Should You Take a Jake?

I’ve hunted with fellow Strut Zoner Steve Hickoff for years and although we often think with the same brain when it comes to turkeys—heck, we both own turkey dogs for fall hunting—there are some issues we just won’t ever see eye-to-eye on. So we’ve decided to sound off here on the Strut Zone once a week and let you guys help settle our debates. Take jake hunting for example…

—Gerry Bethge

HICKOFF: Jakes wear blunt and rounded spurs, usually less than half an inch long. Their beards are amber-tipped, often shy of five inches. Their middle fan feathers extend skyward. Their wingtip primaries are pointed. They weigh 12 to 14 pounds on average. Sometimes they're as tattered as dipstick oil rags. So why the heck would you want to shoot one? Why not?

Here’s when you might:

  • You're a young hunter or someone new to the turkey hunting tradition.
  • You've traveled far, spent some hard-earned cash, and have an extra tag to fill—or haven't filled one yet.
  • You've had a great hunt, and tangled with an unseen and vocal turkey you first pegged as an adult gobbler, but when he pops into view, it's a juvenile male making like he's 10 pounds heavier and a year or two older.
  • You're trying to arrow your first wild turkey with archery tackle.
  • You're chasing turkeys in an area where a hunter has killed the dominant longbeard, a bird that's passed on his genes to the hens he's been keeping company with, and there are some jakes available.
  • You're hunting late in the season—maybe the last day—and a band of juvenile male turkeys comes running to your calls. Fall, when you wouldn't think twice about taking a young gobbler, is just four months away. Why not pull the trigger?

I see no shame in pulling the trigger on a shortbeard. It’s your choice. After all, you don’t eat the beard or spurs, and jakes taste way better than turkey permit stew.

BETHGE: I vividly recall rolling into turkey camp about 20 years ago, gleefully toting a jake over my shoulder, when one of the hunters matter-of-factly said: "Gerry, congratulations for shooting the dumbest turkey in the turkey woods because that's exactly what jakes are." I don't think I've shot a spring jake since then.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’ll say that I’d much prefer to go turkey-less than shoot an immature gobbler in the spring of the year. That being said, I’ve got no problem whatsoever if a kid or a novice hunter wanted to take a few jakes to gain some experience. I think I’d pass, though.

You Strut Zoners ever shoot a jake for the supper table? Do you only target longbeards? Send word to us at thestrutzone@yahoo.com.