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Hunting Gobblers in South Dakota

Jim Joint Explains the Difference between Hunting Merriam’s Gobblers and Other Wild Turkeys

with Jim Joint


Editor’s Note: Jim Joint, a Mossy Oak pro for 2 years, names Obsession as his favorite camo pattern. Jim worked 37 years for General Electric in Nebraska. When he retired, he moved to Custer, South Dakota. He loves the area, especially the Black Hills. Jim does a lot of hunting in South Dakota, but he also hunts several other states including Pennsylvania, Missouri and Nebraska. 

Many turkey hunters from the East are not familiar with Merriam’s turkeys, but they were one of the big lures that helped me to make the decision to move to South Dakota. There are two kinds of Merriam’s to hunt out here - the high country Merriam’s and the plains Merriam’s. They're really not two different birds. The only thing that makes them different is the terrain where they live. Personally, I prefer to hunt the high country Merriam’s. 

Joint_day1Merriam’s turkeys are different from the eastern turkeys, the Rio Grandes and the Osceolas. The Merriam’s aren’t nearly as hard to call in as the other three species. I don’t believe they’re as wary as the eastern turkeys, because they haven’t had as much hunting pressure. When you hunt Merriam’s gobblers, I believe you can get away with making more mistakes than you can when you hunt eastern gobblers. The Merriam’s turkeys also move a lot more, and you can call them from a father distance than the eastern turkey. 

One of the frustrating parts of hunting Merriam’s if you hear him gobble at the top of a mountain, and you move in close to where you think the gobbler is and set-up to call - the next time you hear him he’ll be down in the valley. Then, the next time you hear him he’ll be walking up the mountain on the other side of the valley. 

Another real problem we have in South Dakota is that there are plenty of hens. Dealing with those hens doesn’t seem to be as easy as dealing with eastern hens. The turkeys gobble good from the roost the first week of turkey season out here in South Dakota. But then, they won’t gobble the rest of the day. They gobble their hens in, helicopter down off the roost and stay with those hens all day long. When those gobblers have harems of girlfriends, they don’t really think they need one more. 

The morning that Mossy Oak called me for this interview in mid-April was the second week of turkey season here. That morning we successfully called in a flock of turkeys, and my hunters each killed a mature longbeard. There were three hens and three gobblers in that flock. So, I felt really good that we were able to get two of the three gobblers. 

For more information about turkey hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ Kindle and print book, “Mossy Oak Pros Talk Turkey Tactics,” at and the Nook version at You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or SmartPhone. For a free copy of John E. Phillips’ “The Turkey Gobbler Getter Manual,” go to to download.

Tomorrow: Merriam’s Gobblers When They’re with Hens with Jim Joint


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