Toenails Gone Wild On Georgia Gobbler

GON Staff | May 2, 2024

TJ Fountain’s Wheeler County gobbler had toenails for miles.

The turkeys on a Wheeler County tract are in need of someone from the nail salon to come do some pedicures. TJ Fountain, of Glenwood, made it happen on a bird he’d been after this season, but it was what he saw when he got to the gobbler that raised this experienced turkey hunter’s eyebrows.

“I hunted this gobbler that was roosted on the back side of a clearcut,” said TJ. “That morning, he gobbled in the dark for the first time, and that allowed me to pinpoint him and get a little closer to him on the roost. As daylight came and I gave him my location, I saw him pitch out and fly to a big oak on the edge of a wet-weather pond. I sat silent a few minutes and then gave a light help that he answered. He flew down into the fresh-burnt clearcut and was soon joined by a big group of hens. They all began to filter through the clearcut with the gobbler in tow strutting. I ended up calling the hens to a sandy corner that the gobbler used as a strut zone and shot him at 35 yards.”

Classic hunt for a mature Georgia bird… but this was no ordinary turkey.

“Upon picking the gobbler up, I immediately noticed the feet,” TJ said. “Not the spurs… but the toes! I have never seen anything like the toes on this gobbler. He only had two normal toenails. The others are all abnormally long. A nice gobbler with a 10-inch beard and 1 1/8-inch spurs—and very abnormal toenails.”

TJ’s hunting property is near a wastewater treatment facility, and he wondered if that had something to do with the gobbler’s unusual feet. He sent the photos to two turkey experts.

Emily Ruston, the Wild Turkey Coordinator for Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, said, “Those are some impressive toenails! In most cases, this is just a genetic abnormality. I doubt that it has anything to do with the wastewater treatment facility. That’s a unique bird for sure.”

Mike Chamberlain, a UGA professor and wild turkey researcher, said, “That has to be some kind of abnormality in development, very interesting. Both toes and nails are abnormal.”

Interestingly, a gobbler killed by a friend on TJ’s property during the 2023 season (pictured below) had toenails that were a bit unusual—not to the degree of the bird killed this year—but the nails showed the beginnings of some odd growth.

This 2023 gobbler killed on the same Wheeler County property had abnormal toenails, although nowhere near to the extreme of the gobbler that TJ killed this season.

A gobbler killed last year in Virginia had long toenails like TJ’s Georgia bird. Cody Cedotal, the wild turkey program manager for the Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife, commented that the long toenails were likely caused when the turkey’s nails didn’t grow in a natural direction.

“Just like a dog, or anything else, animals wear their toenails down just by walking, moving and scratching. But for whatever reason, this particular bird just never did that,” Cody said in an Outdoor Life article about odd and unusual gobblers. He said a turkey’s toenails usually come straight out of the foot and curl downwards, and they wear off.

This Virginia gobbler killed last season had long toenails.

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