Hunting Turkeys: Is it a Jake or a Tom?

Hunting turkeys this year? Need to be able to tell the difference between a Jake and Tom? Relax, turkey aging, the key to revealing the difference between a Jake and Tom is one of the simplest skills to learn. Here are a few fastest ways to field estimate a turkey’s age and determine whether to take your shot or pass.

Already pulled the trigger? Need to know if you shot a Jake or a Tom? Not a problem; with the bird in your hand, we’ll guide you through even more aging tips to help you determine whether you took a Tom or a Jake.

Hunting turkeys, difference between a jake and a tom
Adult (Tom) wild turkey. Note the beard length and even, rounded tail feathers. Photo Credit:

Hunting turkeys: Jakes vs. Toms, how to tell the difference.

Toms are turkeys over one-year-old. They have beards at least six inches long that point down and their tail feathers of all the same length–creating a fan that’s even and rounded. Toms have spurs 1/2 inch or longer, with males over five often having spurs over 1 1/2 inches.

As you can see, by remembering a few key points about Toms, you can tell them apart from Jakes. Having said all that, it’s a field estimate, not a science.

While turkey beards grow about 4” a year, a lot can cause a Tom’s beard to be much shorter. The beard could be broken or shortened by a mite infestation, ice build-up and breakage, getting caught in something, or stepped on and yanked off. Sadly, the longer a Tom’s beard is, the greater chance it will be damaged.

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Turkey hunting, spur length, Jake or tom
A closeup of the spur of a large wild turkey tom; over an inch long. Phot

Turkey hunting: Using spurs to tell the difference between a Tom and a Jake

Michigan offers this table for turkey hunters to use spur length and sharpness to age a gobbler.

Use this table of information to estimate the age of your harvested turkey using the turkey’s spur length.

Spur length (in.)CurvatureSharpnessAge of gobbler
 Less than 1/2 None Rounded Less than 1 year
 1/2 to 1 Straight Blunt 1 to 2 years
 1 to 1-1/4 Slightly curved Pointed 2 to 3 years
 Over 1-1/4 Curved Sharp Older than 3 years

Related: Avoid these 4 deer hunting mistakes.

Using gobble to determine the difference between a Tom and Jake.

Toms gobble louder, longer, deeper and more mature than Jakes. Watch the two compared to each other in this video.

Related: Turkey nesting facts for turkey hunters.

Quick quiz for turkey hunters.

Is this a Jake or a Tom?

Hunting turkeys
Wild turkey on the edge of the forest. Photo credit:

Despite the nearly invisible beard, this is a Jake. By using the uneven tail feathers, snood length, and deep black breast feathers, you might have suspected this, but what if you didn’t see the beard?

Hens may rarely strut, but they will if your decoy Triggers them or another hen acts overly aggressive. That’s something for new turkey hunter to look for to avoid taking a hen by mistake.

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Your turkey hunting observations and experience will improve your skill.

Give it some time and take only those shots you are certain about. Letting a few birds get away, well, that’s what makes you a great turkey hunter.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for

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