Merriam’s turkey hunting is special for its beautiful mountain views and of course the bird with the white-tipped tail itself. Add to this the overall challenge of the hunts. Spring snows can factor in. High altitude. Dangerous cats and bears. Turkeys that walk miles from the roost. Steep mountain climbs up skinny elk and deer trails. Not to mention travel from where you are reading this now to where you need to go to hunt them. You earn that bird.
New Mexico has more Merriam’s than any other subspecies. Rio Grande gobblers and even Gould’s also roam here, adding to the appeal. And hunter pressure is low.
Where to go: Most mountain ranges in New Mexico support healthy numbers of Merriam’s gobblers. Some of the more popular areas for finding longbeards are the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico; the Gila National Forest out west, and the Zuni Mountains in Unit 10. The north-central regions hold turkeys as well.
Ask most turkey hunters where they should go for Merriam’s, and the answer is often “Wyoming.”
Where to go: According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, wild turkeys were originally introduced to Wyoming in 1935 when New Mexico traded nine hens and six toms in exchange for sage grouse. The initial release site was near Cottonwood Creek in western Platte County. Want to find them now? One of the most popular areas to hunt the Merriam’s wild turkey is the Black Hills region. Wyoming offers numerous walk-in areas, namely private ground that offers public-lease hunting rights. Properties in 14 counties provide this access and are often prime locations.
As with Wyoming, Montana originally transplanted Merriam’s wild turkeys to the state. Turkey relocation began in the 1950s, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The state falls outside the wild turkey’s ancestral range. Though it is not native to Montana, subsequent trapping and relocating to numerous sites distributed turkeys throughout the state.
Where to go: Hunters continually find success in the Long Pines and Ashland areas of Custer National Forest in the southeast (wildfires moved through the upper third of this habitat a handful of years ago). Other good places to check out are the Missouri River Breaks and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in central Montana, and within the Intermountain Valley Region out west.
Rapid City is often your flight destination and surely friendly to turkey hunters. This location offers easy access to these hunting spots.
Where to go: You have the famous Black Hills to the west, which cover over 2.3 million acres, three-quarters of which is public (mostly U.S. Forest Service land), and open for hunting. Spring turkey hunting in South Dakota also takes place on lottery-draw prairie units. Tribal lands offer opportunities, too.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife says Merriam’s population estimates are around 27,000 birds. Roughly 3,500 Rio Grande turkeys roost here as well.
Where to go: Merriam’s are the state’s primary species and are located west of Interstate 25, and along the southern portions of the Front Range. Overall, the population lives in some rugged country; their nomadic traits can really spread them out and test your patience and endurance. Western Colorado is covered in national forest, BLM, and state lands. Most turkeys live in these vast chunks of public ground, and annually about 25% of hunters find success there.
Realtree turkey hunting editor Steve Hickoff has chased gobblers all over the United States and Mexico. He was born and raised in northcentral Pennsylvania, and now makes his home in Maine. Hickoff was named the NWTF Tom Kelly Communicator of the Year for 2019, a prestigious award reflecting his longtime work promoting hunting and conservation as a turkey hunting writer, editor and book author.