Dim, docile and too fat to fly, domestic turkeys wouldn’t last the first minute of opening day. Their wild counterparts are an entirely different matter. In contrast to their domestic cousins, wild turkeys are smart, spunky and never easy to trick. Hunting these birds requires patience, understanding and impeccable skills. Dropping one with a well-placed shot is something for which all hunters should be proud. Turkeys aren’t easy quarry to claim. But particularly successful or determined hunters often take things a step further, and set out with a lofty goal in mind: completing the wild turkey hunting grand slam.
Turkey hunters and associations recognize several different season-long accomplishments called turkey slams. To complete a slam, you must shoot one of several different turkey subspecies. The turkey hunting grand slam requires you to bag each of the five turkey subspecies readily accessed within the continental United States: the Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam, Gould’s and Eastern turkeys.
Accomplishing this feat obviously involves quite a bit of travel—minimally requiring you to trek half-way across the country. It also necessitates plenty of planning. You’ll have to account for the varying weather, seasons and regulations in effect across several states and habitats, and you’ll have to have the equipment and clothing that enables you to land each formidable quarry.
Also known as the Florida wild turkey, the Osceola turkey (Meleagris gallopavo osceola) is often described as being a smaller, more colorful version of the familiar eastern turkey. Because of its limited range, you’ll only have the chance to bag one of these birds in Florida. Although they range throughout the bulk of the peninsula, they are absent from the panhandle and the southern tip of the state.
The birds’ limited range forces hunters, turkeys and civilization into a small area, which makes it difficult to find and collect your prize. In fact, Osceola turkeys are often considered the most difficult part of the grand slam to achieve. You’ll need to harness all of your skills to be successful.
As its name suggests, the Rio Grande turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia) is native to the south-central plains, although they range north as far as Kansas and west into Utah. They’ve also been introduced to California, Hawaii and several other locations, but most hunters pursue these birds within their native range.
Rio Grande turkeys forage and nest in a variety of different habitats through their range, but most are found within reach of large river valleys and the hardwood forests they support. It is here that they find the nuts, seeds and acorns that serve as important food sources for these handsome birds.
Native to the Rocky Mountain region, Merriam’s turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) is easily identified by noting the pale-tipped feathers of its tail. Spending their summers at high elevations and their winters in the pinyon-juniper lowlands, Merriam’s turkeys move quite a bit over the course of a year—sometimes exceeding 20, 30 or 40 miles.
Although the open spring season for several of the states within the Merriam’s turkey’s range occur relatively late in the year, the altitudes at which you’ll pursue them means that the weather will be a bit chilly. To ensure you stay comfortable, you’ll want to wear layers that you can shed while schlepping up the slopes and working up a sweat.
The Gould’s turkey (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana) is a tantalizing prospect for accomplished turkey hunters, who’ve already scratched three names off their list. Add this one to your season’s tally and you’ll not only accomplish the grand slam, but the even more challenging royal slam.
Although their range does include the southernmost tip of Arizona and New Mexico, harvesting a Gould’s turkey often entails crossing the southern border. Gould’s require water and food like all other birds, but these turkeys manage to scrape out an existence in drier lands than many other turkey’s do.
The eastern turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) is likely the most familiar of the subspecies, given the fact that its range overlaps with the many hunters living along the populous east coast of the United States. However, living up alongside humans has made these birds wary and wise, so bagging one is far from easy.
Eastern turkeys range all the way into Canada, but U.S. hunters needn’t travel this far to find them. They range across most of the eastern United States and are most commonly encountered in oak-hickory forests, although they occasionally move into pine forests or farmland.
Wild toms are notoriously confrontational with almost anything that threatens their harem. But they are also wary birds, equipped with impeccable vision and sonar-like hearing. And despite occasionally weighing 25 pounds or more, they are surprisingly cryptic: they’ll disappear into their forest at the first site of a shotgun-wielding predator.
Preparation is the primary key for a successful turkey hunt. You’ll obviously need to make sure your firearm is in excellent working condition and that you’ve dialed in your skills for the moment of truth. You’ll also need a collection of decoys to make your quarry feel safe, some high-quality binoculars to help spot birds lurking in the shadows, and a good turkey call to help draw the birds into range.
You’ll also want to clothe yourself in the finest hunting apparel available. Nomad high performance clothing is comfortable on your body and helps control your inner climate while keeping you invisible from that tom’s ever-scanning eyes.
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