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Smoke Gray Color Variation in Wild Turkeys

This Turkey Tuesday is about the smoke gray color variation in wild turkeys – one that is often mistaken for domestic varieties that superficially look similar. Although the smoke gray is the most common color variation, it’s still pretty rare – particularly when it comes to harvesting a smoke phase tom like this one from Louisiana. Smoke phase birds simply lack darker pigments in feathers on portions of their bodies, and the amount of color can be highly variable from one bird to the next. The genetic trait is recessive, but you tend to see more smoke phase birds in some areas than others. And, you tend to see more smoke phase hens than toms, although it is unknown why this is the case. Each turkey season, you’ll often see hunters or folks spending time in the turkey woods encounter what they believe are smoke phase birds when in reality they are not. Domestic varieties, such as Royal Palms and Narrangasetts, appear similar to smoke phase wild turkeys but are usually larger and don’t often mingle with wild birds and become feral, like other domestic varieties like Bourbon Reds. And, you’ll hear hunters that see smoke phase wild birds suggest that they are domestic or resulted from a cross between a wild and domestic bird. The take home is, the smoke phase is naturally occurring in wild populations and harvesting a smoke tom is truly a rare event.

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