Turkey Hunters Guide to Seeing the Difference between Jakes and Toms

By Shaggy Outdoor Team

February 19, 2023


Turkey Flock in Field by Shaggy Outdoors

Introduction to Turkey Identification

To those who have never had the opportunity to observe, hunt or interact with a wild turkey, there are some key differences between a Jake turkey and a mature Tom turkey.

In this blog post, we will explain the physical attributes and behaviors of each so you can tell them apart when you are driving by a flock or seeing them in the woods.

For hunters, we've compiled a list of The Ultimate Gear Guide for Turkey Hunters to make sure you have all the gear necessary to be successful on your next hunt. 

Let’s take a closer look at the gobbler!

Defining The Tom and Jake Turkey

Jake turkeys are juvenile males that were hatched in the year prior. Typically, they are only one-year-old birds. These birds often have immature features such as smaller beards, shorter spurs, and lighter colors.

On the other hand, mature Tom turkeys are two years old and older with more distinguishing features than their juvenile counterparts. They have distinguishing features including longer beards, larger spurs, and more vibrant colors. A mature turkey will exhibit more aggressive behavior during mating season which is a benefit for those fellow turkey hunters in the spring. 

Mature Tom Turkey Beard

Identifying the Tom and Jake by Their Beards

The most notable difference between Jake turkeys and Tom turkeys is their beards. Jakes typically have shorter beards that range from 3-6 inches in length while mature Tom turkeys have longer beards that can reach up to 12 inches in length, or even longer!

The coloration of the beards can also vary; Jakes usually have lighter-colored feathers compared to Toms which are usually darker or reddish brown. Additionally, Toms tend to have thicker and denser beards than Jakes do.

Tail Fan Differences Between a Jake and Tom Turkey

Another difference between these two types of turkeys is their tail fan. Jake turkeys typically have shorter tail fans with fewer feathers whereas mature tom turkeys tend to have longer tails with more feathers present.

Check out the photo to the right or below. The tail feathers are white at the tip. These white bars extend to the end on adult gobblers and are upwards of 1 inch from the end on Jake's.  

Mature Tom Turkey with Fan Open for Strutting

The tail fan of a mature tom turkey may appear wider due to its increased feather density compared to its juvenile counterpart's tail fan which looks more narrow by comparison.

Turkey with Fan Out Showing the Head Color and other color differences for a mature Tom versus a Jake

The Head Color is Different between Toms and Jakes

A Jake turkey's head tends to be tan or white whereas a mature tom's head will usually appear darker with shades of black, red, or blue depending on light conditions when observed outdoors.

This coloration difference becomes more noticeable during mating season when the turkeys' heads become noticeably brighter due to increased hormone levels within their bodies.

Understanding the colors of the turkeys in your hunting area will making them easier targets for hunters and observers alike!

Turkey Spurs are used to identify the age of a male turkey.

photo courtesy of nwtf.org

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The Spur Sizes Help Identify the Age of a Gobbler

The spur on the back of a wild turkey’s leg is another way you can easily distinguish between Jakes and Toms as well as determine their age if you know what you're looking for! The NWTF has an excellent article on aging a bird using the spur cap apex length. The spur cap is the outer layer typically measured to help identify age. 

A juvenile male turkey’s spur will generally measure from 1/2 to 3/4 inches long. Depending on the hatch this bird could be between the age of 1 and 1.5 years old. 

A 3/4 to 1-inch spur could be a turkey between 18 months and 24 months. Typically, this bird is less than or around 2 years of age.  

Adult male turkeys, called Toms, have spurs between 1 and 3 inches.  these birds are typically 2.5 years or older. The longer the spur the older the birds. 

The spur, while a good aging technique, is extremely difficult to view from afar for a hunter. The Shaggy Outdoors Team does not suggest using the spur to determine the difference between a mature Tom and a Jake prior to a shot.

Use more distinguishing characteristics to age your bird, e.g. the beard or the gobbles are best in the field to help determine the age.

What Gobble Differences are there between Toms and Jakes

Jake turkeys tend to make higher-pitched gobbling sounds while mature tom turkeys make lower-pitched gobbling sounds that carry over greater distances. Having a lower pitch allows them to attract mates from farther away than their younger counterparts could ever hope to! 

The immature vocalization causes the jake turkeys to sound like they’re “whistling” while they gobble, whereas mature tom turkeys sound much deeper when they vocalize. 

The difference in gobbles is not easy for a beginner turkey hunter to recognize. With time in the field, both experienced and beginner hunters can start to distinguish between the birds.

What are the Behavior Differences Between a Tom and a Jake

A significant difference between Tom and Jake involves the behavior exhibited by each type of bird.

During the mating season when hormones run rampant among both sexes! Mature tom turkeys typically display very aggressive behavior such as strutting around (a courtship ritual) and trying to attract hens.

Jakes on the other hand are immature turkeys that don't usually exhibit this kind of behavior as often because they aren't yet sexually mature enough for it yet, with exceptions at times. 

Final Thoughts on Differentiating between a Jake and Tom Turkey in the Woods

Whether you're heading out to bag a gobbler for the table at Thanksgiving or you are an outdoor enthusiast looking to photograph wild turkeys, understanding the differences between mature Toms and Jakes are very important.

Educating yourself prior to heading to the woods will ensure you have a good grasp of these birds. Hens, Jakes, and Toms travel together in flocks and they each can be confusing to distinguish to the casual observer.

From physical attributes like beard length & head coloration all the way down to behavioral tendencies - being able to understand what sets each type apart makes identifying them much easier.

"What're the differences between a Jake Turkey & a Mature Tom Turkey?" now you'll know exactly how to pick out the differences without hesitation! 

Hunters, are you looking for the best possible Turkey Decoy on the market? Check out our review of Montana Decoy Co.'s Turkey decoys

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