Turkey Choke: Gobblers Fight It Out For Hours

A Fayette County hunter witnessed and photographed a gobbler fight that ended in an unusual draw.

GON Staff | April 1, 2000

Charles Futral had witnessed a lot of interesting turkey behavior on his farm in Fayette County in recent years, but what he saw one afternoon last fall takes the prize: two mature gobblers that had been fighting had apparently had become locked bill-in-bill.

“I thought their mouths were hung together, because they wouldn’t turn loose, and this went on for like two hours,” Charles said. “I was walking up within five or six feet of them taking pictures. Their eyes got wild when I approached, but they wouldn’t turn loose.”

The gobblers are wild birds that spend a good bit of time on Charles’s farm, where he has been feeding turkeys for some time. The two birds in the pictures are part of a small group of turkeys that have been coming to the feeding area along with other wild birds since they were poults and have grown to tolerate Charles’s presence near the site. However, they fly if anyone but Charles appears, and even Charles has never been as close as the day he took these photographs.

“It was getting dark. It was already way past roosting time and they were still doing it. I said, ‘When it gets darker a coyote is going to kill both of them.’ I was going to throw some type of cover over them and pull them apart, and then I happened to look out in the trees and I saw two jakes doing the same thing. They didn’t do it but for just a few minutes.”

Since that day last fall, Charles has seen turkeys locked in this manner only once more, and that only a few weeks ago in mid-March.

“While they are doing this they don’t try to spur each other, they don’t use their wings. It’s pushing and shoving, but it’s mouth only. But when they come apart they go to fighting with their spurs. It’s instant, there’s no hesitation when their mouths separate.”

These two mature gobblers were locked beak-to-beak in a shoving match for more than two hours as Charles Futral approached and snapped this photo.

Reggie Thackston, a wildlife biologist with DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division and an avid turkey hunter, said he has never seen or heard of two gobblers becoming locked together for prolonged periods, but he said head-biting and snood-pulling is common in turkey fights.

“I remember sitting in a blind one day and seeing two jakes right there near me,” Reggie said, “and they hooked up, and it looked like they were trying to swallow each other’s head. That’s the way I would describe it. I think what they are really doing is trying to hold on to get leverage for all the pushing and pulling and kicking and gouging they do.” 

“You know, turkeys fight a lot more than people think they do,” Charles said. “At certain times of the year they spend hours and hours sparring.”

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