Want to start an argument among turkey hunters, or get a lively discussion going? Then announce to your group that you plan on shooting a jake if one comes along. In most instances, that's guaranteed to cause some consternation and gnashing of teeth among some of your hunting pals.
For the record, a jake is a male turkey that's one year old. He was hatched in the spring, and a year later he sports a short beard, and a tail fan that typically has the four center feathers much longer than the rest. He's smaller in size than a mature tom or longbeard, his spurs are short or almost nonexistent, and, of course, is easier to call because he's a youngster. He usually travels in the company of many other jakes. I've seen as many as 16 in a group.
Hunters often perceive a worthy turkey quarry as being one that's mature, having a long beard, and being of large body size and long spurs. That's human nature. To some, killing anything less is tantamount to being a sinner, a lowlife person who would probably beat his grandmother. But to others, any male turkey is a good turkey. I fall into the latter category, though I admittedly will hold out for a longbeard the first day or two of a hunt just because I like the challenge. I also admire the looks and heft of a big bird that's been around a couple years or more. In many states, you can take more than one turkey in the spring. In that case, my first bird might well be a jake. With that bird dressed and iced down, I'll set my sights on his daddy.
So is there a biological impact on the flock if jakes are taken? Wildlife experts have various opinions. Most I've surveyed indicate jake harvests don't have a negative effect on the well being of the overall population, though every jake taken means one less two-year old the following year. In practically every state, a bearded turkey is legal in the spring, including a hen.
Shooting an immature animal or bird has social and ethical repercussions among some folks. The mentality among more and more hunters in many areas is such that only the biggest and oldest animals or turkeys should be targeted. By letting a young animal survive another year or more allows it to be that much bigger in the future. But not all hunters see it that way, especially young or first-time or disabled hunters, who would be proud of any legal quarry. In areas where turkey success is low, especially in public woods with lots of hunters, or during periods of rainy, windy days, the expectations may change. In that case, any bearded turkey is suddenly fair game. Then there are the folks who hunt for meat. A jake may be just as welcome as a mature bird. There will be less meat, but it will be more tender that that of an old longbeard. The spurs on a jake won't be impressive, but then, who eats the spurs?
It follows that the most skilled turkey hunters would never think about shooting a jake. By their way of reasoning, it's far better to go home empty than with a jake. Nowadays, the Grand Slam is gaining much popularity among turkey hunters. That's the successful hunting of all four subspecies of turkeys in the US. Then there's the North American slam, which includes the Gould's, hunted in Mexico and a few very small areas in a couple southwest states, and finally the World Slam which includes the ocellated subspecies hunted in the Yucatan peninsula and Guatemala. I'm lucky enough to have taken the World Slam, and I normally hunt several states every year. I'm not ashamed to say that I've taken home some jakes. To heck with the social implications among my hunting buddies!
Because the Grand Slam has become so popular, many outfitters around the country offer short hunts, usually three days, which typically includes guide service and accommodations. Those hunts typically start at $1500 for three days, up to $3,000 or more. The most expensive are in Florida, which is the only state that has the Osceola subspecies, and has very little public land, especially for nonresidents who aren't familiar with the area. I've met only a couple Grand Slam hunters who shot jakes, and that was on the last day of the hunt. Personally, a turkey is a turkey, but that's my opinion.
A few years back, I made a wager with country singer John Anderson. We'd attempt a grand slam, and the winner would receive a rather large container of an adult beverage made in Kentucky. We hunted our separate ways, and when all the seasons were closed, I had three subspecies, but didn't get my Eastern. John got all four, but refused the prize, saying his Rio Grande was a jake and it didn't count! Technically, any legal turkey counts for the grand slam, but many folks set their own standards.
One thing is for certain. Whether it's a longbeard or jake strutting and gobbling and coming to your call, they'll get the adrenalin flowing. The jakes, called teenagers by some hunters, can add that much more excitement to your day whether you choose to shoot one or not.