Grand Slam Turkeys
by David Hart
It’s called a Grand Slam, but for many turkey hunters who dream of killing all four major wild turkey subspecies found in the United States, it’s more about the journey than pulling the trigger.
There are actually a multitude of “Slams” recognized by the National Wildlife Turkey Federation (NWTF) and by die-hard turkey hunters.
The Grand Slam is the accomplishment most recognized and sought after by hunters. It involves taking the Eastern, Rio Grande, Florida and Merriam’s subspecies—those found in the United States.
There’s also a Royal Slam, which includes the Gould’s subspecies. Gould’s are found only in Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico, and they just aren’t as common as the other subspecies. Throw in a sixth subspecies, an Ocellated, and your accomplishment just became a World Slam. However, Ocellated gobblers are only in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, northern Belize and northern Guatemala. Needless to say, a World Slam is not for everyone. A Grand Slam.. now that’s a dream most of us can realize.
Yes, the journey toward a Grand Slam is a major part of the adventure. Completing a Grand Slam is about seeing new country and hunting birds in places you’ve never been before. Of course, pulling the trigger is the ultimate goal.
Take a couple weeks off work this spring, load up your truck and hit the road. There are abundant opportunities ahead. And remember, the NWTF doesn’t require that an official Grand Slam be completed in one season.
Osceola: Florida Or Bust!
There’s only one state where you can fill your Osceola subspecies tag, and that’s in Florida. Within Florida, the Eastern subspecies inhabits the northern part of the state, while Osceolas are found in central and south Florida.
What better way to spend part of your spring than chasing birds among palmetto thickets, palm trees and stately live oaks draped with Spanish moss? Yeah, it’s that cool.
The bad news? Much of the state is private, and access to the best public land is limited through a lottery system. That’s the good news, too. By restricting access, you’ll have plenty of room to roam and abundant gobblers that haven’t been pressured into silence. Don’t assume you have to hunt a limited-entry wildlife management area, though. Plenty have unrestricted access, and hunters willing to walk a good distance can find unpressured birds. There are 43 public areas in Florida where hunters can “walk on” to hunt spring turkeys without winning a quota drawing. Check out the 2016 Florida Spring Turkey Hunting Guide at http://myfwc.com/hunting/by-species/turkey/hunt-without-quota-permit/
For information on turkey hunting in Florida, visit the website for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at http://myfwc.com.
Osceolas can be pretty quiet. Don’t assume there are no gobblers in the area if you aren’t hearing any. Find a good spot, sit down, call a little and be patient. What’s your hurry? You’re in Florida.
Eastern: Take Your Pick
The Eastern subspecies is the most abundant and the most widespread of the big four, so choosing a specific location is as simple as throwing a dart at a map of the eastern half of the United States. The birds thrive from eastern Oklahoma and Kansas all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, north to New England and south to the Gulf states. Maine even has a good population.
Those southeastern states, Mississippi in particular, offer some of the best public opportunities and populations of Easterns. Many other states, including Georgia, Virginia, Alabama and Missouri, have enough public opportunities to make it them great choices, as well.
Access to hunt an Eastern is the easy part. Killing an Eastern is whole other ballgame. Give this subspecies plenty of time. There is no tougher bird to kill than a public-lands Eastern. They are as fickle as they are wary, often hanging up out of sight or simply walking away as they continue to gobble. Eastern gobblers just don’t make any sense sometimes— but man, they are fun to hunt.
The Merriam’s Slam Dunk
Is there more beautiful country than Merriam’s habitat? Wide-open prairies, rugged mountains and tree-lined creek bottoms have drawn hunters for decades. Go once, and it’s easy to see why.
One of the most popular do-it-yourself hunts is in the Black Hills National Forest in southwestern South Dakota. Other states like Nebraska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have public hunting opportunities, as well, and they can be exceptional. Be warned: Many western states limit gobbler tags through a drawing. Do you Internet research.
The trick to tagging a Merriam’s is finding them. Much of their range consists of wide-open prairies interrupted by wooded creek bottoms, so they tend to be bunched up in the best habitat. Think trees in a vast expanse of prairie.
