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A Turkey Hunting Dilemma: Should You Shoot a Jake?


Do you shoot jakes or let them walk?

It’s an old debate, but it still arises every spring. Is it OK to shoot a jake?

That question is moot in fall hunting, in which taking jakes, jennies, hens and 1-1/2-year-old gobblers is widely accepted. Further, fall harvests are typically so small enough that they have almost no effect on turkey populations.

But what about during spring? Should jakes be fair game, or should hunters pass them up? Does taking a jake potentially hurt future hunting opportunities?

Let’s examine the issue from two sides. First, we’ll hear from a biologist in Mississippi, where jakes have been protected in spring since 1998. Then, we’ll hear from Lovett Williams, one of the country’s top turkey biologists and a longtime outfitter. Their answers might surprise you.

Ron Seiss, of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said the regulation was the state’s no-jakes regulation was implemented so more gobblers would survive until they were 2, thereby increasing gobbling, and improving flock age structure and the quality of spring hunting.

“Mississippi has a long, liberal season,” he said. “We have all-day hunting and a 61/2– to seven-week season, depending on the year. We wanted to carry over more birds, and we wanted to do it without taking away hunting opportunities. We could have done it by shortening the season … but we didn’t want to.”

When the regulation was enacted, Mississippi’s turkey population was lower than it had been in years. Thanks to good hatches, turkey numbers steadily increased to about 350,000 in 2005. Gobbling and the percentage of older birds in the harvest had also increased.

“But whether that’s a function of the regulation or a function of the hatches, it’s tough to say,” Seiss said. “Certainly, we would have seen some of that anyway.”

According to James Austin, coordinator of Mississippi’s turkey program, the average percentage of 3-year-old or older gobblers in spring harvests before the rule was 41.2. After the rule took effect, that increased to 47.6. Further, in 1997 — the last year hunters could shoot jakes — survey respondents heard an average of 36.4 gobbles per 10 hours of hunting. In 2003, they heard an average of 44.6 gobbles per 10 hours.

“Again, these numbers are also influenced by annual reproduction and are not solely the result of a regulation change,” Austin wrote during a Web chat.

“Do I think the regulation has made an impact? Yes, I do.”

Seiss and Austin said public opinion might be the best gauge of the rule’s effectiveness. Hunters surveyed by the state overwhelmingly liked the law.

“Nine out of 10 turkey hunters with an opinion on the subject supported it,” he said. “That’s pretty strong support.”

Williams, however, is not a fan of the no-jake rule.

“It’s stupid but not unexpected, because I know that culture,” he said. “I do not think anything should be prohibited because of somebody’s notion of sport. The state should be in the business of managing the wildlife for the benefit of all the people and not just a few who want to play the snob roll.

“There are differing opinions about sport, and I don’t adopt anybody else’s definition. Only management considerations are valid grounds for such rules.”

Williams said there’s no biological reason to protect jakes.

“Yes, there will be somewhat fewer 2-year-olds if you shoot jakes, depending on how heavy the jake kill is,” he said.

“From a harvest-management standpoint, it is wise to take jakes in fall and spring because about one-half of them will die before becoming 2 years old. A hunter who does not want to shoot jakes does not have to. If he wants others not to do so, it is from his own selfish interests and nothing else.”

Williams said he used to run a Florida turkey hunting operation that prohibited hunters from shooting jakes. However, his reasons were sociological.

“First, hunters who pay more than $1,000 to go turkey hunting do not want to shoot a jake,” he said. “When I allowed jakes to be taken in spring during the first few years, they were not shot until the last day, and I could tell that the hunter was not really satisfied. He just shot something because he felt entitled. It’s better to save the jakes in that case, so we stopped taking jakes in spring, except for young people — under 18 — and did permit jakes to be taken by hunters of any age on the last day of their hunt if they had never killed a turkey or were going for a grand slam and wanted to count a jake Osceola as part of it. You see, the rationale can be complicated. There are trade-offs.”

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