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M&J Outdoor Communications » Turkeys times three: The Washington State Mini-Slam


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Turkeys times three: The Washington State Mini-Slam

Two hunters, side-by-side, sit at the edge of a small clearing in among the scrub oak and pines. Thirty yards away, three big Merriams gobblers strut, looking for the hen they heard just seconds before. Slowly, the female portion of the hunting team pushes off the safety of her camouflaged pumpgun and makes a final adjustment.

The scene changes, and in the place of the scattered hardwoods, towering firs reach toward the sky - firs that at first light held a trio of gobblers, Eastern subspecies. Slightly below the roosted birds, the same duo prepares themselves for yet another duel.

And again, the stage changes. Rolling hills, and wheat as far as the eye can see, has replaced the timbered draws and ridgelines. At a distance of some 300 yards, the hunters watch through field glasses as two long-bearded Rio Grande gobblers strut in a grassy opening alongside a swift-running creek, unaware that plans - strategies, nonetheless - are being formulated on the rise above them.

Three different scenarios, and three different wild turkey subspecies. To the casual reader, it’s easy to assume that the states, like the birds themselves, changed from one stage to the next. Surprisingly enough, and fortunately for the country’s ever-growing contingent of fanatical turkey hunters, these settings aren’t thousands or even hundreds of miles apart, but are instead within two to three hours of each other.

And where might this turkey hunter’s Nirvana be, and by what name might it be called? Some would call it The Evergreen State, home to two different subspecies of elk and three varieties of deer, not to mention nine subspecies of Canada goose alone. Others know it simply as Washington . And the task for those who come to the Pacific Northwest , this Grail among turkey hunters? It’s known by the few either skilled or fortunate enough to have accomplished the feat as the Washington Mini-Slam - three gobblers, one season, one state.

It’s not every day that turkey hunters think of the Pacific Northwest , or the West at all for that matter, as a hotbed of turkey hunting activity. And while it’s true that the states of Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa - and who can forget Florida with its coveted Osceola subspecies and the Lone Star State, home to tremendous flocks of Rio Grandes - may be more synonymous with the word ‘turkey’ than Washington, there’s certainly no denying that The Evergreen State has something a little bit different going for it when the topic turns ’round to longbearded gobblers.

And what is this unique difference? At the time of this writing, Washington is the only state in the country that offers diehard turkey hunting enthusiasts the opportunity to harvest three of the nation’s four - five if one includes the Gould’s subspecies present in small populations in New Mexico and Arizona - subspecies of wild turkey during the course of one spring season, and all within the borders of the same state. While it’s true that other states such as Oregon, Idaho, and Texas all support populations of the Eastern, Merriams, and Rio Grande subspecies, only Washington permits the harvesting of three birds per spring season, or one of each of the subspecies available.

Today, the Evergreen State harbors wild turkeys where even five short years ago, the spine-chilling sound of a love-starved gobbler was something heard only on video tapes and instructional cassettes. What follows are but suggestions for those intrepid individuals in search of a jumping-off point, a place from which to begin their quest for Washington ’s Grail - the Mini-Slam.


West of Washington’s Cascade Range , the state’s population of the Eastern subspecies is slowly but surely growing into some very respectable numbers. Originally, Washington ’s Easterns came to be as the result of game-trades with the states of Missouri and Pennsylvania . Most recently, however, Washington purchased some 300 Easterns from the state of Iowa , and these birds have, over the past three years, been released into habitat deemed suitable by representatives of the national and state chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The problem with Washington ’s Eastern population is two-fold. First, the birds are still low enough in number as to make finding them among the literally hundreds of thousands of acres of rain forest-esque habitat difficult to say the least. And secondly, once found, the birds are often residing on private land that (1) already receives hunting pressure, or (2) will never receive any pressure as a result of unreceptive landowners. Hunting Easterns on Washington ’s Westside is not for the timid; however, the birds - and the challenge - are both certainly there.

However, there is good news for those seeking Easterns, and that is the fact that populations on the west slope of the Cascades are stable and in many areas increasing. Those searching for an audience with his chestnut-hued majesty might want to consider scouting the timber company lands along the Interstate 5 corridor in either Lewis or Thurston counties, as well as the company properties to the east of Castle Rock around the Silver Lake area ( Cowlitz County ). Easterns can also be found near Skookumchuck Reservoir located southeast of the town of Tenino in Thurston County , as well as in portions of Grays Harbor , Mason, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties.

What’s the key to successfully tagging one of the nation’s most coveted and challenging turkey trophies? A copy of the Washington Atlas & Gazetteer (Delorme Mapping, , a good set of boots, and a healthy pair of legs. Oh, and time. Lots and lots of scouting time.


Even while Washington ’s Eastern population certainly can’t be considered a dark cloud, the two shining stars in The Evergreen State’s wild turkey drama would without question be the Merriams and the Rio Grande subspecies. Found in south-central and eastern Washington , both of these western subspecies are doing what can only be called phenomenally in terms of reproduction and relocation. Neither subspecies, in fact no subspecies of wild turkey is native to Washington ; however, both the Merriams and the Rio Grande subspecies have adapted so well to portions of Washington that the state fish and wildlife department’s trapping and transfer program on the eastside works solely with native born and raised turkeys. Each winter, this program, with the help of state biologists and volunteers with the National Wild Turkey Federation, relocates hundreds of Merriams and Rios into suitable habitats where populations are either sparse or non-existent, and in doing so either creates new bloodlines or introduces new genetic material into already existing flocks. Any way one looks at it, Washington ’s turkey program is an incredible success story.

