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Ultimate Guide • Updated Tue, Feb 27, 2024

Ultimate Guide to the Subspecies of Wild Turkey

Among the most popular game in the world to hunt is wild turkey. Alluring, challenging, and mysterious, these birds offer a difficult yet rewarding hunting experience that has been a tradition for many years. American wild turkeys are divided into 5 main subspecies depending on the region your hunt is taking place. No matter which subspecies you’re targeting, make the most of your hunt with an AnyCreek guide today.

This article covers:

Wild Turkey Hunting Overview

Native to the North American continent, the wild turkey was the largest nesting bird residing when European immigrants arrived. The population slowly diminished until after World War II when significant restoration efforts took place led by the federal and U.S. state governments. Since then, it has continued to be a traditional pastime and more popular sport in recent years. Wild turkey hunting has developed into a refined science, with new technologies like box calls and decoys to assist in the hunting process. For more on the science behind turkey hunting, check out our interview with distinguished professor and biologist Dr. Michael Chamberlain.

Setting up a decoy for a hunt near Chiefland, Florida. Courtesy of Florida Outdoor Experience.

Before the hunt, you’ll need to gear up properly. If you’re going with an experienced AnyCreek guide, most will bring decoys and calls for your trip. However, you may need your own hunting permit, hunting attire, and more. In any case, we will get you set up for your first outing this season. 



Wild turkeys have remarkable eyesight, making it imperative for hunters to minimize any detectable movements during their pursuit. To increase your chances of success, select an appropriate camouflage pattern tailored to the specific terrain you're hunting in. Make sure your camouflage blends seamlessly with the surroundings. Additionally, consider utilizing natural features such as foliage or terrain contours to further mask your movements and ensure a stealthy approach while hunting wild turkeys.

Guns and Bows

In many states, hunters have the option of employing shotguns, muzzleloaders, or bows to pursue turkeys. Modern advancements in turkey loads and specialized chokes have significantly expanded the effectiveness of both 12 and 20-gauge shotguns in hunting turkeys, providing hunters with a wider range of firearm choices.

For bows, a traditional, cross, or compound bow is commonly used. As most turkey hunting takes place seated or lying down, make sure the bow you choose is comfortable for you to operate. If you are hunting from a blind, make sure you’ve taken into consideration the space around you and are capable of drawing back your bow. 


For beginners, a box call often proves the simplest tool for achieving consistent sounds. However, there's a wide array of calls available, including diaphragm or mouth calls, pot and striker calls crafted from materials like glass or slate, box calls, wingbone calls, and many others. Each call type requires varying levels of practice to master. It's advisable to start with just one call; it doesn't have to be the priciest option, but investing in a good quality call is essential. 

Begin by learning the basic sounds such as clucks, purrs, putts, and yelps. As your proficiency grows, you can explore more advanced sounds and techniques, honing your ability to create dynamic calls that keep the turkeys engaged and responsive. You can always ask your guide on what is best for your day of hunting.

Eastern Wild Turkey


Often referred to generally as the “wild turkey”, the Eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) is the most common species found in the U.S. and eastern Canada. Known for their size and large plumes, this subspecies always makes for an exciting hunting experience. 

Habitat and Range

Eastern wild turkeys are the most abundant subspecies east of the Mississippi River. These birds inhabit every state east of Texas, with additional population transplants by the U.S. government in California, Washington, and Oregon. This turkey relies on habitat diversity, necessitating a mix of forested regions and open grasslands to fulfill its needs. This species demonstrates adaptability in foraging, consuming a varied diet comprising green foliage, insects, grass, forb seeds, as well as acorns and nuts.

Unique Features

These turkeys have black and white bars on their wings and brown-tipped tail feathers. Adult males can weigh between 18 and 30 pounds, whereas females usually weigh between 8 and 12 pounds. These birds are known to have the strongest gobble and the longest beards out of all 5 subspecies. Both toms (males) and hens (females) have sparsely feathered heads and bare legs which transition from red to pink. Toms grow a spur on their leg as they grow older – a long talon used to establish dominance – whereas hens grow a smaller, blunted spur. Hens are also known to grow beards occasionally, but not as prominent as toms.

