Dr. Tom - Weight Watchers

The NWTF’s Dr. Tom answers a question about the consideration of weight on scoring wild turkeys

Why is weight even considered in the scoring of a wild turkey? My understanding about the weight of a turkey is that it’s directly determined by the region and food supply, as well as the time of the season and its age. For instance, it is impossible to compare an Eastern wild turkey in one region of the country with an Eastern wild turkey in another region due to nutritional differences. Also, a gobbler’s weight seems to diminish as the season progresses due to its focus on breeding and the lack of concern for feeding. Further, a true “wild” turkey is typically not a large bird from my hunting experience. Finally, an old gobbler seems to lose body weight as it grows older. Therefore, it would stand to reason that an old, trophy-type tom, which is a true wild turkey, would not be as large as far as body weight is concerned.

Damond Ready, Monticello, Mississippi

The collection of World Wild Turkey Records began in 1980 by outdoor writer and wild turkey hunting enthusiast Col. Dave Harbour and his wife, Bobbi. They established categories so differences between subspecies would not be an issue. After consulting with wildlife biologists, Harbour developed a formula that gave more “weight” to spur and beard length than the heft of the bird. That formula provides a method of leveling the playing field. Col. Harbour believed that all three attributes should be considered to determine the overall record potential of a gobbler.

In the fall of 1982, Col. Harbour turned the responsibility of record keeping over to the NWTF, where records are maintained today at www.nwtf.org/hunt/records.

You are correct that factors, such as age, location, food availability, timing and season, can significantly affect a gobbler’s weight. Gobblers that chase around would-be competitors and corral hens lose weight as the spring progresses and their breast sponge diminishes.

In general, gobblers from agricultural areas outweigh their cohorts from more heavily forested areas. Though weights vary because of diet and the trend for wild animals of the same species to increase in size as one moves from south to north, all the birds in the eastern part of the country are the same subspecies — Eastern wild turkey. A quick look at the weight records on the NWTF’s website shows a number of heavyweight gobblers from places like Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, too. In beard and spur length, however, the Midwest loses its edge.

I have always believed that any wild turkey taken legally and called up “fair and square” is a trophy. Once in a while, we have the good fortune to take one that is “for the record book.”

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