And why sometimes you shouldn't or can't legally . . .
In his great, sometimes ignored fourth book The Season (Lyons & Burford, 1996), Tom Kelly wrote: Forty years ago, I knew no one who turned down young gobblers in the spring. Forty years ago they were not called 'jakes'.
Nowadays it can be a term of derision, even if the shortbeard gave you a good hunt, gobbled hard, even fooled you into thinking he was older and later provided memorable meals for the camp crew. Some hunters use killing a longbeard as a measure of ego boosting, when in fact that two-year-old kamikaze tom may have run in and strutted to barely marginal hen yelping from a diaphragm call. Because he was crazy to breed what he thought was a hen, the tom got shot.
Don't get me wrong: I love big ol' longbeards as much as the next guy - but I also hunt turkeys just as hard in the fall and winter, and then we tag birds in the single- and double-digits as weight goes. I value them all.
That said, let's look at 5 reasons to shoot a jake, spring or fall:
- You're an inexperienced hunter, young or old, and a shortbeard is perfectly legal where you hunt.
- You're an experienced hunter and the young male turkey stepping into range first acted older.
- You're nearly late for the airport run in a distant state with one tag left and you like fried nuggets.
- You can't eat the spurs, beards, feathers and bones without some difficulty; trophy parts likely taste pretty gritty.
- You're hunting fall turkeys and would rather kill a male bird than a legal either-sex hen.
As my camp buddies have sometimes joked, you can shoot a jake to save a two-year-old, but it's meant mostly in humor . . .
When shouldn't you shoot a jake? Mississippi legally requires one gobbler with a 6-inch or longer beard. In Arkansas, Hunters who are 6 to 15 years old may harvest one jake as part of their two-bird limit during the season (including the youth hunt). Be sure to check your state's regulations. Some landowners frown on it. If you have available longbeards where you're hunting, take one - and let the jakes be. Or not. It's your call.
I've done it three late spring seasons in a row after killing a first-tag local Maine gobbler early on my home ground. Hunting on my second tag, I've called up juvenile gobblers in the final days - and let them walk into summer. I'm good with that.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger. Go here for more Realtree turkey hunting tips.