Merriam’s gobblers often shift their ranges throughout the year, abandoning one area for another for months at a time. If you aren’t finding fresh sign, keep moving. Eventually, you’ll find the mother lode.
Rios Are Grande
Rio Grande turkeys aren’t especially difficult to call into shotgun range, comparatively speaking. Simply finding a good place to hunt can be difficult. The range of Rio Grande wild turkeys is limited to Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, as well as transplanted populations in California, Washington and Oregon.
Public land is limited in Texas. Kansas has a good walk-in hunting program, and Oklahoma has decent enough public opportunities. The best Rio ground in the western United States lies on private property, but some public hunting is available. Some tags are available only through a limited drawing.
Rios are like Merriam’s in many ways. They often gather in huge flocks in the winter, and large areas of the landscape can be void of birds during the spring season. Keep moving until you find fresh sign, and then hunt hard.
The degree of difficulty to obtain your Slam can depend on your resources. Public-land access can be a limiting factor to getting your birds, particularly an Osceola or Rio Grande gobbler. With research and recommendations, you can find reputable outfitters. Paying a guide is often a good avenue when access is holding a hunter back.
You may not complete your Grand Slam in a single season, but it sure will be fun trying.
Seasons For A Grand Slam
The Grand Slam entails taking the four turkey subspecies found in the United States. With a little planning, you can hunt all four U.S. subspecies in a single season.
Here’s a look at some of the better states for each subspecies and their turkey-season frameworks.
Of course, check all state regulations before planning your Grand Slam adventures.
Osceola: Florida State Road 70 runs east-to-west from St. Lucie County to Manatee County, and it splits the Florida turkey season. South of State Road 70, the 2016 Florida spring turkey season is March 5 – April 10. North of State Road 70, the 2016 spring season is March 19 – April 24.
Eastern: This subspecies is found in good populations in many states. Seasons for some of the better states include: Mississippi from March 15 to May 1; Missouri from April 20 to May 10; Tennessee from April 2 to May 15; New York from May 1 to May 31; and Georgia from March 26 to May 15.
Rio Grande: The Rio Grande is found primarily in Oklahoma, with a spring season from April 6 to May 6; in Kansas, with a spring season from April 13 to May 31; and California, with a spring gobbler season from March 26 to May 1
Merriam’s: Prime states and their seasons to bag a Merriam’s gobbler include South Dakota, April 9 to May 22; Wyoming, April 1 to May 20; Idaho, April 15 to May 25.
Hunt Swappers Make Slams Obtainable
Let’s be honest. Many hunters who complete a turkey Slam do so because they have the financial or circumstantial means to do so. One hunter I know, who completed not just a Grand Slam but also a World Slam and a Royal Slam, worked for an airline. She got free plane tickets—that sure helps!
Most of us don’t work for Delta or have a trust fund. However, all turkey hunters have one thing—access to local birds. If you live in Missouri, killing an Eastern subspecies gobbler isn’t a problem. The problem is killing the Osceloa, or the Rio Grande, or the Merriam’s. Obviously, there are hunters who have access to those birds, and some will be very interested in going after an Eastern.
Swapping hunts is a great path toward completing your Slam.
Ty Brown, Conservation Manager for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, found that finding other hunters to swap turkey hunts with was not difficult. It doesn’t have to be a turkey-for-turkey swap, either. You might have a great duck-hunting hole or a good whitetail hunting, something that a Florida turkey hunter would love to experience.
“Just with friends and family and contacts that you make over the years, someone is always looking to do some hunting,” Ty said. “I also have swapped hunts with outfitters that I have hunted with in the past. A lot of times there are certain game animals that some people just don’t have the opportunity to hunt. And by having that connection or finding that connection, it gets you in on a hunt that you are really excited about going on.”
In addition, Ty recommends utilizing the power of the Internet.
“The Internet is a great place to start. With social media and hunting forums as popular as they are now, it’s just a matter of logging on and putting the word out,” he said.
Start with your own forum at the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website (http://unionsportsmen.org/forums).
“To sum up the whole hunt-swapping thing, it’s about being efficient with your connections and making the opportunity good for both parties involved. That way everyone wins,” Ty said.
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.