Although in years past Klickitat County and the Merriams subspecies have proved synonymous terms, this match made in heaven appears to be changing drastically, thanks in large part to the ability of the Merriams to adapt to a wide variety of environments. Today, good populations of Merriams exist in both Stevens and Ferry counties near the towns of Kettle Falls and Colville , as well as in portions of the nearby Okanogan and Colville national forests.

Rio Grandes

In recent years, the foothills of the Blue Mountains and in particular the Tucannon Valley have earned themselves the well-deserved reputation as a consistent producer of long-bearded gobblers. Much of the land along the Tucannon River itself is privately owned; however, hunters will find opportunities await within the nearby Umatilla National Forest , as well as several state-owned properties including among others the William T. Wooten and Asotin Creek wildlife areas. Hunters looking to fill their Rio tag may also want to give strong thought to several mornings spent in Lincoln County , particularly along or above any of the many drainages and tributaries to the Columbia and Spokane rivers north of the town of Davenport . Pressure can run high here, in part due to Davenport ’s proximity to Spokane ; however, hunters can work around this human activity by hunting mid-week, mid-day, or late season, any of which can be an excellent time to lure a love-starved longbeard.

Tips and tactics

Turkeys may be turkeys may be turkeys elsewhere, but in Washington , the birds on the Westside of the Cascade Range are different and definitely should be hunted differently than the Merriams and Rio Grandes found east of the mountains. And the reasons behind this side-to-side change? Weather, terrain, and most importantly, hunting pressure.

Considerably fewer in number than their Eastside cousins, western Washington’s Eastern wild turkey population inhabits some of the densest, most hunter non-friendly country found in the United States. Thick tangles of bracken fern, vine maple, hemlock, and Douglas fir often reduce visibility to distances measured in the single digits. Because of this tactical difficulty, hunters need to take extra care when deciding on a set-up location, and should to great pains to ensure that such a location provides the best in visibility and shooting lanes.

Weather, or more precisely, rain, plays a role, too. Gobblers have a tendency to stay on the roost longer and take more time coming to a call during periods of rainy or foggy weather, both of which describe practically the whole of the Westside Spring season. And finally, there’s hunting pressure. Because Westside Easterns are distributed in scattered groups up and down the Interstate 5 corridor, and because many of these flocks are relatively well-known and unfortunately, well publicized, hunting pressure is often quite high. This pressure, combined with the weather, calls for a very light, subtle approach, particularly in the realm of turkey calling. On the Westside, less is definitely better, and low volume almost always out-produces random blasts of turkey vocabulary.

If you go -

Hunters deciding to work on filling their western Washington tag with one of the state’s Easterns will definitely want to include a high-quality, quiet camouflage rainsuit in their clothing bag. Second only to the rain wear is a good, waterproof, and very comfortable pair of boots. Distances between birds can be great, even in the rain forest-esque topography of western Washington, and few things are capable of cutting a hunt short more quickly than an ill-fitting pair of boots and the subsequent sore dogs.

Calls, or more specifically, the type of turkey call you use can depend on which side of the Cascade Range your hunt takes place. Westside callers, as mentioned, will want a softer, subtler call, something like a quiet slate or slate-over-glass; however, some Westside situations may call for a high-pitched, cut through the timber sound. Under such conditions, I’ll turn to Primos’ Titanium 2000 friction call, an easy-to-use glass call that can be toned down for close-in work, but which also offers more than enough distance, pitch, and volume to make even those hard-of-hearing longbeards stand up and take notice. For Eastside Merriams and Rio Grandes, I’ll again use the Titan 2000, both for the distance the call provides as well as the call’s ability to buck the wind that always seems to be present east of the mountains.

Washington’s spring turkey season typically opens in mid-April and continues through mid-May; gobblers or birds with visible beards only. Hunters may take three birds per season, but only one bird daily. Of these three birds, one can be of the Eastern subspecies, a gobbler defined as having been harvested in western Washington (west of the Cascade Range). Two birds (Rio Grandes, Merriams, or one of each) may be harvested in Eastern Washington; however, only one bird may be taken from Chelan, Kittitas, or Yakima counties. Sound complicated? It’s really not; that is, once you’ve learned a little about Washington geography and know where the various county lines are.

If Washington turkey hunting were to have a downside, it might be - surprise! - for the non-resident. Actually, the non-resident’s wallet might be more precise. Out-of-staters are required to purchase either an annual small game license ($150) or a three-day tag ($18), both of which include one turkey tag. Additional turkey permits (up to three total) are available for $60 each, thus bringing the non-resident paperwork necessary for the Mini-Slam to a total of $270. Fortunately, all the required tags are available on an over-the-counter basis. Costly? Somewhat, but considering that a day at Walt Disney World with the family would run every bit of this and more, it becomes a little more of a bargain. Oh, and while Mickey Mouse may be surrounded by turkeys, I’m willing to bet he doesn’t rub elbows with three of the four subspecies!

For additional information on turkey hunting opportunities in The Evergreen State, hunters should write the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N, Olympia, WA 98501, or call 360-902-2200. Details and licensing information can also be obtained by going online at