Is it Wrong to Shoot a Jake?

I recently saw a social media scuffle over whether or not turkey hunters should shoot a jake, or hold out for a more mature long-bearded bird. As you might imagine, there was a variety of input and heated discussion with input from turkey hunters across the country. Some scoff at the idea of shooting an “inferior bird” while others seem to take more of a, “if it’s legal, let it rip,” mentality to shooting jakes. The controversial conversation certainly begs the question, is it wrong to shoot a jake?

turkey-double

Is it wrong to shoot a jake? After 3 tough days in Kansas, Laden Force (left) and Brodie Swisher decided to drop the string on a jake double from the ground blind.

What is a Jake?

A jake is simply a young male turkey. He’s roughly a year old. Think of him as the equivalent of a spike buck. His beard is typically in the 3 inch range, while the “Super Jake” may be found sporting a 5″ beard or better. The short beard alone is not always the best telltale sign that you’re dealing with a jake. Mature gobblers can be found with short beards from time to time due to beard rot or other issues that have caused them to lose a portion, if not all, of their beard. You can also identify a jake by his broken tail fan. Longer tail feathers in the center of a jake’s fan will distinctly be set apart from the shorter tail feathers rounding out the fan. It’s a very easy characteristic to distinguish, provided the jake is strutting, which isn’t always the case. Another trademark of the jake is nubs for spurs on his legs, as opposed to developed, sharper spurs. And while most gobbling jakes have a more immature sounding gobble, there are some that gobble as hard and loud as the big boys. A jake can fool you from time to time.

kent-petty-turkey

Kent Petty’s Missouri turkey has the classic broken tail fan configuration common to jake turkeys.

Why You Should Shoot a Jake

So why should you shoot a jake? A number of reasons quickly come to mind: 1) You don’t care what others think. 2) You don’t fall for the size matters theory. 3) You want turkey meat in the fridge. 4) You don’t care about beard length, spurs, or full fans. 5) You’ve never killed a turkey before. 6) You haven’t killed a turkey all season. 7) He played the game and made your heart race. 8) They are young and dumb and typically provide a much easier opportunity to get a bird under your belt. 9) You want to kill a bird before you head to the office, church, or school. 10) Jake gangs will often bully the lone longbeard on your property.

Some turkey hunters feel like if a jake comes in acting like a man – gobbling and strutting – that he deserves to die like a man.

Is it wrong to shoot a jake - Bowhunting Kansas turkeys justin-jake

Justin Zarr with a Kansas jake that got the shaft.

Why You Should Not Shoot a Jake

There are also a number of reasons why you should not shoot a jake. 1) You want more of a challenge. 2) You think shooting a jake will make you less of a man (or woman). 3) You are trying to grow the flock. 4) You want to save the jakes for young/new hunters. 5) Long beards, sharp spurs and full fans make for better man cave decor. 6) He’ll be a gobbling bird next season. 7) It’s not legal in your state.

That’s right! In some states, it’s simply not legal to shoot a jake. The state of Mississippi allows youth hunters, age 15 and under, to shoot a male turkey (Jake or Longbeard). However, hunters 16 years of age and older are required to shoot an adult gobbler with a 6″ beard or longer. (Be sure to check your state regulations before pulling the trigger on any turkey.)

is it wrong to shoot a jake - jakes in the field

This gang of Nebraska jakes seemed to run the show in this particular field.

My friend and brother-by-another-mother, Keith Polk, is an avid Mississippi turkey hunter. He says he likes the jake rule that’s in place for Mississippi. “We have a lot of turkey hunters in the state and a turkey population that seems to be declining somewhat,” says Polk. “And whether it’s declining or not, a dead jake will never be a gobbling 2-year-old turkey. And isn’t a loud-mouth gobbler what we really enjoy in the spring woods?”

Another Mississippi turkey hunter, Tom Wiley, creator of the Wiley Tom Decoy, agrees with Polk on the jake rule in Mississippi. “I think it’s great for kids to have the opportunity to shoot a jake to get them involved in the sport,” says Wiley. “I will admit, there have been times when I wanted to kill a jake or two that were part of a gang of jakes that were running off longbeards on my property, but instead I brought young hunters in to bust up these jake gangs. It proved to be a great way to get a youth hunter started and bust up the jake gang at the same time. I personally shoot turkeys for the challenge, and jakes just don’t provide the same challenge as a mature bird.”

Tom-Wiley---Jack-Gentry

Tom Wiley with his little buddy, Jack Gentry, and Jacks’s Mississippi jake.

According to the NWTF, there’s no biological reason that exists on whether or not hunters should kill a jake. If a jake is taken legally, no biological backlash comes from harvesting that bird, other than reducing the potential of 2 year olds that could be in the area the following year.

Is it Wrong to Shoot a Jake? – Conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s your tag. It’s your call on whether or not to shoot a jake. Jake or longbeard – if it makes you happy, pull the trigger. Don’t worry about what any other person says, thinks, or believes. It’s your hunt. Have fun, keep it legal, and shoot the bird that makes your heart run wild.

What do you think? Is it wrong to shoot a jake? Would you do it? Comment below and let us know what you think.


 

Brodie Swisher

Brodie Swisher

Editorial Manager at Bowhunting.com
Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, seminar speaker and Editor for Bowhunting.com. Brodie and his family live in the Kentucky Lake area of west Tennessee.
Brodie Swisher

Comments

  1. John Torchick says:

    How do you get the turkey to hold still while you measure the beard?

    Reply
  2. HIllbilly Jedi says:

    Last year on the property I hunt, a total of 10 jakes were taken and not one tom. The reason the toms were not around is because the jakes would typically pack up in groups of 3 – 5 birds and run the toms off. The weekend before my season opener, I watched 4 jakes come off one hillside and literally sprint towards a tom and run him up the other hillside and completely off the property. They were like little packs of wolves running the 4 toms I had seen on camera all over the place. After that weekend, there were no toms to be found so we shot jakes all season. They taste just as good and were all over the place. Turkey aren’t like deer. They typically don’t live to see 4, 5 or 6 years old like deer. The beards aren’t like antlers either. They wear off and break off quite often and anything over 10 inches is a really nice beard. Hunting deer I will let a young buck pass but with turkey, it’s all about putting meat in the smoker.

    Reply
  3. Ten Ring Productions says:

    My first ever bird was a Jake. I have dropped a few since then. One was a “Super Jake” as stated in the story, one was killed on my last possible day to hunt for the season and one just ticketd me off by gobbling and making the hens take the mature Tom off after seeing him bear my decoys, TWICE. I try to take mature birds if at all possible. My first bird each season is usually with a shotgun, if time and numbers allow, I then switch to a bow. I film hunting shows for a living and my season for deer and turkeys, for myself, is usually about a week each. If I want meat and have very little time to hunt then a mouthy Jake may see himself in dire consequences by crossing in front of me.
    This season I passed a short bearded bird that looked pretty deep in the chest. Checked him out for quite a while and decided to pass. I was unable to see him gobble or see his spurs due to grass. My father dropped him last night. 25.3lbs, 1.5″ each spurs and his 3.5′ beard was curled up on the ends like you had put a lighter to a nylon rope; My hesitation put another nice one in his freezer. Live and learn!

    Reply

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