How old is tom? Beards don't always tell

Question: 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

Answer: 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 might 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 about one year, 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 exact. Variables such as subspecies, environmental conditions, and even nutrition can alter the length of both the beard and the spur, resulting in a misrepresentation of the bird's age.

For 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 might have a short beard due to any number of things. If the turkey is in "rough" vegetation, the beard might 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 be shortened by wear and tear. That the beard might 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 can also be used to estimate a bird's age though, like beards, spurs can also wear down. Spur length does tend to be slightly more reliable than beard length because they do not wear as easily.

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

Q: I am planning to go salmon fishing 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 onboard, can we have four rods in the water? I do have the second rod stamp on my license, but I don't know if it applies in the ocean. Can you help me understand the rules?

— 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 can be used to take salmon, and no more than one rod per person can be used on any vessel where salmon are aboard. 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.)

Q: If I want to shoot carp with a bow, do I need a hunting license or a fishing license? Are there seasons and other regulations?

— 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 pike minnow and lamprey.

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. You will need to check with the jurisdiction that runs the body of water (state parks, 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 reel. This rule also applies to crossbows.

Carrie Wilson is a biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. Send questions to CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.