The current state of the wild turkey population may be the only instance where your grandpa would not say “You shoulda seen in back in the day.” At over 7 million birds, the United States turkey population is the largest it has ever been, and is truly a testament to both our wildlife agencies and the National Wild Turkey Federation. The combination of the nation’s large number of birds, coupled with recent advancements in gear, makes today the golden age of turkey hunting.
There are four subspecies of turkeys that can be found in the United States. These four make up the coveted Turkey Grand Slam and include the Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam, and Osceola. If you tack on the final Mexican subspecies, the Gould, you will have completed the Royal Slam. These subspecies occupy specific regions of North America, and are frequently the target of expert turkey hunters searching for glory by the accomplishment of this difficult feat.
Where To Hunt Turkey
Turkey subspecies are very location specific. Easterns are predominantly east of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Rio Grandes live in a narrow strip directly west of this, as well as on the western coast of California and Oregon. Mixed throughout the Rocky Mountains as well as further south into New Mexico and Arizona are the Merriams. Finally, the Osceola can only be found in Florida. This specific distribution of each subspecies of bird requires a hunter to travel, sometimes at great length, to complete the slam.
A population of over a half million birds containing three different subspecies makes Texas a top turkey state for hunters looking to harvest a gobbler. Florida, being the only state to have the very large and difficult to kill Osceola is another top destination for hardcore turkey buffs. Every state except Alaska supports a population of wild turkey, so there are numerous opportunities to harvest a gobbler.
Turkey Hunting Techniques
Turkeys are very social animals with an intricate community structure. As temperatures begin to warm in the spring, previously friendly Toms (males), become aggressive and search for hens (females) with the onset of the breeding season. Like many animals, turkeys rely on vocalizations to find a mate. These vocalizations are what draw turkey hunters to the woods. Through the use of either a mouth or friction call, hunters imitate hen sounds in an effort to elicit the unforgettable call that toms produce known as the gobble. In conjunction with decoys, these calls are used to draw the toms inside of shotgun or bow range. When close, Toms will often put on quite the show, puffing out their chests and displaying their fans while strutting in an attempt to woo you, the hen. The fired up Toms will sometimes even fight your decoys if a male impersonation is used. This close quarters show coupled with the personal nature of calling in the bird is what makes turkey hunting so exciting.
Turkeys are predominantly hunted with shotguns or bows. When looking at shotguns, you want to pair your gun with a turkey load that will throw a deadly pattern. With the introduction of Tungsten Super Shot loads in turkey shells, smaller guns like 20 gauge and 410 gauge can be used, however, the 12 gauge is still a big gobbler killing favorite. It does not matter what you choose to carry into the woods, just make sure to shoot a few practice shots on paper so you are aware of your maximum effective killing distance. If you are a bow hunter, there are many different broad heads on the market that are designed to kill turkeys, but it does not matter what’s on the end of the arrow if you miss. To shorten the shooting distance, consider staking decoys close to your blind. If you are well hidden, the birds should not mind.
Turkey Tags And Regulations
Turkey season is centered around the harvest of bearded birds in the spring, however, some states offer a fall season that allows for the harvest of hens as well. Tags and licenses are typically on the cheap side of the spectrum, and offer an inexpensive hunt for non-residents looking to hunt out-of-state. Specific regulations vary greatly from state to state, so be sure to check your local regulations before hitting the woods.