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The Eastern wild turkey subspecies is by far the most prolific. Most turkey hunting articles are aimed at Easterns and those who hunt them. However, the Rio Grande subspecies is the second most populous turkey with over one million birds living throughout it’s range. Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas make up the heart of their range. But there are pockets of Rios in Mexico, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon and other western states. They were also introduced in Hawaii in the 1950’s. Rios prefer an arid, warm climate and tend to be found in open range.
Rios are taller than Easterns, due mostly to their long legs. They are a lighter shade of brown compared to the Eastern bird. The tips and coverts of their tail feathers are more of a creamy buff than the dark brown of their cousins. Rio Grandes are usually found in large flocks of 25 to 50 birds in the spring, while winter flocks can eclipse one hundred birds.
Hunting Rios require a different strategy than Eastern hunters are used to. Roosting trees are much harder to come by in the West and Rio Grande turkeys will often use the same roosting trees for years. Spooking a flock off an established roosting area could send them into the next zip code for good. Most Rio hunters set up hundreds of yards away and try to coax gobblers as they split from the flock to feed.
Another popular tactic is to run-and-gun. Walk fence rows and creek bottoms to conceal yourself while calling frequently to locate a lonely tom. Once you get a response, try to get as close as possible without exposing yourself. Rios typically come to the call fast so keep tabs on an interested bird by continually calling to him. Rio Grande turkeys are much more vocal than Eastern birds. It’s hard to over call them and sharp, aggressive calling works best.
Watering holes are also popular spots to set up for Rios. In dry habitats, livestock ponds are prime areas for staking out gobblers. Most Eastern turkey hunters hit the woods hard in the morning and call it a day by lunch time. Prime-time for Rios could be the evenings. Turkeys usually won’t mate in the evening, but they like to have something set up for them before they head up to roost. Find a stand of tall trees in the afternoon and start calling with a series of yelps and purrs. If there are birds in the area, there is a good chance of getting a look.
Some say Rio Grande turkeys are easier to hunt than Easterns. I would say they are different. But Rios offer a different set of challenges. One of those challenges is finding a place to hide in their favored habitat. The open country of Rio range makes ground blinds almost a necessity. If you haven’t hunted the long-legged Rio Grande yet, make the trip. Rio hunts are action packed… you won’t regret it.