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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.”
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.