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Wild Turkey Grand Slam: Part One by Tim Herald

Wild Turkey Grand Slam (Part One)

By: Tim Herald

Have you ever considered going after the wild turkey grand slam? If you are not familiar with the term, that means taking each of four subspecies of wild turkey that live in the U.S.: the Osceola, eastern, Rio Grande and Merriam’s. You can take this even further and add on a Gould’s (that makes a royal slam) and add an ocellated subspecies to those 5, and you have a world slam. To achieve any of the slams, you do not have to take all the birds in one year, there is no time limit.

In this piece, I will stick to discussing the grand slam. I have been very fortunate in my turkey hunting obsession to take 25 wild turkey grand slams. I have taken double single season grand slams, bow grand slams, muzzleloader shotgun grand slams, and many traditional shotgun grand slams over the years, and what I write here will simply be my opinions formed through much experience, but as in all turkey hunting, there are no absolutes. 

 

Osceola

The Osceola wild turkey lives only in Florida. When I started hunting them decades ago, only the birds from about Orlando south were considered true Osceolas. Now that line basically has been moved north to the FL state line, but I believe many of those birds in north Florida are hybrids with easterns.

Many hunters believe the Osceola to be the hardest of all the turkeys to kill. I think that highly pressured public land Osceolas are as tough as it gets, just like pressured eastern birds anywhere in in the Deep South, but I actually think lightly pressured Osceolas are about as easy to kill as any bird.

Talking lightly pressured Osceolas, I believe they are the most patternable of all the turkeys. They typically roost in about the same spot, and usually have a daily routine. They might roost, fly down and strut, and make a daily route to other strut and shady loafing zones (mid-day and afternoon, and end up back around their roost.

For a patient hunter that is willing to scout and do a bit of glassing, these birds are pretty easy to figure out and then you can put yourself in a good position to bag your bird. Generally, Osceolas aren’t the best subspecies to hunt by aggressive “run and gunning.” You are much better to make longer setups where you think they will be and wait them out.

The use of quality blinds has helped a lot in Florida. In and around big open cattle pastures, and for making longer setups, blinds really make things much easier. You can literally hunt in the middle of a short grass pasture where birds feel safe from predators from a good blind. I was bow hunting one spring and found a flock of birds with multiple gobblers that would roost at the edge of a swamp, sail out 250 yards into a cattle pasture, and spend most of the morning there strutting, feeding and breeding.

The day before season, I popped up a blind right in the middle of the field, and on opening morning, I got in before daylight. On cue, the whole flock flew down and landed about 75 yards away. There were four big gobblers and about 20 hens. I had out a few decoys including a strutting jake, but they ignored the decoys until I started cutting aggressively. The lead hen came straight to the decoys and postured for one of my hen decoys. That’s all it took, and the four gobblers came on a run right into the decoys. I shot the dominant tom with my bow at a mere 4 yards.

Speaking of Osceola traits, I believe them to generally be the most aggressive of all the turkeys, so jake and strutting decoys often work very well. Osceola turkeys are definitely not afraid to fight, and quality decoys in the open pastures is often all you need if you have done your scouting and picked the right place to set up.

Easterns

The most widely distributed of all the subspecies of turkey is the eastern. They inhabit every state east of the Mississippi River (except maybe Florida depending on who you talk to), and many of the states west of the Mississippi.

As I stated earlier, I believe easterns in the Deep south, especially those in the big hardwood swamp bottoms that have been highly pressured are as tough a turkey to hunt as you will find anywhere. I believe overall as a subspecies, easterns are the most challenging to hunt as well though I know many may disagree.

You can use all turkey tactics to hunt easterns, but by far my favorite is to run and gun them. By that I mean you take off on foot, try to locate a gobbling bird, and then just figure things out as you go. It’s a bit of a chess match, and strategy often comes into play on a high level. Sometimes you get lucky and things work perfectly, but more often than not, the turkey wins, or you have a long battle on your hands.

Last spring, I had one of the most memorable eastern turkey hunts of my life. I have seen hundreds of easterns bagged, but I had never experienced anything like that morning. Longtime friend and incredibly accomplished turkey hunter, Lee Britt and I were hunting on his place in Tennessee. I had taken two gobblers the day before, so we decided to go just across the road to a new piece of property that Lee had just leased but hadn’t scouted or hunted at all. We figured that we would go check it out, and it really didn’t matter if we got a bird or not, it would be good recon for Lee.

We entered the property and only walked about 400 yards down a two-track road that snaked through a big hardwood creek bottom and led to a series of fields. In the dark, we stuck a couple decoys in the road, found a gnarly tree we could setup in front of and waited.

Just as the sun was starting to lighten the morning sky, a thunderous gobble rang out from inside of 200 yards in front and to our left. We were in business!

A few minutes later, Lee made a couple of soft tree calls, and the gobbler answered, and we sat quietly. He gobbled quite a few more times on the roost, but we stayed mute. Eventually, we heard his heavy wing beats and knew he had flown down, so we made a few yelps and again he answered. Then all went silent. 

We continued to call with no response, and we discussed what we thought was happening. We figured he had either shut up and gone to some hens that we heard in the distance, or he was coming to us silently. We decided to wait it out and see what happened.  

Maybe ten minutes later, Lee whispered, “Here he comes.” Thirty yards beyond the decoys I saw the big gobbler emerge from the woods and charge straight into our decoys.

To see how this hunt concluded, click this link and watch the video for yourself. Now that is something you just don’t see every day!

In part 2 of this article, I will discuss hunting Rio Grande and Merriam’s wild turkeys that generally live in the western half of the country. They are great fun to hunt as well.


Suggested Turkey Gear

Like many hunters, I want the most lethal setup I can get to cleanly kill wild turkeys.

No matter if you are using a .410 or a 3.5” 12 gauge, there is nothing as lethal as TSS shot. It’s much heavier than lead, and you can shoot 8 and 9 shot for more density.

I shoot TSS through all my shotguns, and actually have a number of different guns setup. Each has a Trijicon sight for easy and precise aiming. My 12 gauge that is in the video has a Trijicon RMR Type 2 on it, and I have another with a Trijicon MRO on top. Both have made a world of difference in target acquisition and precision, especially at close yardage.

Due to current market conditions and strong demand for our products, our current production lead times are extended. We are still shipping product every day, but as we move through this time, we have paused the ability to purchase directly through Trijicon.com. Please visit our Dealer Locator to find a dealer of your choice. If you would like to reach out and place an order directly with Trijicon, please call 1-800-338-0563 and our Customer Service team can help you.

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