The Eastern Wild Turkey - Subspecies

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The Eastern Wild Turkey - Subspecies

by Doug Howlett

Easterns: A Tried and True Adventure

Eastern Gobblers
Photo by: Author
The Eastern subspecies is by far the most numerous and wide ranging. Located throughout the Eastern half of the United States, this subspecies is found throughout New England and southern Canada down to Florida and west to Texas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota. It has also been successfully transplanted to pockets of terrain along the West Coast. It’s found in 38 states and five Canadian provinces. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Eastern populations are estimated to exceed 5 million birds making it by far the most populous subspecies.

Since it ranges the farthest north, Easterns can grow to be among the heaviest and largest of any of the subspecies. The tips of the Eastern’s tail feathers are a dark chocolate brown as are the coverts (the smaller feathers that cover the base of the fan.) Other body feathers are iridescent with a metallic, copper or bronze hue. Primary wing feathers sport black and white barring.

Because Easterns range throughout the more populous half of the United States and Canada, it’s no surprise that, as a subspecies, it also undergoes the most hunting pressure. This makes certain populations of Easterns some of the most wary and challenging to hunt, particularly in longtime turkey hunting strongholds such as Alabama, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Missouri.  

Hunters Glassing on Rock
Photo by: Author
Easterns range from flat, sea-level terrain to high mountains and steep ridges of the Appalachians in West Virginia, the Ozarks in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas and even the Adirondacks of New York. Hunters need to be as adaptable as the terrain, using it to get close to a tom before setting up and calling. Because much of their habitat is rich in food sources, Easterns don’t tend to congregate in flocks as large as those witnessed among Rio Grande Wild Turkey and Merriam’s Wild Turkey populations out West. In the early season, toms will hang with small flocks of hens before breeding them and moving on in search of more. When still flocked up, hunters may want to focus on aggressive calling that can get a boss hen fired up and agitated. Such a hen will typically seek out the hunter pulling the rest of the flock, including the gobbler, along with her. Later in the season, as hens are sitting on nests, lone gobblers are easier to find, though hunting pressure and the waning drive to breed, makes them more wary to calling.

Check It Out: Missouri—While bad hatches have strained populations since their heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the rolling pastures and hardwood lots of northern Missouri, as well as the challenging, yet remote terrain of the state’s southern Ozarks still make the entire state a turkey hunting heaven.

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