When you are hunting turkeys, being able to estimate the age of the bird you are is important. Hunters generally like to avoid killing hens (female turkeys) of any age, and when going after male turkeys, the fully mature turkey is considered to be fair game. Likewise, after a kill is made, most hunters would like some idea of the age of the turkey they have taken out. Of course, deciding that you want to know the age of a turkey and actually figuring it out are two different things. After all, turkeys don't exactly carry ID. The good news is that there are away for you estimate the age of a bird, even from a distance. One of the best rules of thumb is checking out a turkey's spurs. The spurs can give away the age of a turkey relatively easily, as long as you know what to look for.
Before you can start measuring up the spurs of a turkey, however, you need to know the right way to look at the spurs. Spur measurements can be taken by looking at the side view of the turkey. The outside edge of the spur is the guide for measurements - the spur runs from the outside edge up the back of the leg right until the actual leg scales start. Of course, taking this kind of measurement is easy after you have made the kill but a bit more difficult when you are trying to gauge the age of a turkey on the run. When trying to age a turkey while hunting, make sure you check it out from the side and do you best eyeball estimate.
But once you have a measurement of the spurs, what does it all mean? A general rule of thumb is that the spurs get longer as a turkey ages. The shortest spurs are on jakes - one year old turkeys. The spurs on a jake grow to a maximum length of 7/16th inch and often can be quite a bit shorter. By the time a turkey gets to be two years old, their spurs usually range from 1/2 to 15/16th inch.
Turkeys that are three and four years old have longer spurs still. The typical spur length for a bird of this age is between 1 and 1 7/16th. By the time a turkey has reached five years old (full maturity) and beyond, the spurs generally range from 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 in length.
Of course, these general guidelines don't tell the entire story. There are a lot of reasons why turkeys might have spurs that don't quite match up to their ages. One of the biggest reasons is terrain. Turkeys that live in areas that are hilly or very rocky may have shorter spurs than expected for their age because they get worn down as the turkeys move around. On the other hand, turkeys that live in areas that are relatively flat and have sandy soil may have longer spurs than expected for their age - the spurs on these turkeys are also usually extremely sharp, because there is nothing to wear them down. Although it may be difficult to make any judgments while stalking the turkeys, after a kill, you can usually tell if the spurs have been worn down at all. If your turkey's spurs are not every sharp and have cracks, you can assume that they have been worn down and that the bird may be older than the actual measurement indicates. Broken spurs are another indicator than all of the spurs have probably gone through a wearing down process.
Turkey spurs are a good guide to age, but if you still have questions, compare the spurs with charts of turkey feather patterns by age to get a complete picture.