April 03, 2015
By David Hart
You've been dreaming about it since the day you called in your first gobbler. It's called the Grand Slam, an honor bestowed upon turkey hunters who take all four sub-species of the wild turkey. For you, though, it's not about pulling the trigger four times and claiming a prize.
It's an excuse to travel the country, see new places, meet new people and test your skills against one of the most challenging game animals in the world. What are you waiting for?
Here are ten places to include on an epic Grand Slam road trip this spring:
Arizona Gould's and Merriam's
The Gould's sub-species isn't considered part of the wild turkey grand slam (It is part of what the NWTF calls the 'royal slam. '), but lots of hunters want to add that sub-species to their list. New Mexico has a small pocket of Gould's in the extreme southeastern corner, but Arizona has about 1,200 Gould's, the largest population in the US.
The best Merriam's hunting is found north of the Gila River, while Gould's are the sky islands of southeastern Arizona. There aren't a lot of either species--the total turkey population is between 15,000 and 20,000 — but they tend to be concentrated in smaller areas. Permits are typically given out through a lottery system and non-residents can have a difficult time obtaining a tag. Hunters are allowed one bearded bird per season.
Public land: 7
Season: April 24-May 21 varies by unit
Kansas Rio Grande and Easterns
Kansas is pretty close to dead last in terms of public land, but thanks to Kansas Parks and Wildlife's
private land lease program, hunters have access to nearly 1 million acres of private land. Not all of it is open during spring turkey season, but plenty of it is. Tracts range from 35 acres to several thousand.
The eastern quarter of the state has the Eastern subspecies, while the western two-thirds has Rios, allowing hunters to complete half their grand slam in a single state. Birds in the western part of the state are concentrated along wooded creek and river bottoms. Eastern birds are generously scattered throughout the region.
April 15-May 31
South Dakota Merriam's
South Dakota may not be covered up in turkeys, but find one and it can seem like you found them all. Birds congregate along creek and river bottoms, particularly in the prairie region where suitable habitat is limited. The Black Hills tend to hold the most turkeys overall and public opportunities are abundant. So are non-resident tags thanks to an unlimited quota.
However, non-residents must get their turkey tags through the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks' web site
prior to the season. There is a limited quota for the rest of the state, but getting a turkey tag is often as simple as applying. Access is limited to waterfowl production areas, walk-in hunt areas and a handful of other public lands, but don't hesitate to knock on doors.
April 11-May 17
Turkey numbers have increased dramatically in Oregon over the last two decades. So have hunting opportunities and success rates. Birds are abundant in much of the western part of the state and there are heavy concentrations in much of the northeastern corner, as well. The Melrose unit in Douglas County leads the state in harvest. It has BLM and national forest land.
Most birds in northeastern Oregon are on private land, but access is sometimes granted to those who ask. Biologists with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
also point to public lands in the White River and Hood management units, along with national forest lands in Grant and Baker counties.
April 15-May 31
Texas Rio Grande
Contrary to popular belief, Texas is not one giant high fence. Make no mistake, though, the state is arguably the leader in land off-limits to the general public thanks to leases and private game management programs. There are still a handful of landowners in a few parts of the state that will grant access to polite and respectful strangers. It's a long shot, so consider one of the state's 47 wildlife management areas.
Texas Parks and Wildlife
owns and manages over 714,000 acres of public hunting areas, many of which have good turkey populations. Most are open only through a lottery permit system, but that keeps pressure down and success rates up. Turkeys tend to be concentrated around creeks and rivers in much of the state.
Dates vary from March 21 to May 17, depending on region
Turkey numbers have fallen in Missouri and so have harvest numbers, but don't be fooled. With about 300,000 birds scattered throughout the state, Missouri remains a fantastic destination to punch your Eastern subspecies ticket.
The highest populations and harvest typically comes from the south-central region, but north-central and eastern Missouri also produce lots of birds. Thanks to a special sales tax, the Missouri Department of Conservation has been able to buy hundreds of tracts of land that are open to public hunting. The state arguably has the best public hunting program in the country.
Season dates: April 20-May 10
Photo courtesy of NWTF.
Hard to believe that wild turkeys can survive the tough winters typical of the upper Midwest, but the birds in Wisconsin have lived through deep snow, bitter cold and ice. In fact, they aren't just surviving, they are thriving. Turkeys inhabit all but the northern counties, with populations highest in the southern and western regions.
Public opportunities are abundant, but like any state with a strong hunting culture, they can be a bit crowded, particularly on opening day and weekends. Tags are available through a lottery and hunters are only allowed one bird per season, but there are often tags left over available for over-the-counter purchase.
Seasons: April 15-May 26 varies by zone
Photo courtesy of John Hafner/NWTF.
Montana doesn't often get much recognition for its turkey hunting, which is probably just fine with those who know how good it really is. Not only does it have strong populations in much of the southeastern part of the state, pockets of Merriam's thrive in much of central Montana. There are even huntable numbers in northwest Montana.
Non-resident tags are available over-the-counter for the eastern two-thirds of the state. Even better, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has great private land access through its Block Management Program. Southeastern Montana alone has 266 parcels of land covering a whopping 2.4 million acres.
Public Access: 10
Season: April 11-May 17
Photo courtesy of NWTF.
There's only one state where you can check off your Osceola, but Florida not only has an abundance of these unique birds, they have ample public opportunities. Osceolas inhabit nearly all of the state except the Panhandle and the southern tip.
However, urban sprawl is pushing the birds into smaller areas. Much of the private land is off-limits to strangers who aren't using a guide or to those who don't lease, but tens of thousands of acres of public land offer a good shot at a bird. Some areas are draw-only; others are open to anyone.
Big Cypress WMA covers more than 728,000 acres; Green Swamp WMA is over 50,000 acres; and Three Lakes WMA is more than 63,000 acres. Once you punch your tag, you can chase largemouth bass in any of the state's countless lakes.
Public Land: 8
Harvest: 20,000 (both species)
Season: March 7-April 26, depending on region and WMA
Photo courtesy of NWTF.
Few states can match Alabama for overall numbers of birds (450,000) and hunting opportunities. A long season, abundant public land (700,000 acres of WMAs) and a five-bird season bag limit makes this state a must-do for any traveling turkey hunter.
Statewide gobbling activity peaks about the third week of the season, but success rates are high from the beginning of the season to the end. Top regions include the northeastern corner of the state along with much of the central region, but the entire state has huntable populations of turkeys.
Public Land: 8
Season: March 14-April 30 (with exceptions)
Photo courtesy of Joe Blake/NWTF.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.