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Is This Turkey a 6-Bearded Super Jake?

Is This Turkey a 6-Bearded Super Jake?

Posted 2024-04-05  by  Will Brantley

This Texas gobbler had a 7-inch main beard and a full gobble, but the physical characteristics of an immature tom

This past week in Texas, I shot one of the strangest turkeys I’ve ever seen. It had six beards — the longest of which was 7 inches — plenty of snood, and the full gobble of a mature tom. Yet, it sported the lean body, nubby spurs, and developing fan of a super jake.

I was hunting with my wife, son, and a buddy on the opening evening of the North Zone season, and we’d stopped just before fly-up to glass a winter wheat field that ties into a creek drainage lined with big live oaks. Turkeys roost there often, and sure enough, we spotted a lone Rio Grande gobbler picking his way up the edge of the wheat, probably 300 yards from us. I saw a beard swinging through my binoculars and noted to my son that although the beard wasn’t a paintbrush, the bird was definitely a longbeard. Seeing as how he looked to be alone, I thought we had a good chance of killing him the next morning, too.

Image: 6_beard_3

The author’s Texas turkey sported six distinct beards, the longest of which was 7 inches.

As the turkey stepped into the timber, I decided to “check his temperature,” and yelped at him with a box call. He fired back with a good, deep gobble. We watched as he picked his way up the edge of a gas line and roosted in an oak 80 yards off the edge of the wheat. Since the gas line crosses the wheat field, I figured if we set up at the intersection of it, against the treeline on the edge of the wheat, my boy would get a 25-yard shot as the bird strutted down the gas line after flydown.

All was going according to plan in the pre-dawn the next morning. Anse, my son, and Miles, my buddy, were set up shoulder-to-shoulder within easy range of the gas line. I was tucked behind a cedar about 20 yards behind them to call. The turkey was roosted on the gas line, caddy-corner to the treeline that we were sitting against. I put a single hen decoy out in the wheat to our left, hoping to keep the gobbler’s attention away from us as he walked down the gas line. I figured Anse would shoot him long before he ever got to the decoy.

Of course, turkeys have a way of surprising you.

The bird gobbled just before legal light, so close we could hear the rattle in his chest. I made some soft tree yelps, and he cut me off with double and triple gobbles. I called a couple of more times and then shut up, causing the turkey to lose whatever mind he had. He gobbled frantically and drummed on the limb, and I figured we were moments away from hearing wingbeats, the thud of him landing in the gas line, and the crack of Anse’s .410.

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Image: 6_beard_jake2

The author and his son, Anse, show off the turkey, which had a mostly full fan … but not quite.

We heard the wingbeats, all right. The gobbler lifted from his perch, flapped across the gas line and sailed over my head, low enough to catch with a long-handled fishing net. He dropped his legs and landed next to the hen decoy like a greenhead mallard dropping into a timber hole.

My gun was on the ground next to me — I hadn’t planned to shoot — and I knew Anse and Miles were completely out of position. The turkey’s mood changed instantly as he sized up the situation, putted, and turned to leave. I grabbed my shotgun and shot him in the back of the head.

“Damned if it’s not a super jake,” I said with a laugh after walking up to the bird and seeing the small spurs and then inspecting the fan. Not that I really cared. It’s tough to complain about punching a tag when a bird puts on a show like that. Plus, this one did technically have a long beard that was pretty thick. We’d seen that while glassing him the evening before. As I looked it over, I noticed a second, smaller beard — and then a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth one. I’ve killed a handful of multiple-bearded birds during three decades of hunting, but never one with six beards.

Anse was convinced the turkey was a world record, but when I told him it was merely a bit rare, he asked that we wrap up photos quickly and move to the next spot. Miles assessed the situation for a bit longer before speaking up. “Nothing like beating your 9-year-old son in a quick-draw contest to shoot a jake,” he said. “You should really be proud. He’d have been a good one next year.” (Miles also added that he would’ve shot the turkey, too. If you can’t tease your hunting buddies, you need new ones.)

Image: 6_beard_jake

Super jake or not, the bird put on a great show. Anonymous sources say he was tasty after being battered and fried in an iron skillet, too.

Even in the few places where shooting jakes is illegal, a 7-inch beard would’ve made this turkey a legal longbeard. And with that snood, you wouldn’t have known he was a jake by looking at his head. But there was no doubt that the bird was a bit on the immature side. I didn’t weigh him, but he was physically smaller than the average Rio Grande longbeard — probably 16 pounds. His spurs were but nubs, and his fan, although mostly full, was nonetheless slightly shorter on the bottom edges than the top.

My guess is he was the product of a very late hatch two summers ago, or perhaps a very early hatch this past spring. Most sources suggest that gobblers with multiple beards are exceedingly rare; the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks says that only about 2 percent of gobblers develop multiple beards. I personally think it’s a bit higher than that, but there’s no question that six beards on any turkey — and especially on a super jake — is a rare thing.

No doubt, this was a bird that ignored the rules, and a pretty good way to kick off a new season.

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