Wild Turkey Grand Slam Part Two by Tim Herald
Wild Turkey Grand Slam (Part 2)
By: Tim Herald
In part one of this piece, I discussed hunting Osceola and eastern subspecies of wild turkeys as part of the US Grand Slam of wild turkeys. In part two, we will look at hunting the Rio Grande and Merriam’s subspecies that are predominantly western birds.
Per wildturkeyzone.com, the Rio Grande turkey was originally found in the southern Great Plains, western Texas and northeast Mexico. They have expanded their range and been introduced into Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, Hawaii, and California. The Rio Grande turkey, at full maturity, is slightly smaller in body size than the Eastern wild turkey. It is pale and copper-colored having tail feathers and tail/rump coverts (short feathers located at the base of the tail) tipped with a yellowish buff. An alternating color pattern includes tan feathers with medium or dark brown buffed tips. The Rio Grande’s color is consistently lighter than the Eastern or Florida bird, but is darker than the same feathers in the Merriam’s.
Wildturkeyzone.com tells us of the Merriam’s subspecies: Although approximately the same size as the Eastern, the Merriam has different coloration. It is black with blue, purple and bronze reflections. White feathers on the lower back and tail feather margins distinguish the Merriam’s from other subspecies of turkey. Merriam’s appear to have a white rump due to pinkish buff, or whitish tail coverts and tips. Merriam's turkeys were historically found in the ponderosa pine forests of Colorado, New Mexico, and northern Arizona. They have been transplanted into the pine forests of Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota. Merriam's turkeys can be found not only in ponderosa pine forest but also other vegetation types in elevations ranging from 3,500 to 10,000 feet.
The first morning in SD, we spotted a nice bird strutting with about 20 hens. This would be a tough situation for a traditional calling setup. One of the guides took my friend Barb and using some cover, slipped in to about 200 yards, and setup against a row of hay bales. The guide crawled out in the wide open, made a call to get the longbeard’s attention on his gobbler decoy, and the bird turned and came straight at him strutting and gobbling the whole way. Barb shot her first Merriam’s at about 20 yards, but he was coming closer.
That afternoon from a high bluff, we glassed a bunch of birds down in a cut cornfield adjacent to a river about a mile away. We made our way down to the river, got under the cut bank, and worked our way around to where we could peak up into the corn field. There were two big toms and a bunch of hens strutting about 300 yards straight in front of us. My guide popped up his silhouette gobbler decoy over the bank, and the two strutters began moving our way. Suddenly my guide said, Get ready, they are coming in fast!” I was watching the two toms slowly but steadily moving our way, so I was a bit confused until movement from our left caught my eye, and I saw a group of turkeys literally sprinting straight at us.
There was a number of jakes and one longbeard, and they charged in to about 5 yards in just a few short seconds before I raised up, picked out the big gobbler, and made a good shot. I was using my favorite shotgun topped with a Trijicon RMR2 reflex sight, and I feel certain I would have missed without the sight. It gave me super fast target acquisition, and at less than 10 yards my pattern was about the size of a baseball, so my aim had to be very precise. It was an extremely exciting hunt, and I experienced another the next day taking another beautiful tom at a mere three yards after he almost strutted on top of me on his way to the decoy. Again, even at point blank range, I knew when my Trijicon red dot was on his neck and I touched the trigger, the Merriam’s gobbler was mine!
If you haven’t hunted Rio’s or Merriam’s, I highly suggest you give them a try. They are a ton of fun to hunt with their frequent gobbling and the fact that you can get aggressive while hunting them. There are many great outfitters who can put you on western birds, and in many states, there is high quality public land opportunities for these subspecies. If you live where you can hunt them from home, well I am just plain jealous!