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When Jakes Start to Grow Up

This Turkey Tuesday is about jakes, and what happens to them when they’re no longer youngsters. Turkey hunters love seeing big groups of jakes because those jakes represent the future – they will become the toms that get our heart rates soaring. From a population productivity perspective, we know that jakes provide little to no breeding efforts so they must live to be 2-year-old breeders to contribute to populations. We always assume those groups of jakes survive to be adults, but what does the research say? Recent work by Patrick Wightman using data from birds captured and marked as jakes across the southern US provides some interesting insights. First, the primary source of mortality for jakes was predation, followed by harvest – 12% were killed by predators but only 2% were harvested. Second, many jakes are harvested as 2 year olds – 51% of those we know were harvested once they became adults were shot as 2 year olds. From there, 19% of them were shot as 3-year-olds, 10% as 4-year-olds, and one of them was shot when he was 5. I still see information shared online, sometimes even from agencies, suggesting that toms don’t live past 3 years of age – but these data clearly show that’s false. The take home is, many of those jakes we see each spring survive to be breeding 2 year olds, and although many of them are harvested as soon as they become adults, some end up living long enough to be considered “long in the tooth”.

© Tes Randle Jolly

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