Discerning turkey hunters have ample opportunity to hunt the frosty whitetip Merriam’s that call the vast expanses of the Rocky Mountains home, if they know where to look. But because of the variable and often rugged terrain that Merriams inhabit, successfully hunting them requires slightly different tactics than would be used on their close relatives found in other parts of the country. In fact, hunting Merriam’s turkeys is a lot like big game hunting in the West, and one outing, successful or not, offers hunters the chance to hone both sets of skills.
Many turkey hunting tactics apply no matter what part of the country or what subspecies you’re hunting, but not all. Below are five tips aimed specifically at chasing the eye-catching Merriam’s of the West Mountain.
big game hunting
The Merriam’s subspecies, one of five subspecies of wild turkey in the US, can be found in most western states from as far north as South Dakota to Arizona and New Mexico. Start your search by focusing on the states and areas where you already have an interest in big game hunting; that way you can get double the benefit of any research and time in the field. Once you’ve chosen a location, visit the appropriate fishing and hunting websites and look up season dates, available units and tags (where applicable), and even success rates from previous years.
While a fan of mounted turkeys may not make as bold a statement as a rack of elk in their den, the effort you put into planning and preparing for the Merriam hunt can directly correlate to your future success. Don’t be afraid to make a call to your local biologist or ranger and find out what opportunities are available in your region. You can’t expect to be given a secret spot, but most will be more than willing to give you a good idea of the number of birds, the opportunities on public land, and the success hunters often experience.
Never underestimate the benefits of browsing from home via your cell phone or computer; I now consider it a must for any upcoming hunt, regardless of what game you’re after. With an area selected for Merriam’s, whether it’s an entire game drive or a private parcel, survey the land from above using an Internet mapping service such as Google Earth. You are looking for three key geographic features. First, look for stream bottoms that appear to have large aspen-type trees. Not only do these places provide drinking water, but aspen trees offer a safe place to rest nearby. Next, you’ll want to look for clearings or openings near these resting trees at the bottom of the creek. Unlike other parts of the country, the Merriam Mountains generally don’t have an agricultural field to fly in, and will instead seek out a natural area to strut their stuff. Consideration should be given to any location that offers a wide field of view, where a gobbler can call and be seen by chickens. Lastly, you’ll want to look for areas that combine these features with the magic of being as far away from access roads as possible. On private land it may not be a problem, but you can always count on dealing with outside pressure when hunting on public land. Staying off the roads will increase the chance of being the only one hunting a particular flock of birds.
spend time behind glass
As with any western big game game, a quality binocular and spotting scope can be a great asset in locating Merriam’s turkeys. Find a good vantage point and arrive early to listen to the timpani sounding from their resting trees. Once the sun is out, carefully assess turkeys as they fly out of the coop, strut in clearings, or move through transition areas. If you’re scouting before mating season begins, remember that wherever hens are found, the toms are sure to follow.
Like deer and elk, turkeys, regardless of their subspecies, are creatures of habit. When possible, watch birds from a distance for a few days or more to study their habits and daily routines. Left undisturbed, these birds will return to the same tree where they roost, strut in the same clearings, and use the same paths each day to and from their food sources. This information will be invaluable when trying to outsmart a wary tom out in the open.
Adapt your tactics
Everyone dreams of a passionate longbeard who struts and drums his way to the lure, lifting his neck with mere steps, but no matter what you’ve seen or heard, or how much you learn from the advice above, it’s always more easy to say. What is done? With so many variables out of our control (weather, birds, predators, other hunters), we must be willing to adapt to our environment and use different tactics when appropriate.
Stalking turkey may not be the traditional way of doing things, but like mule deer hunting, the ability to get up and move can be a very successful tactic when hunting turkeys in the west.
Just like you would with a herd of elk, if the birds are upset or unresponsive, use the topography to your advantage and close the distance. While wind and odor won’t be a factor, it goes without saying that turkeys have superhuman eyesight, and sneaking within effective range of a shotgun in a flock of turkeys will test your abilities to spot and stalk, providing information. value that will make you a better deer and elk hunter come fall.
Of course, if you’ve done your homework and studied the habits of a particular herd, you should be able to make a move and position yourself for an ambush along your daily path, increasing the likelihood that an unsuspecting tom will walk right into you. your lap.
An immense amount of patience may be the single most important factor contributing to successful hunting in the West, no matter what species you are hunting. Be patient with yourself, the birds, and those around you, and the opportunities will follow. Always be a stalwart student of the quest and be open to trying new tactics. Pure Merriam’s turkeys are not around every tree, nor can they be found in every drain. But with a little determination and a lot of patience, you can have the full western hunting experience in pursuit of these incredible mountain birds.