Turkey Bonus: Three Hot Questions About Hunting Wild Gobblers

TURKEYS Osceola NWTF photo

With turkey season in full swing we thought it would be cool to reach into the mailbag for some of these great questions from our great Turkey & Turkey Hunting fans about calling and biology.

Are wild turkeys in the panhandle of Florida really Eastern wild turkeys? Aren’t some of them Osceola turkeys? — Gilbert Gibson of Atlanta, Ga.

“Excellent question, especially with hundreds of turkey fanatics descending on Florida this time of year. We put the question to Lovett Williams, the country’s leading turkey biologist, and the man who probably knows more about Florida turkeys than anyone. Here’s his response:

“Biologically, Florida panhandle turkeys are intergrades (genetic mixtures) between Eastern (silvestris) and Florida (osceola) turkeys. However, the National Wild Turkey Federation considers them Easterns for record-book purposes.

“The northern borders of Dixie, Gilchrest, Alachua, Bradford and Duval counties mark the line. There are no Easterns in the peninsula of Florida. Those turkeys are Osceolas. Likewise, there are no Osceolas in western Florida.”

Can you judge a turkey's age by the length of its beard? Some hunters believe you can.

Can you judge a turkey’s age by the length of its beard? Some hunters believe you can.

I know some people who claim they can age gobblers by the length of their beards. This is contrary to most information I’ve heard. What’s the truth? — Mike Ivy, Port St. Lucie, Fla.

By viewing the beard of a live turkey, you can easily tell whether the bird is 1 (jake) or at least 2 (adult gobbler). And for a bird in hand, you can tell whether the bird is a jake, 2-year-old gobbler or an older gobbler. A jake, obviously, will have a short — typically 3- to 4-inch — beard. The beard of a 2-year-old gobbler will have substantial amber coloration at the tips. A beard gets its black color from melanin, a pigment that colors and strengthens feathers. The newly emerging beards of young turkeys contain little melanin, so the bristles are amber-colored. You can hold a beard up to a light or window to see amber tips. If the tips are more than about 70 percent amber colored, the bird is 2. If there’s little or no amber coloration, the bird is likely 3 or older.

Other than that, a beard doesn’t tell you much about the age of a gobbler. If someone says they saw a 2-year-old based on the fact the beard was 7 or 8 inches, they are full of malarkey. Beards grow about 4 to 5 inches per year throughout a gobbler’s life. Therefore, it’s easy to see how a spring jake has a 3- to 4-inch beard, because he’s been growing beard filaments for about 10 or 11 months. Likewise, simple math substantiates why most 2-year-olds can easily have beards that are roughly 9 inches, plus or minus a little.

So why wouldn’t a 3-year-old have a 13- to 15-inch beard? When a gobbler stoops to feed or for any other reason, his beard hits the ground, and the ends of beard filaments are slowly broken away. The bristles wear off at the tip at about the same rate as the beard grows. Thus, a 3-year-old gobbler might “only” have a 9- to 10-inch beard. Heck, a 4- or 5-year-old gobbler might “only” have a 9- to 10-inch beard. That same wear and tear is what slowly breaks off the amber tips on the beard of a 2-year-old.

No matter what anyone says, the only good gauge of a gobbler’s age past 3 is spur length.

Having a variety of calls in your vest to choose from can help if you get in a pinch or have a problem with one.

Having a variety of calls in your vest to choose from can help if you get in a pinch or have a problem with one.

I love running friction calls, but they often seem to slip or squeak early in the morning. What’s the deal? What can I do? — Wade Leese, Titus, Ala.

The culprit is that darned early-morning humidity and the resulting condensation. It changes the interaction — that is, the friction — between pot and peg, often leaving you with a squeaky or otherwise inoperable call. The call will function fine a couple of hours later, after things dry off, but it might be frustrating at fly-down time.

First, try a pre-emptive strike, and make sure your call and striker are perfectly conditioned the night before you hunt. Use light sandpaper or a scrub pad to clean the call and striker surface of any gunk or debris. Then, make sure to remove any resulting
dust, too. A call in tip-top shape will work better during moist mornings.

Second, switch to a waterproof striker, whether it’s a synthetic model or one of the great new weatherproof-tipped models. That way, you’re taking moisture out of the equation and also throwing another sound at a gobbler.

The third fix is a cop-out, and admittedly, the one I use most often. I go with the friction call least affected by early-morning moisture — a slate. After the sun rises and the dew is gone, I can whip out my favorite glass and aluminum calls and ring yelps across the countryside. But for soft tree yelps and tree clucks during moist early mornings, the slate is my go-to call.

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