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Wild Turkey!

This past weekend marked the opening of spring Turkey season, with the first opening day beginning March 5th for hunters in South Florida. Seasons across the country follow soon after, so it’s time to start getting your gear in order and ready for the woods! Wild turkey is a uniquely North American Species, found in six Canadian provinces and all lower 48 United States as well as in Hawaii, where turkey was introduced in the early 1960s. Additionally, one subspecies, the Ocellated turkey, is only found in a small area of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. There are six total subspecies: Eastern, Osceola (Florida), Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and Ocellated. Hunting turkey helps to control populations and maintain natural caution of people, not to mention they make great field to table meals. A large, wary bird, the turkey has excellent eyesight and hearing. Despite its size, it can quickly take to wing to escape predators and can also disappear as quickly on foot. They are omnivorous, eating nuts and berries, such as acorns, and juniper berries, plus insects and occasionally small amphibians or reptiles, such as lizards. 

The wild turkey is one of seven groups of large upland ground birds in the Phasianidae family that include pheasants, partridges, junglefowl, chickens, Old World quail, peafowl, grouse and guineafowl. Phasianids are mostly an Old World family, with distribution throughout most of Europe and Asia (excluding the far north), all of Africa (excluding the driest desserts) and much of eastern Australia and New Zealand. Several species, such as pheasants, have been widely introduced around the world. 

Did you know that biologist have found wild turkey develop their own chain of command each fall that can greatly influence their spring activity?  Those of us who spend time afield often see groups of young turkey and several females traveling together. These flocks are made up of hens and their offspring and occurs around seven to eight weeks of age.  Everyone has an order that starts with mom (mother hen) all the way down the line. When hens start integrating with other hens the adult female pecking order has already been established from the previous year so, the young turkey must establish their own rank withing the new flock. This is an important task as once a rank is established it is set for life. Rank only changes with either more fights, or death. This order is important for a few reasons; like most wildlife, social rank dictates access to resources, including access to reproductive activities.  Males will typically fight in groups and sibling males take on other sibling males to establish dominance before breeding season. However, the head female turkey has the final say selecting the most dominate male out of the dominate sibling group.  Thus, rank in the social group of wild turkey may be part of the equation, resulting in more young turkey being born.   

Turkey makes both a great start to hunting and a challenge to seasoned hunters; no animal will test your stealth and patience like a wild turkey! Safari Club International encourages all hunters to get outdoors this spring, introduce a friend to the ways of turkey hunting, and enjoy the wildlife you have the freedom to hunt. Hunters are the leaders in conservation, management, and research of wildlife; go out and reap the rewards!   

Turkey Season Openers 

March 5-19: Florida 

March 15-19: Texas & Mississippi 

March 22-26: Alabama, California, South Carolina, & Nevada 

April 1-2: Wyoming, Louisiana, Georgia, & Tennessee 

April 4-9: Colorado, North and South Dakota, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, & District of Columbia  

April 10-16: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, & Kentucky  

April 18-25: Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, & New Jersey 

April 25-30: Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, & Massachusetts 

May 1-2: Utah, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, & Maine 

March 1- April 15: Hawai’i Island 

A slam is considered one of the biggest feats in turkey hunting. A hunter must harvest each species or subspecies of wild turkey listed under one of the six recognized slams in turkey hunting to complete a slam. If you want to test your turkey hunting skills and abilities, aim to complete one or all six slams.  

The Slams 

Grand Slam– will take you around the country, chasing each of the four U.S. subspecies (Easter, Osceola or Florida, Rio Grande and (Merriam’s) 

Royal Slam– The Grand Slam plus the Gould’s (found in Mexico and limited areas of the (Southwest) 

World Slam– Royal Slam plus the ocellated wild turkey (found in Mexico and Central America) 

Canadian Slam– Harvesting the Eastern and Merriam’s in any Canadian province (Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, or British Colombia) 

Mexican Slam– Rio Grande, Gould’s and ocellated wild turkey harvested in Mexico only  

U.S. Super Slam– Harvest one wild turkey subspecies in every state except Alaska  

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