The Mystery of the Short-Bearded Tom

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The Mystery of the Short-Bearded Tom

Not all adult gobblers have long beards. Tony Williams There’s an old saying among veteran turkey hunters: “If he looks like a gobbler and acts like

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The short-beard tom.
Not all adult gobblers have long beards. Tony Williams

There’s an old saying among veteran turkey hunters: “If he looks like a gobbler and acts like a gobbler, then he can die like a gobbler.” That’s what western New York turkey hunter Tony Williams was thinking when he called in a longbeard that had a mysteriously short beard.

“My buddy Mark and I hit our regular spots at first light, but really couldn’t get anything going,” says Williams. “It was 11:45 when I struck this bird. He had a bunch of hens with him but worked pretty well—strutting the whole time. I knew that he was an adult. When I got a side view of him, I just saw a jake-sized beard. Again, though, I knew that he was an adult for sure by his fan and spurs. I was fortunate enough to take him at 30 yards.”

So Williams’ adult gobbler was legal for harvest because it did have a visible beard, but why didn’t it have a long, paintbrush beard? An adult turkey may not have a beard, according to a 2015 turkey report put out by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Beards can be pulled off during fights, predator attacks, and other events. A new beard may grow near the same spot. Hunters often misinterpret this as beard rot or beard fungus, which it is not. The report also notes the possibility of beards that lack melanin. This deficiency causes a blonde streak across the beard at the point of the break.

Some adult gobblers have no beard at all, according to National Wild Turkey Federation. “Beardless adult gobblers are not very common, but I have seen a few,” wrote NWTF biologists in the Federations’ Ask Dr. Tom column. He went on to say hunters should be careful about shooting a tom with no beard because of the laws in some states.

“I checked banding records and found that two gobblers out of more than a thousand Eastern gobblers that we live-trapped had no visible beard. So using the figure of a thousand as a base, the chance of encountering an Eastern gobbler without a beard is two in a thousand or about 0.002 percent,” NWTF concluded.

So there you have it. Beard rot is likely not the reason for short beards, and not all adult gobblers are legal for harvest, depending on state regulations that require a visible beard.

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