Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Don’t Make The Mistake: Take The Jake

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Turkey hunters, new and old, often want some turkey hunting advice. There is one piece of wisdom I will always share.

The dream of most turkey hunters when the season opens is to call in and kill a ground-dragging longbeard. Most hunters want to see that huge gobbler come strutting in, his beard swinging from side to side, and it’s usually not what we hope for and seldom attain.

Truth be told, many hunters will hunt for a majestic gobbler for a day or two, and then tiring of getting up long before sunrise, they wind up shooting the first bird they see with a beard. It’s often a little jake with a two- to four-inch beard.

Is shooting such a bird right or wrong? From a biological point of view, it doesn’t hurt the turkey population to shoot jakes. They do very little breeding of hens, but the first unwary jake that tries to top a hen will be thoroughly thrashed by a Boss Gobbler if he is nearby.

Some hunters believe there is a stigma attached to the shooting of a jake. It’s as if the killing of a young gobbler is a bad thing, and a few clueless turkey hunters who also believe that feels that shooting does or other antlerless deer is poor management.

The truth is that there are plenty of jake birds when the season opens barring a horrific winter. We didn’t have a serious winter during 2007-2008, and I’ve seen far more jakes this year than adult gobblers. Four tiny jakes were in my backyard doing their best to get birdseed out of the bird feeder.

It’s basically the same thing from year to year. Jakes are eager to come to most hen calls providing the big guy isn’t nearby. They are precocious birds, ready to breed hens if they will hold still, and the hunter who has never shot a gobbler—or very few of them—will often take a jake at the end of the first or second day.

Make no mistake about it: turkey hunting is hard work. The hours are uncommonly long, and it doesn’t take many days to get beat up and the body becomes so far out of kilter, that anything, including shooting a jake, will end the misery.

I know a large number of turkey hunters who move from state to state, hunting birds every day for nearly two months, and the only way the human body can take such punishment is to take a two-hour nap every day. Even at that, most of these guys act and look like zombies after two weeks of steady hunting. I’ve seen deer in the headlights that show more emotion to some of these hunters.

I’ve taken many hunters out, and have put many of them into big longbeards, but I’ve also had many who would settle for a jake before the first day ended. This hard work business doesn’t mean much if a guy can call up a sharp-spurred gobbler at dawn of the first morning. They go back and hop into bed, knowing that hunting will become ever tougher on the body as time goes on for other hunters.

Have I shot a jake? Yes, and in fact I’ve shot two or three such birds over my career. It often happens during the third hunt in Area K when hordes of hunters have been pounding the longbeards for two weeks. The third season opens, the birds are very spooky, and there are times when it’s impossible to find a big gobbler anywhere.

We are down near the end of the season, and are seeing more mushroom pickers than turkeys, and finally, wore down and weary, we get an answer. We can tell by the gobble that it is not an adult bird, but in saunters a spirited jake.

He comes quickly, or slowly as the case may be, and steps out in front of us at 25 yards. We study the beard, wish it was seven inches longer than it is, and then drop the firing pin on a magnum load of No. 5 copper-plated shot.

If the hunt has been arduous, and turkey numbers are widely scattered and not gobbling, that three- or four-inch bearded bird is a genuine trophy. It is far better to eat than a bird with a 10-inch beard and inch-long spurs, but we’ve reached the point where a decision must be made.

So, as is true with shooting antlerless deer in the fall, shooting a jake bird is a matter of choice. It doesn’t hurt the population, and in fact, helps reduce bird numbers slightly. It provides wonderful hunting opportunities, and for many sportsmen, it is a wise decision.

None of us know when or if we will make that decision. Some hunters refuse to take a jake, and that is up to them. But, as the human body gets weary and hunting becomes very difficult, it’s always good advice to listen to the advice of old-time turkey hunters.

Don’t make the mistake: take the jake.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/19 at 05:58 PM
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