The Wild Turkey: Slams, Subspecies, & Locations

Mar 10, 2022 | Turkey Hunting | 0 comments

KING TOM

When it comes to wild turkeys, North America is king. Indigenous people on this continent regarded turkeys as deity, spirit beings, and used them as clan animals in some cultures. Turkey folklore and stories have been passed down through generations such as the Cherokee story of how the turkey got its beard by wearing a scalp around its neck. Early explorers and settlers relied on wild turkey as a critical food source to fuel adventure and survive. Even today, American citizens tell the story of Pilgrims feasting on turkey with Native People celebrating the day every year as Thanksgiving (even if the popular version of the story is embellished and not completely accurate).

TURKEY DEITY

More modernly speaking, the reverence in which we regard turkeys remains saintly. Turkey hunting is a religion, a season of worship, and our deity continues to be the tom. As a collective congregation, turkey hunters enter the woods each spring ready to partake in a sermon of gobbles and clucks. Sitting against a tree witnessing daylights’ resurrection and awaiting the fly-down…we are viscerally born again. When we steady our sights on a tom’s gloriously swollen head, the report of our shotgun is a piercing but solemn hallelujah. Turkey hunting is celestial, allowing us to forsake our modern burdens but for a moment.
chukar hunting

MEASURING STICK

Hunters enjoy measuring, it’s what we do. We measure such things as distance hiked, antler length, and turkey beards. It might have to do a little with our ego but it is also a tool for gauging personal accomplishment, animal maturity, and conservation success. Another common measurement of success is a slam. Slams can come in different shades of gray like super slam, grand slam, or world slam. The idea is used as a measurement of complete success, harvesting a total suite of given species or subspecies. Turkey hunting slams are no different, an accomplishment set aside for the best. On top of success, a turkey slam is a measurement of adventure and travel. A way to memorialize turkey hunting epicness.

THE SLAMS

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is the premier wild turkey conservation organization in the world. Turkey hunting is as good as it has ever been and a turkey slam is within reach for anyone. NWTF lists several types of turkey hunting slams. See below for the types of slams as found on NWTF’s website.
If you are new to the turkey slam world the best one to start with is the Grand Slam. It focuses on the most common U.S. subspecies. Birds can be found in huntable abundance on public and private lands. On your grand slam journey, you will find yourself in the eastern hardwoods, badlands, prairies, western forests and brushlands, and even peninsular Florida.

YOUR GRAND SLAM BROKEN DOWN

1. Eastern Turkey

If Thanksgiving is one of your favorite holidays, thank an eastern turkey. The eastern subspecies is the bird that fed the pilgrims, Native Americans, and partially facilitated the colonization of what became the United States. It is also the most widely distributed and has the largest population numbers. Eastern turkey range is so wide we won’t put a long list of states here but rather just say they occur in the eastern half of the U.S. Population estimates range from 4-5 million birds depending on the source, although they seem to be mysteriously declining in some places (more on that to come in a later article). The eastern turkey is a great one to start your grand slam with because you have a lot of choices on where to go and a lot of birds.

2. Rio Grande Turkey

Rio Grande means “big river” in Spanish. The Rio Grande turkey is named for the area it was originally found in, the southern Great Plains states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Northeastern New Mexico – an area the Big River runs through. Today, the Rio Grande turkey can also be found in some western states like Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming after successful historic transplants. Rio turkeys love to be near water sources in a mix of shrubland, grasslands, and wooded steppe habitats. Rio Grande turkeys are your second most widely distributed and second in population numbers. They tend to be nomadic and travel quite a bit during the day in the open arid habitats they call home. If you can’t get them off the roost, hunt throughout the day, wandering and calling until you find them.

3. Merriam’s Turkey

Rio Grande means “big river” in Spanish. The Rio Grande turkey is named for the area it was originally found in, the southern Great Plains states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Northeastern New Mexico – an area the Big River runs through. Today, the Rio Grande turkey can also be found in some western states like Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming after successful historic transplants. Rio turkeys love to be near water sources in a mix of shrubland, grasslands, and wooded steppe habitats. Rio Grande turkeys are your second most widely distributed and second in population numbers. They tend to be nomadic and travel quite a bit during the day in the open arid habitats they call home. If you can’t get them off the roost, hunt throughout the day, wandering and calling until you find them.

4. Osceola Turkey

This subspecies is probably the most obscure, mysterious, and most difficult to harvest because of its small geographic range and subsequent low numbers. Also called the Florida turkey because its primary habitat is the Florida peninsula, it was named in honor of the great Seminole Chief, Osceola. You’ll find the Osceola south of the panhandle, all the way to the southern tip of Florida (hybrid eastern and Osceola’s reside north of the panhandle up to the Florida border).

The Osceola is the subspecies you may have to work the hardest for or even consider hiring an outfitter. Birds are on both private and public lands but get a lot of pressure because of the small geographic area. Large tracts of public land in the form of Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) do exist with huntable populations though. For example, Green Swamp WMA is just over 50,000 acres of hardwood swamps, pine flatwoods, and cypress domes. If you’re not up to the challenge (it is a challenge but also doable) and want to make the most of your Osceola trip, outfitters with private land leases are a good bet.

Eat Turkey

Wild turkey is unbelievably delicious. Here is a unique dish to use at your next party that’ll surely impress your buddies.

Recipe adapted from NWTF.ORG

Buffalo Turkey Dip 🥘
⚘ Ingredients

  • Approximately 2 cups of pulled wild turkey breast
  • ½ cup or more ranch dressing
  • 1 package cream cheese
  • 1 bottle Frank’s wing sauce
  • ½ cup cheddar jack cheese
→ Directions

  • Mix all ingredients into a 9×9 pan.
  • Sprinkle additional cheese on top.
  • Heat in the oven at 400 until the cheese is melted.
  • Sprinkle with fresh parsley and/or green onions.
  • To up your dip game even more use a pellet grill on low smoke at 200 degrees for a smokey flavor.
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