The Holy Grail of turkey hunting across the United States is to harvest a Grand Slam, which consists of one of each of the four U.S subspecies – Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam’s. One of the best things about living in Oklahoma is that you can harvest ¾ of those subspecies right here in the Sooner State.
The National Wild Turkey Federation technically recognizes six different “slams” (Oklahoma not being one of them). By harvesting and recording your hunt with the NWTF, you can get a certificate and be listed on their website.
The “slams” recognized by the NWTF are:
Grand Slam — All four U.S. Subspecies (Eastern, 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
So how do you tell the difference between these different subspecies?
The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is represented in Oklahoma by three subspecies: Eastern, Rio Grande and Merriam’s, all are technically the same species, but color differences have distinguished them apart. Hybridization is possible where their ranges overlap.
While found mostly East of the Mississippi river, populations of Eastern turkeys are found in 38 states, making them the most abundant subspecies in the U.S. Oklahoma’s current population of Eastern wild turkeys is within a range much smaller than it was originally. Generally confined to the rugged mountains of southeast and far eastern Oklahoma, the population status of this subspecies is considered less stable than its western Oklahoma cousin.
Distinguished by its chestnut-brown tips on the tail feathers and a larger size, adult males can approach 30-pounds. This subspecies also features longer, thicker beads than the others.
Rio Grande turkeys are more of a dryer weather bird, making it ideally suited for Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico. A strong population of this subspecies is also found South of the border in Mexico, hence the name.
This subspecies inhabits a much wider range than it did originally, partly because these birds were more available than Eastern turkeys during the era of restorations. They were able to adapt easily, reproduce successfully and expand quickly all through the west, crosstimbers areas and finally into the hill country of mid-eastern Oklahoma. Today, populations are stable and trap and transplant operations are seldom used.
Rios are smaller than Eastern birds and feature buff-tan tips on the tail feathers. They typically have shorter beards and spurs than their eastern cousins. Males will generally be around 20-punds fully grown.
Technically the Merriam’s turkey does not have a large population in Oklahoma, but the panhandle of the state does support Merriam’s and Merriam’s/Rio Grande hybrids.
Merriam’s are more of a mountain turkey, with snow-white tips on the tail feathers. The males are good size, but the females are much smaller. Males tend to have shorter beards and spurs than the other subspecies.