By: Dylan Hayward
The Grand Slam is something that every avid turkey hunter dreams of accomplishing at some point in their lifetime. I know I have. Getting a Grand Slam means that you have successfully harvested all four of the common subspecies in America. The Eastern, Osceola, Rio and Merriams. You can even go above and beyond that and achieve a Royal Slam by adding a Gould’s turkey, and I know people that have completed the World Slam by also adding an Ocellated turkey.
It probably goes without saying that this is a very difficult challenge, but every year people check it off their list. If you’re interested in taking on this challenge, I have found that a good strategy is to check one of the subspecies off your list each year. This takes some of the pressure off and makes the challenge much more manageable. However, I have found that some of these turkeys are much harder to hunt than the others.
Eastern turkeys are the most common out of the subspecies in North America. In my hometown of Ohio, as well as for all of the midwest, every turkey you hunt is going to be an eastern. It has long been reported that the Easterns are the smartest and thus the hardest to hunt out of all the subspecies, and I can say from personal experience, that is correct. As far as appearances go, the Easterns typically have larger beards and spurs than most of the subspecies, and their wings tend to have a brighter white appearance.
The Osceola Turkey is native to only Central and Southern Florida, making it one of the most desirable, yet hard to hunt, turkeys on the list. These turkeys are known to have extremely long and pointed spurs, as well as darker feathers, and even smaller in size compared to the eastern turkey. From my experience, it can almost be hard to tell the difference between the two unless you’re up close.
These birds are often regarded as the “Ghost Turkey” because of how little they gobble and how they tend to appear and disappear in a matter of seconds. Because of the small area that they inhabit, there can often be a lot of hunting pressure on these birds, making them even harder to harvest.
Rio Grande turkeys are one of the most enjoyable turkeys to hunt in my opinion because of how responsive they seem to be to calling and decoys. Some people refer to them as the Desert Turkey because of the places they roam such as Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Rio’s can often be identified by the tan colored tips on their tail fan feathers. Their wings and breast feathers resemble much of an Eastern, although their spurs and beards don’t tend to be quite as long.
Merriam’s inhabit most of the western states such as Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. Sometimes this can be a challenging hunt solely due to the terrain that they’re in, which usually requires a lot of hiking. While the footwork can be tough, the scenery that you get with hunting Merriam’s is unlike any other turkey hunt that you’ll go on.
They’re appearance is set apart due to their very light colored fan tips, and are considered to be one of the prettiest looking turkeys. Merriam Toms can get very large, upwards of 30 pounds for a mature Tom. Although they’re larger in size to the other subspecies, their beards and spurs tend to be quite smaller. Merriam’s are known to have a very weak sounding gobble which can make the hunting slightly more difficult, however, if you get a chance to go on this hunt, take it! It’s one of the best turkey hunts out there in my opinion.