I shot a gobbler this past spring with 1-inch spurs. Some of my buddies said he was an old bird, and another guy said he was probably 2. How can I tell? — Bret Leonard, Waupaca, Wis.
You're on the right track by mentioning spur length. It's the only reliable indicator of a gobbler's age after he turns 3. You can distinguish a jake by his short beard, uneven tailfeathers and nub spurs, of course. You can also distinguish a 2-year-old gobbler by his spurs and amber coloration on his beard tips. But after that? Go by the spurs.
Here's an excerpt from Lovett Williams, noted turkey biologist, in 99 Turkey Hunting Secrets. It should help.
Many fowl have leg spurs, including chickens and turkeys. When turkeys hatch, males and females have a small spur scale on each leg. As male turkeys grow, the spur scale enlarges, and a bone core develops beneath it. After about a year, the core fuses to the leg bone.
During the first year or two of a gobbler’s life, spur growth occurs mostly from enlargement of the bony core. As growth slows, however, most spur growth occurs in the spur cap, which is similar to a human fingernail.
Turkeys that inhabit rocky terrain usually don’t grow long, sharp spurs because spurs wear or break off. Conversely, turkeys in other areas are more likely to grow long hooks. Still, spurs are the best indicator of a gobbler’s age.
Here's turkey aging guideline based on the spur length of gobblers for which I knew the age. It's not foolproof, but it serves as a pretty good indicator.
A 1-year-old gobbler, or jake, will have blunt nubs.
Want to learn more about turkey hunting and biology? Check out 99 Turkey Hunting Secrets.