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Are Wild Turkeys Considered Upland Game?

Are Wild Turkeys Considered Upland Game?

A hunter looking for wild turkey in traditional ruffed grouse habitat.

In the scientific sense, wild turkeys are upland game; but in the cultural sense, that’s another story

There are truly two versions of this question of wild turkeys, one in the cultural sense and the other in the legal sense. Legal sounds very uptight but meant in state law standards, as most states list wild turkeys as upland game. They are in fact part of Phasianidae family, which is home to our beloved grouse species, chukar and even ring-necked pheasant. Many of us have seen the ruffed grouse behave like an old strutter with just as much confidence (and no turkeys do not effect ruffed grouse populations). But in the cultural sense, wild turkeys are in essence part of a very different world than the upland community.

We first asked this question when we created the brand Morning Thunder. Should the world of turkeys live in a community like Project Upland? Sure, plenty of us are die-hard turkey hunters, but we all know how different the pursuit, culture, and turkey world is.

There would be a tendency to start by pointing out the difference of our dog-obsessed world that for many has become the core reason for our pursuit. But a little digging and we find that many fall seasons have inspired dog cultures that, although maybe a little more obscure, are just as passionate. The idea of breaking a flock up with a dog and the patience for that said dog to stay still as the birds come back into an assembly call is something to be admired. Not my dog.

But many of us upland hunters are opportunists in the truest sense in those fall days. I’ve heard many stories of wild turkeys shot on the wing on bird hunts, by-products of different targets. Many even puddle jump ducks, adding to the lack of discrimination when it comes to our feathered obsessions. We can even take it one step further for those of us who also shoot fur with our dogs.

Nevertheless, turkey hunting with a dog is still worlds away.

Close up detail of an Eastern wild turkey

I am sure that by the idea of creating the brand Morning Thunder you would come to conclude that we deemed turkey hunters in a world of their own. But I dare not say that too loudly, as most (if not all) of our upland game deserve platforms of their own. The Northerners and even southern Appalachia grouse folk that tend to have a strong streak of nostalgia would love a brand like Project Grouse (not happening, sorry). Or the Southern culture of the gentleman bobwhite. Maybe the hardcore chukar hunters of the West, or even the legions of pheasant hunters in the prairie.

In fact, many of these species-specific things have inspired species-specific platforms like the non-profit Ruffed Grouse Society or American Woodcock Society. Or take a podcast like UpChukar that has a focus on the unique culture of chukar hunting in the United States.

To be fair, Morning Thunder does not represent one bird species. There are in fact a fair number of turkey subspecies in North America. The Eastern wild turkey being the most common, followed by the Merriam’s wild turkey of the Western states, the Rio Grande wild turkey of the south-central United States. There are more obscure subspecies like the Osceola and the Gould’s.

The Rio Grande wild turkey.

The aspect of killing a wild turkey becomes the greatest distinction from the upland culture, which often aspires to take birds on the wing which are too small for head shots. Add in the lack of calling, and things become even more distant. Although hunting sooty grouse in the spring may have some different similarities, it is still a world apart.

I recall some years ago my friend Tripp Way telling me about a gentleman who developed a spring grouse call. He swore it worked and the rumor is that some select states toyed with the idea of a Spring season. This aspect of the story is starting to sound more like urban legend rather than cultural exploration.

Maybe an even greater separation between the world of the wild turkey and upland is the story of success. While many species in upland including the ruffed grouse, sage grouse, bobwhite, and others struggle to maintain a foothold in our modern environment, the wild turkey is in a golden age.

From a scientific and legal standpoint, the wild turkey (no matter the species) is an upland bird. But when the culture is examined, it does not take long to see how odd the upland world can be. It is a niche inside a niche that often has even more niches past that . . . That was a mouthful. Because of that, we will have to say that turkey hunting and upland hunting are two very different things.

View Comments (2)
  • Bobwhite hunting in the western Oklahoma Grassland sand ridges of “shin-oaks” way back in the ’70s, our pointers were rock solid on the edge of a half acre of the thick, “shin-oaks”. We went in to flush the anticipated quail covey and out burst a Tom turkey. After the initial shock, the three of us blasted away with 7 1/2 and 8’s and dropped him. During that long weekend we also managed to take about 3 dozen quail. What an upland bird hunt!

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