The Eastern wild turkey and Rio Grande wild turkey are often confused with one another. The distinction between Eastern and Rio Grande wild turkeys lies in the coloration of the tips of their tail feathers and upper tail coverts, which are the feathers covering the base of the tail. In Rio Grande wild turkeys, these feather tips exhibit a buff or tan hue, while Eastern wild turkeys display dark brown tips.

Tips for Hunting

Hunting Eastern wild turkeys is commonly done by locating a roosting tom first. They will often scratch and feed in forested areas before moving to a field. The edges of these two environments are great places to start your hunt.

Osceola Wild Turkey

An Osceola wild turkey near Chiefland, Florida. Courtesy of Florida Outdoor Experience.

The Osceola wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo osceola), known for its elusiveness and distinct, vibrant features, is the perfect turkey species for hunters seeking a challenge. This species is difficult to hunt, but worth the endeavor when hunted. Named after famous Seminole Chief Osceola, this bird can only be found within inland Florida.

Habitat and Range

Florida is the exclusive habitat for this species, with an estimated population of 100,000 within the state. They mostly reside within the Florida peninsula but can venture to the Florida-Georgia line and panhandle on occasion. Their habitat changes based on the season, though when nesting they are found usually in 3-foot-high vegetation. Once poults (young turkeys) are hatched, they venture towards shorter vegetation for insects. In the fall and winter, Osceolas roost in cypress or pine trees and can be found in wooded areas.

Unique Features

Osceola turkeys exhibit unique traits, sporting dark-brown tips on their tail feathers and mostly black wings punctuated by tiny white bands. Adult males typically weigh approximately 20 pounds, while females range from 8 to 12 pounds. Their long legs support them in the uneven terrain of Florida, with very long spurs as an additional feature. Compared to eastern wild Turkeys, Osceolas have a shorter beard length which is one way to distinguish easily between the two. Osceolas also emit the strongest gobbles.

Tips for Hunting

Osceolas are renowned as the toughest subspecies to call in, making the pursuit a true test of a hunter's skill. They are generally elusive and do not draw attention to themselves in their habitat, so knowing their nesting patterns is key. Florida’s Osceola hunting season begins in January and ends in May, but always be aware of local regulations as they do change.

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

A Rio Grande wild turkey perched on the banks of the river. Courtesy of GizmoPhoto.

Known for its specific habitat in the plains of the central United States, the Rio Grande wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia) is a common target for turkey hunters. Named after the river it resides by, this turkey looks like a combination of the eastern wild and Merriam’s wild turkey due to its plume pattern and beard length. 

Habitat and Range

Rio Grande wild turkeys are primarily found in the western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. These birds can also be found in the more tropical areas of Texas and Mexico. Rio Grande wild turkeys are nomadic, traveling as much as 10 miles from where they roost in the winter to where they reside in the spring. These birds prefer brush or vegetation near streams and rivers in the spring and summer, and valleys or tall trees to roost in during the fall and winter. Males are also known to roost in man-made structures like windmills or power lines.

Unique Features

Similar in weight to the Osceola, these birds boast tan-colored tail feathers and an equal distribution of black and white barring on their wings. They have moderate gobbles, beard lengths, and spur lengths compared to other subspecies.

Tips for Hunting

While not as elusive as the Osceola, the Rio Grande presents its own set of challenges, particularly in the rugged terrain of the western states. The habitats of these birds are often hard to access, though they travel in flocks during the winter, making them easier to spot. A common practice to lure these turkeys is to mimic the call of the hen to attract the toms.

Merriam’s Wild Turkey

A Merriam's wild turkey in its habitat. Courtesy of westerphotographs.

Merriam’s wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) is renowned for their uniquely-colored feathers and is a prime target for hunters. Residing in higher elevations, this turkey is known for being elusive and can access habitats hard to reach for hunters. 

Habitat and Range

In the mountainous regions of the West, Merriam's wild turkey reigns supreme. They are primarily found in the Rocky Mountains and high prairies and mesas of the southwest. Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico are the primary states for this species, but populations have also been introduced in Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and California. They typically reside in ponderosa pine forests in the winter for roosting, but in the summer they venture to the prairies and river valleys for food.

