Proud hunters often compare the size of their birds, and this can lead to many friendly arguments. But another, less tangible question often puzzles turkey hunters: How old is that bird?
Many myths surround this subject. Some say that any bird over 20 pounds is at least three years old. Others say that a 9-inch beard is a sure sign that your turkey is at least 4 years old. Still others claim that a sharp spur 3/4-inch long indicates a three-year-old bird. What’s the truth?
Biologists with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism provide information that would seem to settle much of the debate about a turkey’s age. First of all, many things can affect the weight of a bird, so weight is not a factor. Spur and beard length, however, are important factors in determining a turkey’s age. Use the following rules of thumb to determine approximate age of your bird, keeping in mind that these are approximations for this region of the country and that habitat and other factors may affect these guidelines:
Spur Length = Age of Turkey
1/2 inch or less = 1 year (jake)
1/2-7/8 inch and blunt = 2 years
7/8-1 inch = 2+ years
1+ inch and sharp = 3+ years
1 ¼ + = 4 years
Beard Length = Age of Turkey
3-5 inches = 1 year
6-9 inches with amber tip = 2 years
10+ inches = 3+ years
To differentiate juvenile and adult birds from a distance, look at the tail fan while the bird is strutting. A bird with longer feathers in the middle or on the side of the fan is a juvenile while uniform length in tail feathers indicates an adult bird. With a harvested bird, you can distinguish adult from juvenile by examining the two outermost primary wing feathers — those longest feathers on the end of the wing. On adult birds, these two primaries will be rounded and have white barring extending to the very end. On juvenile birds, these feathers will be much more pointed and have no barring near the tip.
Of course, any tom turkey is a prize, and the opportunity to watch and hunt these fascinating birds is one of the most exciting outdoor activities of spring.