Turkey hunting for a slam can be one of the most rewarding accomplishments in the sport.
One project that fills many turkey hunters dreams is the Grand Slam. That is, bagging one of each of the four subspecies of United States turkeys: the Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, and Merriam’s wild turkeys. It’s the turkey hunting achievement of a lifetime, and a lot of fun in the pursuit.
If a Grand Slam is in your sights be prepared to cross the country, spend some money, hunt in different environments, make new friends, and meet the unique challenges that each subspecies offers. There are also other slams to think about, but we’ll get to those later.
First, let’s take a look at each of the four U.S. subspecies.
Eastern Wild Turkey
These bad boys are found throughout the United States. They outnumber all other turkey subspecies combined, and boy, they are fun to hunt. Their densest populations are found along the East coast and in the Midwest. Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Kansas are all good choices, as are Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota in the Midwest. But honestly, Eastern Wild Turkeys are found just about everywhere.
These birds can be identified by the chestnut-brown tips of their tail feathers, white and black bars on their wings and long beards. They also get big, averaging from 15 to 25 pounds, with a number of specimens topping out at a whopping 30 pounds.
Easterns have adapted well to diverse habitats, from hardwood and softwood forests, agricultural area and open fields, bottomlands and hilly areas. Hunting the Eastern turkey is thought by many to be the ultimate challenge. Heavily camouflaged hunters routinely use calls and decoys to try to lure these wary birds in for a shot. With excellent hearing and eyesight, and an ability to learn and adapt to hunter techniques, these turkeys are no pushover.
Osceola Wild Turkey
Osceolas are also known as the Florida turkey, because that is the only state that they inhabit. Osceola turkeys are the least numerous of all of the U.S. subspecies, but Florida has a lot of them.
These long legged turkeys are smaller than the Eastern, weighing in at ten to eighteen pounds. They are a darker colored bird too, with dark brown tail feather tips, heavier black bars on the wings, a small beard and long spurs.
Their prefered environment is decidedly Floridian as well, being either semi-swampy or sprawling cattle pastures interwoven with palmetto hammocks and softwoods. These birds will come to a call but generally at a slower pace than Easterns, so patience is a must. They are responsive to being called as hunting pressure is generally lower than with other birds, but they’re happy to take their time.
Rio Grande Wild Turkey
Rio Grande turkeys are, as you might imagine, populous in Texas. But they also have very healthy populations outside the Lone Star state, being found in the southern Great Plains region. They’ve been successfully introduced into California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Utah, and South Dakota as well.
A good-sized bird, they weigh between 10 and 20 pounds. Lighter in color than the Osceola or Eastern turkey, their tail feathers are tipped with a yellowy-buff and their wings are also lighter in hue. Spurs are not particularly long but are often quite sharply pointed, making formidable weapons.
Rios can be wide ranging and fast moving birds, covering a lot of territory in a day’s time. If you are familiar with the area you’re hunting it is possible to spot them and then quickly move to an ambush site ahead of them.
They are a vocal bird, often calling to one another throughout the day. They are fairly easy to pattern, as they return to the same roost area each night.
Merriam’s Wild Turkey
Around the size of the Eastern turkey, the Merriam’s has a very different coloration. Whitish feathers on the tail and lower back contrast with purple and bronze iridescence. White tips their tail feathers, and their beards and spurs are nil.
Their home turf is the Western U.S. and the Rocky Mountain range, primarily in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, although they too have been successfully transplanted in other states, including South Dakota and Nebraska.
Their environs present a unique challenge, as they are a high altitude bird and the air gets pretty thin in the places they like to frequent. They also are very receptive to being called from distance.
So, take one (or more) birds from each of these subspecies and the National Wild Turkey Federation will officially recognize your feat.
Add the Gould’s Wild Turkey to the roster and you’ve got yourself a Royal Slam.
The Gould’s is found primarily in northwestern Mexico, but may also be found in limited numbers in New Mexico and Arizona. The largest of the five North American subspecies, Gould’s turkey is can easily break the 25 pound mark.
White tail feather tips and blue-green body plumage distinguish this species. Their beards and spurs are of moderate length.
They inhabit mountainous terrain and favor thick undergrowth. And unfortunately their numbers are relatively low, although you can find good turkey hunting in some mountainous regions of New Mexico and Arizona. It’s also worth checking out Ox Hunting Ranch, a renowned site for native and exotic species, and a great place to kick off a turkey slam.
Now take that Royal Slam and add Central America’s Ocellated Wild Turkey and you will have achieved a World Slam.
This blue-headed, beardless turkey is thought to be genetically related to the peacock, with its rainbow hued coloration, blue and gold tipped tail feathers, white wings and iridescent body.
Adult males weigh around 10 or 12 pounds. What they lack in beard growth they more than make up for in spur length.
Ocellated turkeys also don’t really gobble, as it is traditionally known. Rather they “sing” in a high pitched gobble followed by a hollow drumming sound.
These jungle birds present a unique hunting experience, not the least of which is traveling to their preferred habitat.
There are also three other slams you could pursue if you really feel adventurous:
Canadian Slam – Harvesting the Eastern and Merriam’s in any Canadian province (Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta or British Columbia).
Mexican Slam – Rio Grande, Gould’s and ocellated wild turkey harvested in Mexico only.
U.S. Super Slam – Harvest one wild turkey subspecies in every state except Alaska.