For true turkey hunters, there are few achievements more satisfying than to try their luck and hopefully achieve the coveted grand slam of turkey hunting.
What is a turkey hunting grand slam?
North America is home turf to the wild turkey. But there is not one type of wild turkey. Across the continent, there are two distinct wild turkey species — the North American wild turkey and the Ocellated turkey from central America. From the North American wild turkey come five subspecies — Merriam's, Gould's, Rio Grande, Eastern, and Osceola/Florida, each with a habitat that varies wildly both in climate and geography from the others. A Grand Slam is when a hunter successfully takes a turkey from the Eastern, Osceola/Florida, Rio Grande and Merriam’s subspecies. Taking a turkey from each of these areas shows a hunter has firm grasp on a wide variety of skills, and has the endurance and adaptability to overcome different terrain and turkey behavioral patterns.
Here’s the breakdown of each subspecies, including their characteristics and their habitat:
The most abundant turkey in the United States. The Eastern turkey thrives from the East Coast to the edge of the Great Plains, and from the Gulf to the Great Lakes. The second-most difficult turkey to call in (after the Osceola) the Eastern turkey also has the strongest gobble and longest beard. It is distinguished by Chestnut-brown tips on tail feathers, and white and black bars on the wings.
Native to Southern and Central Florida, and named after the famed Seminole warrior and leader, the Osceola (Florida) turkey is notoriously hard to call in and hunt. Years of hiding from predators in swamps and roosting over water have made this subspecies of wild turkey one of the most difficult to bag. One of the more challenging aspects of hunting the Osceola, other than their wariness and relative silence, is the difficult terrain across which they are distributed. Osceola turkeys are distinguished by dark-brown tips on tail feathers, and mostly black wings with very small white bands.
Rio Grande Turkeys
Rio Grande turkeys have made a comeback from their once dwindling numbers a century ago, and now range in plentiful numbers from the Rio Grande Valley to the prairies of Kansas, and are scattered along the West Coast of the United States, from Central California up through Oregon and Washington. Rio Grande turkeys are distinguished by tan-colored tips on the tail feathers with equal amounts of black and white barring on wings.
Ranging through the mountains, foothills and high plains from New Mexico to Montana and Washington State, with isolated pockets in California, the Merriam’s turkey is distinguished by light tips on tail feathers and upper tail coverts (rump feathers), with more white and less black on the wings. It also has the weakest gobble, short spurs, and short-to-medium beard length.
It is still somewhat of a rare achievement in turkey hunting to accomplish a Grand Slam. The National Wild Turkey Federation publishes a list of those hunters who’ve successfully achieved a Grand Slam (as well as those who’ve achieved other slams: Royal, World, Canadian, et al) and as of this writing they number fewer than 1800. That’s out of approximately 2.5 million wild turkey hunters nationwide.