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Should You Shoot Gender-Bend Turkey Hens?



Just because we can do a thing doesn’t always mean we should do a thing …

Did you know that between 10 and 14 percent of wild turkey hens have beards? No, this isn’t some new phenomenon with possible environmental causes–it’s simply what biologists call a “variation of normal,” meaning that it’s present in a decent chunk of the population and doesn’t affect the animal’s ability to thrive. It’s sort of like being left-handed in humans. Unlike left-handedness, however, it’s a variation of normal that’s visible … and that can confuse you as to the sex of the turkey from a distance.

For that reason, many states do permit hunters to shoot bearded hens, even in the spring. The point isn’t population control. Turkey numbers are actually dropping nationwide. The reason it’s legal is that nobody wants to turn an ethical hunter who made an honest mistake into a felon. It’s the same reason that many states treat a “button buck” (e.g., a juvenile male with barely perceptible antlers) as if it were a doe.

There’s an old-wives’ tale (or is it an old-husbands’ tale at this point?) that bearded hens are sterile. There’s a variation on that tale that states that the poults of bearded hens won’t develop normally. As this National Wild Turkey Federation video makes clear, bearded hens can produce healthy young.

Where do you stand? Would you shoot a bearded hen if you knew it wasn’t a tom? Sound off in the comments!

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