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Q – How long does a turkey beard get?

A – The longest recorded turkey beard measured 18″ thought the average is just over 9″. The beard length will vary depending on a few different factors such as diet and terrain. Turkeys that spend most of their time around pastures or open grass lands tend to have longer beards as thicker terrain or areas with a lot of rock, etc. tend to wear the ends of the beard off quicker. Bristles of the beard are also broken off from the tom stepping on it as he feeds. Also, Northern birds or birds in areas with high snowfalls will often lose the ends of their beards when ice builds up on them and they break off. The beard typically grows 3-5 inches a year throughout the life span of the gobbler.


Q- How many beards can a turkey have?

A – Generally, most turkeys will only have one beard. However, a small percentage can grow multiple individual beards. They will all be aligned vertically with a small separation between each beard. Typically, There will be one primary, normal sized beard with multiple smaller, thinner beards above. These extra beards will usually vary from a few hairs to approximately 1/4″ in diameter.  I have personally harvested (2) toms with triple beards.  Toms with more than 6-7 beards have been reported but are pretty rare.


Q – Can you tell the age of a turkey by its beard?

A – The turkey’s beard can be used as a general rule of thumb for aging a turkey though the spur is probably more accurate. A young male turkey that is born in the spring will be almost a year old by the time hunting season arrives the following spring. He is referred to as a “jake” and his beard length will vary from barely visible to a max of about 4-5 inches long. By the next spring he will be a 2 year old and sport a beard up to 9-10″. Beards over 10″ are typically found on birds of 3 years or older. Most toms will not reach a length longer than 11-11 1/2″. The length is measured to the tip of the longest bristle.


Q – Can Hens develop beards?

A – Short answer, Yes! A certain percentage of the hens in any population will develop beards. The percentage varies but can be up to 10-20%. I have personally taken three hens with beards that I can remember. However, that is over almost 3 decades of hunting turkeys. Typically, a hens beard will be short and whispy compared to a gobblers. They are seldom more than a 1/4″ in diameter and usually about 3-4″ in length. Two of the Hen I harvested with beards had pretty large ones that were about 7 1/2″ in length.


Q – What is Beard Rot?

A – There is another factor that can effect the length of a turkey’s beard. It is known as Beard Rot and is caused by malnutrition. Many believe that this condition is a result of a parasite or fungus but this is not the case.  Beard Rot is an interruption in Melanin production which gives the Beard it’s color and strength. This occurs when a turkey is stressed due to a poor diet. A turkey suffering from a Melanin deficiency will develop a light colored band around his beard. Some turkeys may have a completely blond coloration to the beard under severe cases. When a Turkey goes through a brief period of reduced melanin production and a discolored band develops on the bead it produces a weak area. When the turkey begins producing melanin again, the beard will return to its healthy black color. As the beard continuous to grow, eventually the fatigue from the flexing will break the beard off at this point, leaving a truncated end with a blond to reddish coloration to it at the tip. This gives the tips of the bristles a rusty or rotted appearance, hence the name, Beard Rot.


Q – Does a Turkey’s Beard serve any purpose?

A – A lot is not known about what purpose the turkey’s beard serves. However, from my own observations, I believe the beard is a visual cue, an identifying part of the turkey that allows other turkeys to recognise him as a male from long distance. If you have ever watched a gobbler strutting in a field or other place where he can be seen from a long distance, his beard projects out and is very much more pronounced then when he is feeding or milling around. Every so often a strutting bird will break out of strut and stretch out tall and make his beard stick straight out. He will almost always be looking at or for another turkey and I believe this is a signal just like the turkey’s fan and increased size when he blows up into a strut. Remember, turkeys have incredible eye sight and they put it to good use in just this way.

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