Merriam's Wild Turkey - Subspecies

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Merriam's Wild Turkey - Subspecies

by Doug Howlett

Photo by: Author
Merriam’s Wild Turkey

Merriam’s historically have been the most isolated of the subspecies, its original range thought to fall within Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. It has successfully expanded to suitable habitat and is now hunted in Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, California and parts of Canada.

Merriam’s are most readily identified by their snowy white coverts and tail feather tips. It approaches the same size as Eastern Wild Turkey, but is blacker in color. Because of the more rugged terrain and weather it must endure—due to primarily inhabiting rocky, higher altitude—it rarely grows long spurs. Beards even seldom get longer than 8 inches. To confirm that a Merriam’s tom is an adult, observe if its tail feathers are the same length when strutting. A jake’s middle feathers will extend farther than the others.

Merriam’s migrate farther than other subspecies with movements as far as 40 miles not uncommon depending on food and snow amounts. Flocks into the hundreds gang up around western farm yards during the winter, but usually disperse to higher ground as spring breeding arrives, though some will linger close to the safety and food of farms.

Because Merriam’s thrive in higher typically mountainous terrain, hunters must be fit in order to navigate the steep hillsides. Like Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Merriam’s will roost along the tall trees of creeks, making them easy to pinpoint in open country, but tough to hunt once they are in the open. Merriam’s gobblers are unlikely to loaf around one block of woods or pasture like turkeys back East, but rather will cover lots of ground in the course of a day, returning to their roosting areas in the late afternoon. Birds frequenting ranch yards will return to feed and strut in the afternoon, making the creeks and wood lines that feed these areas perfect ambush points.

Merriam’s, as a species, generally receive less hunting pressure, thus, like Rios, they are considered by some sportsmen to be easier to kill than Eastern Turkey. The open, windy country makes loud calls a necessity, which bodes well for hunters who like to use box calls or who can produce a lot of volume with a diaphragm or glass pot-and-peg.

Check It Out: Wyoming—From the Black Hills westward, huge flocks of Merriam’s can be found among littered stands of ponderosa pine and rock strewn creek beds. Tags are fairly easy to come by whether by draw or as leftovers, and a hunter has ample options to go outfitted or do it on his own on public land. 

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