Unique Features

With snow-white tips on their tail feathers and a predominantly white wing pattern, these birds exhibit striking visuals against the backdrop of their rocky habitat. Ranging from 18 to 30 pounds for males and 8 to 12 pounds for females, Merriam's turkeys boast the weakest gobbles among the subspecies, as well as the shortest beards and spurs.

Tips for Hunting

Hunters must navigate the rugged terrain and master the art of their call to lure in these majestic birds. Start by looking for ponderosa pine trees and then venture towards sloped areas where they commonly hang out in the day and evening. Due to the rough terrain they inhabit, your call will carry much farther than normal.

Gould’s Wild Turkey


For those seeking a unique hunting experience, Gould's wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana) offers a classic experience. This is the least known of the 5 subspecies of wild turkey but offers a unique opportunity as the largest of them all. Most hunts for these turkeys take place at elevations up to 8000 feet, offering breathtaking views and unique landscapes to hunt in.

Habitat and Range

Limited to Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico, the Gould's population is relatively small – with less than 1000 total. They often reside in sloped areas of moderate to high elevations, and seek wooded areas in the winter. In the summer, they venture into more open spaces, scrounging for insects and food with their newly hatched poults.

Unique Features

Sporting long legs akin to the Osceola, these birds feature light-colored tail feathers and moderate wing coloration which resemble Merriam’s feather pattern. Though Merriam’s and Gould’s wild turkeys are found in the same habitat, Gould’s are visually larger which helps when distinguishing between the two.

Tips for Hunting

This species is often the final species for hunters going for a royal slam — a successful hunting of all 5 turkey species. With moderate gobbles, beard lengths, and spur lengths, Gould's turkeys present a balanced challenge, rewarding those who venture into their remote habitats with a truly memorable hunt. Begin your hunt at the border of a wooded area with an open field in the spring or summer, and begin your call early in the day. This species is fickle but can be mimicked and drawn in with patience.

Wild Turkey Hunting Regulations

Understanding the regulations pertaining to the species you intend to hunt is crucial. Conducting research on your state’s Department of Natural Resources website can empower you with knowledge of pertinent regulations. Questions such as shooting times—whether before sunrise or after sunset—and the permissible duration post-sunset for shooting are best answered directly from authoritative sources. 

Each state establishes its own hunting seasons and bag limits based on scientific data and harvest statistics. Whether pursuing small game or wild turkeys, familiarize yourself with the season dates and bag limits set forth by your state's wildlife agency.

In the past, wild turkey hunting primarily occurred during the fall season. However, with the introduction of spring seasons, fall turkey hunting saw a decline in popularity. As turkey populations have rebounded and stabilized, many states have reintroduced fall turkey seasons. Presently, over 40 states offer a fall season, but it's essential to refer to local regulations or utilize resources like Spring and Fall Hunt Guides for guidance.

Depending on a hunter's age, completing hunter safety education may be a prerequisite for purchasing hunting licenses. Some states may offer apprentice licenses as an alternative for first-time hunters, provided they are accompanied by a licensed mentor. Before purchasing your license and heading out to hunt, ensure you understand the educational requirements by visiting the International Hunter Education Association.

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Field to Table

Bringing your hunt home is an adventure of its own, but a good recipe can make all the difference to combat the tenderness of wild turkey meat. For a fresh take on Barbacoa, try our Wild Turkey Barbacoa recipe. The sweet flavors of banana leaves mixed with the spice of adobo and chiles are a complementary combination for your fresh turkey.

Booking a Wild Turkey Hunting Trip With AnyCreek

After a successful day's hunt in northern Florida. Courtesy of Florida Outdoor Experience.

When planning your next turkey hunting excursion, start your journey with AnyCreek. We’ll connect you with the best hunting guides so that you have on-the-ground guidance throughout your planning process. You can chat with your guide anytime before your trip by using AnyCreek’s Chat Feature, located under your ‘Account Info’ tab on our website. Be sure to check the local forecast before you start packing to ensure you’re prepared. Happy hunting!

Frequently Asked Questions about Wild Turkeys

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