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What is Beard Rot on a Turkey, and How Did I End Up with One That Had It?

beard rot

What originally looked like a jake ended up being a tom with some funky business going on with his beard.

Beard rot? Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

This past spring, I got to partake in an amazing week of hunting at the Hooray Ranch in Kansas. Multiple writers were in for the week as we were trying out amazing new products from Scent Crusher and Cherokee Sports.

The hunting was incredible, the products were incredible, and all but one of the nine writers were able to fill their tags on some beautiful Rio turkeys. A week filled with new people, new experiences, and a lot of first for myself. But one of the most interesting first I received was harvesting a turkey with “beard rot.”

It’s a term I had heard before but never actually seen. The turkey I ended up harvesting was a little weak in the size department. But size doesn’t matter, right?

Ok, getting off subject a bit, let’s get back to the hunt and how I ended up with a tom with beard rot.

beard rot

After a few days of tough hunting with a bow, I and another writer from Wide Open Spaces, Dustin Prievo of Top Pin Outdoors had yet to fill our Kansas tags. But thanks to Todd Bigbee of Whitetail Properties, we were getting to head out to hunt on some of his beautiful Kansas land that had been relatively untouched that turkey spring. It was time to put the bow down and use the boomstick to get the job done.

And beautiful ground it was. I strongly urge you to contact him if you are pursuing prime hunting land, because the guys knows his stuff, and his own properties showed that.

But just like with any hunt, mother nature doesn’t always play out like you want it to. Upon arriving to the hunting land, the rain started to come down nice and steady. And based off the radar, it wasn’t slowing down soon. So, we grabbed the equipment and rushed to our spot to set up the blind.

Once getting setup, I was soaked and unfortunately wasn’t wearing rain gear. As the morning rolled on, the weather stayed chilly and I battled shivering off and on. Even when hens would approach the blind, with me attempting to tighten my muscles to stay completely still, my body would just shake uncontrollably with the adrenaline of a hunt.

After some time, a big tom strolled out into the field, and by big, I mean double-bearded at probably eight or more inches apiece: a bird that would have been an incredible trophy for my first Rio turkey and a guaranteed taxidermy bill. And once again, my body began to shiver uncontrollably because of my wet clothes and adrenaline like I had a booner whitetail in front of me.

It was rather strange, to be quite honest. As I raised my gun to attempt to shoot, a group of about 12 jakes swooped in and began to beat the big tom up. Running in circles, they were trying to push the tom out of  the area, and the guide told me to think fast because he could be gone in a flash.

beard rot

So, the tom bounced off to the side of the group of jakes and attempted to feed. With his head to the ground and the jakes approaching him fast, I decided I better take the shot. The boom of the gun sounded, the turkey flopped and ran, never to return. I had just missed an incredible bird. The shivering, the rushed shot, all combing together resulted in me flat-out missing my first Rio turkey.

As all hunters do, I replayed the whole scenario over in my head, thinking of all the things I could have done differently. The hunt was eating away at me, as I pondered what I had done wrong and how I might go home empty handed.

A few hours later, a male bird entered the food plot. With a tiny beard sticking from its chest, I assumed it was a jake and leaned back in disappointment. After about 10 minutes of the bird piddling around 20 yeards in front of the blind I begin to think man that is a big bodied turkey for being a jake.

Few minutes later, the guide says, “Dude, shoot that bird, he is mature, look at the spurs.”

He went on to look at it with the binoculars and reassured to me that it wasn’t a jake. We whispered and argued back and forth as I didn’t want to use my tag on a jake.

Eventually I trusted his words enough and pulled the trigger. The bird dropped and began to flop and it was then that we seen the tom’s full fan. Holy smokes, it was a tom. And holy smokes, that was the least climatic turkey hunt and tom I had ever killed. But I guess it was a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me to stay calm and relax with the wet clothes I had on.

After approaching the bird, we came to notice the bird had beard rot.

Every one of the beard hairs stopped at the exact same length, and the tips were colored with a rusty burnt orange tone. Very interesting to say the least. After doing some more research, I came to find out, it isn’t actually the “rotting” of a beard.

beard rot

According to Mary Joe Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s chief turkey biologist, and an article on beard rot:

“If a turkey has a vitamin deficiency it will show up in its beard like a rust-colored ring around the beard,” she said. “It will be brittle and can break off.” She does not believe “rotting” is a common culprit of beard break-offs, but vitamin deficiency is. It’s thought that hunters often mistake this rust-colored ring for rot.

Now, would I rather have had the double-bearded bird I missed? Well, of course. But, I am forever grateful for the experience and the memories the hunt have provided me with and I am extremely proud of the bird I harvested. And now I can just tell everyone this turkey’s beard used to be about 13 inches, but had just rotted off, right?

Scent Crusher and Hooray Ranch put on an incredible week that I know Dustin and I will never forget. Dustin had a wild hunt of his own that day and was able to fill a tag as well.

beard rot

With Scent Crusher bags packed full with gear and feathers, we both headed home with big smiles. But only one of us with a beard-rotted tom.

NEXT: 11-Year-Old Boy Kills Near-World Record Turkey with 13 Beards

What is Beard Rot on a Turkey, and How Did I End Up with One That Had It?