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Merriam’s Turkeys - The Straight Scoop

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As an old gray beard turkey hunter that likes to travel, I have had the good fortune to hunt Merriam’s turkeys in NE, CO, WY, SD and MT. One thing that I have found is that there is NO AREA in ANY STATE where 100% of the birds exhibit pure white lower back covert feathers or pure white tipped tail feathers.When I worked for NWTF, we would have an annual group of 25 hunters hunt in SE Montana - far from any Rios or easterns and without exception, around 20% of the birds would be what we called buff colored and the rest were varying shades of white. These were pure strain Merriam’s and not hybrids. Please note the following quote from NWTF’s Bulletin #4 about Merriam’s turkeys. “The Merriam’s appears to have a white rump due to its pinkish, buff, or whitish tail coverts and tips.” I pass along this information because I get many inquiries from hunters looking to hunt where the birds are pure white, but in reality, there is no such place due to the genetic makeup of the Merriam’s sub-species.

The problem that arises, especially in Nebraska, is that outfitters are selling turkey hunts as Merriam’s hunts when in fact they are hybrid hunts. Case in point, I killed a gobbler near Stuart, Nebraska and it looked as Rio Grande as a Texas bird. Every bird I saw there looked like a Rio. This makes sense because in the late 1950’s Rios were the sub-species transplanted there. I then drove northwest and hunted near Valentine, Nebraska and killed a gobbler there that was a dark buff color. The other birds in that flock were whiter than the one I shot but I chose the strutter. There was an obvious lean toward Merriam’s coloration in the 75 miles between these two towns. When I drove further west near Chadron, Nebraska, the birds there were pure strain Merriam’s and exhibited typical Merriam’s coloration of mostly white with some buffs mixed in.

In closing, all of the Merriam’s hunts I offer are in areas that are pure strain Merriam’s. This is based on the NWTF sub-species distribution map and my personal experience. I take the responsibility of helping my clients obtain their slams seriously and realize a pure strain Merriam is needed to complete a slam.