Q: I am fairly new to turkey hunting and hear everyone always referring to their birds by their beards and spurs. Can wild turkeys be aged based on these trophy characteristics? (Jim C., Modesto)

Carrie Wilson

Carrie Wilson

A: Yes and no. There is no absolute standard for identifying a wild turkey’s age, but there are some general guidelines that can be used to provide fairly reliable estimates.

While precisely determining a turkey’s age in years may be difficult, there is a sure-fire method for distinguishing between adults and juveniles using the last two primary flight feathers. In juvenile birds, the feathers will be sharp at the ends. By the time the bird reaches maturity at one year of age, it will molt and the two sharp feathers will be replaced by more rounded ones.

Beyond this, beard and spur length can be used to estimate a bird’s age; unfortunately, it’s not an exact method. Variables such as subspecies, environmental conditions and possibly nutrition can alter the length of both the beard and the spur, resulting in a misrepresentation of the bird’s age.

In terms of beards, the general rule of thumb is the longer the beard, the older the bird. But, while a jake (juvenile) will not have a 10-inch beard, a 4-year-old turkey may have a short beard because of any number of conditions. If the turkey is in “rough” vegetation, the beard may wear away on the ground more easily when it grows long. If a turkey has long legs, the beard will be able to grow longer before it reaches the ground, where it will naturally face wear and tear. The fact that the beard may have been altered at any time by environmental or circumstantial conditions prevents biologists from using this method as an accurate way of measuring a turkey’s age.

Spur length also can be used to estimate a bird’s age, although, like beards, spurs can also wear down. Spur length does tend to be slightly more reliable than beard length, though, because they do not wear as easily.

While both of these methods are not entirely precise, they can provide an approximate age range. However, these estimates are not reliable for turkeys older than about 3 or 4 years.

Downrigger Trolling for Salmon

Q: I am planning to go salmon fishing next week with my two sons and will be setting up my downriggers to troll. The downriggers have releases and can troll four poles — two off each side of the boat. If I have three fishermen on board, can we have four rods in the water? I do have the second rod stamp on my license but do not know if it applies in the ocean. Can you help me understand the rules so I don’t violate them? (Grant E.)

A: The second rod stamp does not apply in ocean waters, and there are specific gear restrictions that apply when salmon fishing. No more than one rod per person may be used to take salmon, and no more than one rod per person may be used on any vessel where salmon are aboard (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, sections 28.65[e] and 27.80[a][4]). In addition, once salmon are aboard, you are then restricted to fishing with salmon gear (barbless hooks north of Point Conception) for the remainder of the trip, even if you want to switch your target species (to rockfish, for example.) If you take your salmon back to the dock to offload, though, you can then go back out to fish for other species and use the appropriate tackle.

Is Bowfishing for Carp Considered Hunting or Fishing?

Q: If I want to shoot carp with a bow, do I need a hunting license or a fishing license? Are there any regulations such as seasons, bodies of water, etc.? (Vern D., Stockton)

A: You will need a fishing license. Sport fishing regulations permit bow and arrow fishing for the following nongame species only: carp, goldfish, western sucker, Sacramento blackfish, hardhead, Sacramento pikeminnow and lamprey (for specific areas and exceptions, see CCR, Title 14, section 2.25).

Even though Department of Fish & Game law might allow for bow and arrow fishing in your local area, some lakes and waterways prohibit the possession of bow and arrow equipment. You will need to check with the jurisdiction that runs the body of water, such as state parks, regional parks, local county parks, etc.

When bow and arrow fishing, the tackle must have the arrow shaft, the point or both attached by a line to the bow or to a fishing reel. This rule also applies to crossbows (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 1.23).

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. She can be reached at cwilson@dfg.ca.gov.