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Rio Grande Wild Turkey are the second most populous subspecies with an estimated excess of 1 million birds stretching from Kansas to northern Mexico with established pockets of birds found as far north as the Dakotas, over through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah and in California, Oregon and Washington. Rios also offers great hunting on the big island of Hawaii. Many hunters regard the Rio as one of the “easiest” subspecies to hunt.
Because of the typically warm climate the bird lives in, Rios are similar in size to Osceolas, reaching close to 4 feet at maturity, but with disproportionately long legs. They are paler in color than the Osceola or Eastern and the tips of their tail feathers and the tail coverts are more of a creamy buff or tan color than the dark brown of the more eastern subspecies.
Rios tend toward more arid, open terrain than their eastern cousins and are also more gregarious, hanging out in larger flocks throughout the year. It is not uncommon to spot as many as 30 to 50 birds roosting together, even in the spring, and in flocks of hundreds in the winter.
Rios tend to roost in the same traditional spots year-in and year-out, frequently choosing the tallest trees along a creek bed or drainage. For that reason, you never want to hunt right off the roost, lest you risk spooking an entire flock from the area and ruining the hunting in that place for potentially years to come. Rather, set up at a distance from traditional roost sites and work birds as they begin to split away from the flocks.
Rios also tend to be more vocal, both on the roost and upon hitting the ground, so hunters should go prepared to call more aggressively. As already mentioned, Rios are also often considered one of the easier subspecies to hunt, but don’t let that fool you, as they are still wary like any turkey and can shut you down in a heartbeat.
Check It Out: Texas—The land is vast and so is the Rio’s range. While most of the best hunting is on privately leased ground, outfitted hunts are reasonable and worth the money for getting on this western-style hot gobbling actions
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Merriam’s Wild Turkey 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 Easterns, 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 Rios, 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 Easterns. 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.