Pecking Order: Recognizing the Dominant Gobbler

By Matt Shealy

Published: March 27, 2009

Most of us would like to shoot the biggest, oldest gobbler on our property. The problem is that it can be hard to tell which gobbler this is until you actually have him in hand.

Fortunately, there are a few clues that may give a turkey hunter an advantage in picking out the dominant tom.

Most of the time, the biggest and/or oldest gobbler is likely to also be the dominant one within a flock. He can often be identified by the way he acts. When watching a small group of gobblers in the spring as they approach a hen or come to your calling, look for the longbeard that does all or most of the strutting. He will be the dominant bird nearly every time.

The other gobblers around the dominant bird will often strut, too, but usually they will not strut as long or as fully fanned. The boss gobbler may not come out of strut at all, his head is usually pulled in close to his body, and his fan is sticking straight up.

Another clue to identifying pecking order is to watch for attacks from the dominant tom toward other gobblers. The big boy may chase the others, or he may just turn their way, causing them to move off or break strut.

Gobbling behavior may also give clues to pecking order. Many times, but not always, the first turkey to gobble on a given morning is the dominant bird. However, on occasions when he doesn’t gobble first, you may note that other gobbling turkeys suddenly fall silent when he finally sounds off. Another clue is that the hens may yelp back more often and with more excitement to the dominant bird.

Pay close attention to the turkeys’ behavior, and you can take that top trophy we all dream about.

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