the Rio Grande. Of these, the Eastern subspecies is the most popular with hunters.
The eastern birds are the heaviest, with the longest beards and longest spurs in both the bow and firearms divisions. But within those categories, they can vary in size according to age. Age is the real determiner of size.
Determining the age of a bird is an iffy proposition and in the field, it is very difficult. But, there are some things to look for that can help. First year birds (jakes) are fairly easy to spot as they sport short beards. The beard of a jake is seldom more than four inches in length. Turkeys usually gain about 3 inches of length on the beard for each year of life after the first year. This is not an exact as some will grow more and some less. Once they attain three years or more the beard will be 10 inches or more in length.
The color of a turkey’s beard is an indication of some age. Birds that are less than three years of age usually have an amber-hued tip and the appearance will be smooth and rounded right down to the tip. During those first three years, birds will gradually wear off the amber tips and the beard becomes totally black in appearance.
There are exceptions to this rule as well. If the bird has longer legs, the beard does not get as worn down. If the area in which they reside has mostly soft ground, it again does not get worn as quickly. Our northern birds often get a snow buildup on their beards and the individual filaments become brittle and break off prematurely.
Spur length is another factor in trophy size. The spurs are those sharp spine-like processes on the back of a bird’s leg. In one-year-old birds, this is about a quarter inch in length. In the second year, they tend to add about a half inch to that length. By the third year, the spur reaches a length of about one inch. After that, they tend to add about one-tenth of an inch each year.
In the field, jakes can be distinguished from mature birds from a distance making use of the tail feather appearance. As the tom spreads his tail in a display, the jake will have the center of the fan with longer feathers than those on the sides. The mature bird will have all tail feathers of the same length.
What is the longest beard and spurs you have harvested on what species of turkey?
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