Welcome to the National Wild Turkey Federation where sharing our passion of hunting wild turkeys with new hunters is part of the mission. The NWTF’s Turkey Hunting 101 is considered the premier educational tool to learn everything you need to know about wild turkeys, their behavior and planning a successful hunt, and we’ve compiled all that information here.
Below, you will find basic information on preparing to hunt wild turkeys and links to more detailed articles on different aspects of learning to hunt and more advanced hunting techniques. From choosing your first camo, call and gun to finding like-minded hunters, this site has you covered.
Turkeys are intelligent wild animals that are wary of humans. Their keen eyesight makes up for their lack of smell and they can detect even the slightest amount of movement, so hunting them is challenging. We encourage you to learn all you can before hitting the woods to begin your turkey hunting adventures– a safe and successful hunt depends on it.
There are two wild turkey species, the Ocellated turkey of Central America and the North American wild turkey. The five subspecies of the American wild turkey are Eastern, Merriam’s, Gould’s, Rio Grande and Osceola.
Easterns are the most widely distributed subspecies east of the Mississippi River. They are also the most abundant. They can be found in 38 states and numerous Canadian provinces. They are characterized by chestnut-brown tips on their tail feathers and white and black bars on their wings. Adult males or toms weigh 18-30 pounds while females or hens typically weigh in around 8 to 12 pounds. Eastern toms have what is considered the strongest gobbles of all subspecies. They also tend to have the longest beards of all the subspecies.
Florida or Osceola
Osceolas are only found in Florida. They are characterized by dark-brown tips on their tail feathers, mostly black wing feathers with very small bands of white. Adult males typically weigh around 20 pounds while the females weigh around 8 to 12 pounds. These turkeys have long legs, strong gobbles and very long spurs, while their beards are usually shorter than their Eastern counterparts. They are considered among hunters to be the toughest species to call into range.
Rios concentrate in the western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and other western states. Mexico also has a healthy population. They are characterized by tan-colored tips on their tail feathers, equal black and white barring on wing feathers and moderate gobbles and beards. Adult males weigh around 20 pounds while their female counterparts weigh around 8 to 12 pounds.
Merriam’s are the most abundant in the mountainous regions of the West. The Rocky Mountains are considered the central hub of the population. They are characterized by light-colored tips on their tail feathers with more white and less black on their wing feathers. Adult males weigh around 18 to 30 pounds, and the females weigh around 8 to 12 pounds. They are considered to have the weakest gobble of all the subspecies and have short to moderate beard lengths.
Gould’s are only found in Arizona, New Mexico and the Sierra Madres of Mexico. Population wise, Gould’s are few. They are characterized by snow-white tips on their tail feathers with long legs. Adult males weigh around 18 to 30 pounds while the females weigh around 12 to 14 pounds. These wild turkeys have moderate gobbles and beard lengths.
Ocellated turkeys are found in about a 50,000-square-mile area in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, northern Belize and the El Peten region of northern Guatemala. These beautiful birds are characterized by their unmistakable rainbow-like iridescent feathering and grey tail feathers that feature blue and gold tips. Adult males weigh around 11 or 12 pounds, and females weigh around 6 to 7 pounds, making them the smaller of the species. They have a unique, high-pitched “gobble,” usually referred to as signing, that is preceded by a hollow drumming sound. The adult males also are known for longspurs. However, unlike the male North American wild turkeys, male Ocellated turkeys do not have beards.
Identifying sex and age of turkeys.
It is important to learn how to distinguish between adult toms and younger jakes, as well as knowing the difference between male and female turkeys. It sounds simple, but when you are out hunting, the differences may be less noticeable, especially from a distance.
Adult male turkeys are typically larger in size and more colorful than their female counterparts, with colors of red, white and blue being noticeable on their head and neck. A male turkey’s feathers also will be closer to black and have a more vibrant sheen, while a hen turkey will generally be more brown in appearance. Do not assume a bird is a male if it has a beard– about 10 percent of hens also can have beards.