Many hunters believe that turkey tail feathers can help relate the age of a turkey. Is this true, or just another well-worn hunting fallacy? The tail feathers do indeed help hunters tell the age tale on their gobblers. Here are some hints and tips for how you can use tail feathers to help put a number on your turkey.
How to Use Tail Feathers on Male Turkeys to Age Them
It can be useful to use tail feathers as a way to age your turkeys, but it is not always possible to use this method. Most experts agree that using turkey tail feathers to tell the age tale is really only possible if you are comparing one year old turkeys (also known as jakes) from mature birds. Here is how you can go about telling a jake from a mature turkey. The tail feathers of a jake are fanned out. In general, the middle sets of primary tail feathers will tend to be two to four inches longer than the rest of the turkey's tail feathers. This will create a visible bump in the middle of the tail feathers. This is one of the easiest ways to note the age of a turkey
Other Signs of Jake Tail Feathers
There are other visible signs of jake tail feathers. In general, jakes have longer tail feathers. This is mostly due to the fact that they start to molt during the late summer, and only replace the middle primary tail feathers after this. In the second year of a young gobbler, the tail feathers begin to molt and shape into the standard adult pattern. The standard pattern tends towards molting from the outside in. This creates a full, even fan on the adult gobbler. Thus, once a turkey has reached its second year, it will have a full, even fan for the rest of its life. Of course, there are occasions where a turkey will lose one or more of its tail feathers. In most cases, the turkey will grow another tail feather in its spot. Thus, it is possible to find an older turkey with an uneven feather as part of its tail.
Other Characteristics That Can Help Determine the Age Factor
What if you can't get a good look at turkey's tail, or you just want another way to determine your gobbler's age? Next time, take a look at your turkey's beard. Beards are a great way to determine the age of your gobbler. Turkey beards tend to grow at a rate of four to five inches a year. This is a very helpful fact that can help you determine your gobbler's age, especially since a turkey's beard never stops growing. Turkey beards begin to grow thicker and wider as a gobbler continues to age. There are certain guidelines that you can take in order to determine age by observing a turkey's beard growth. In general, a turkey with a beard of less than five inches of growth is probably around one year old.
Guidelines for Determining Age through Beard Growth
However, some mature birds can lose most, or all of their beard, so make sure to examine other factors as well (such as tail feathers). However, here are some tips for examining the beard for age. One thing to consider is habitat. Some areas have softer ground, thus causing less beard tip wear. You may also want to consider leg length. Some birds have longer lengths, and will experience less wear on their beard. You should also keep in mind the climate you are hunting in. Northern birds tend to lose the tips of their beards when the ice builds up on them. Thus, don't automatically assume you have a very young bird because of a short beard.