The 4 Best States for DIY Merriam’s Turkey Hunting

Lincoln National Forest New Mexico Merriam's Turkey
The Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico offers a scenic hunt for the beautiful, Merriam’s subspecies.

With its white-tipped tail feathers, the Merriam’s turkey is the most distinctive of the four subspecies that make up the turkey hunting grand slam. If you’re looking to check the Merriam’s off your bucket list, then you’ve come to the right spot. Keep reading to discover which states offer the best opportunity to take a Merriam’s turkey on a do-it-yourself, public land hunt.

I studied success rates, tag availability, bag limits, season dates, public land access, public land quantity, and public land quality. All four states on this list offer the opportunity to obtain a tag over-the-counter, plenty of public land to pursue Merriam’s turkeys, and success rates greater than 20 percent.

If you study the pictures, you will notice that all these areas have steep, rugged terrain. Make sure you are in good shape before you head west in pursuit of a Merriam’s turkey.

Interested in learning more about pursuing the turkey hunting grand slam? Check out my other articles on this subject.

Let’s get started with our first Merriam’s turkey hotspot…

4) A Good State for Public Land Merriam’s Turkey Hunting-New Mexico

New Mexico has Gould’s, Rio Grande, Hybrid, and Merriam’s turkeys within its border. The Merriam’s turkey is the most widely distributed of the subspecies. New Mexico Game and Fish published this map that shows the ranges of each.

For most parts of the state, the bag limit is two bearded birds. New Mexico offers both over-the-counter and draw permits. The deadline to apply for draw permits is usually in February.

For over-the-counter permits, the spring season runs from mid-April to mid-May. This is a little shorter than some of the other states on this list.

According to the state, 12,717 spring turkey licenses were issued in 2020. Among surveyed hunters who reported, there was a 20.9 percent success rate on first birds. Of these hunters, there was a 21.1 percent success rate in harvesting a second bird. The average hunter spent 4.4 days in the field.

There is no shortage of public Merriam’s habitat in New Mexico. The Lincoln and Gila National Forests should give you plenty of room to chase turkeys in the Land of Enchantment.

Located in the southern part of the state, the Lincoln National Forest is 1.1 million acres. Like a lot of Merriam’s turkey habitat, the Lincoln has steep terrain so make sure you are in good shape. It offers better access and turkey density than the larger Gila National Forest. If you want more of a wilderness hunting experience, try the Gila which is located in southwestern New Mexico.

Go to New Mexico’s Game and Fish website for more information on chasing Merriam’s in New Mexico.

Colorado has over-the-counter tags with nearly a 25 percent success rate.

3) A Great State for Public Land Merriam’s Turkey Hunting-Colorado

Famous for its elk and mule deer hunting, Colorado is also home to two subspecies of wild turkeys. Merriam’s turkeys inhabit the mountainous, western part of the state while Rio Grande turkeys range the plains area to the east.

Over 22,000 hunters pursued spring turkeys in Colorado according to an estimate by the state. Colorado has both over-the-counter tags and limited license hunts. Of the hunters surveyed with an over-the-counter tag, 25 percent were successful in taking a turkey.

Colorado spring turkey season begins in mid-April and runs to the end of May. During this season, hunters are limited to one bearded turkey on an over-the-counter tag and one on a limited license (if they are able to acquire one).

The good news? Most of western Colorado is public land. The bad news? These turkeys live in extremely rough country and are very localized. To make matters worse, they tend to migrate which makes them tough to pattern. However, if you are able to locate them, you shouldn’t have much trouble taking one home in the back of your truck.

If you’re looking for a specific starting point, Pike and San Isabell National Forests offer fairly high turkey densities. Both are in easy driving range from Denver and Colorado Springs. Worried about hunting pressure? The wilderness areas here offer you an excellent opportunity to get away from the crowds.

Check out Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife website for more information on Merriam’s turkey hunting.

The Black Hills of South Dakota offer an excellent opportunity for Merriam's turkey hunting.
The Black Hills of South Dakota offer an excellent opportunity for Merriam’s turkey hunting.

2) Our Runner Up-South Dakota

If you’re hunting for a Merriam’s turkey on public land, the Black Hills of South Dakota is a great location. The Black Hills are most famous for Mount Rushmore, but they also have some great opportunities for turkey hunting, making South Dakota our second-best state for DIY Merriam’s turkey hunting.

Both Merriam’s and Eastern turkeys live in South Dakota. Easterns are generally found east of the Missouri River (how convenient), and Merriam’s are found west of the Missouri River.

The spring turkey season starts in mid-April and ends on the last day of May. There is also an archery season that starts the week before. Both archery and tags for the Black Hills region can be bought over-the-counter.

One reason South Dakota is not higher on this list is that the nonresident bag limit for spring South Dakota gobblers in the Black Hills region is one bird. If you are an archery hunter, you can also hold an archery tag too.

In the spring of 2021, 6,303 Black Hills turkey tags were issued according to South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks. Of the tag holders who responded to the survey, 28 percent were successful. These hunters hunted for an average of 3.44 days.

As the weather can be unpredictable, planning your hunt as late in the season as possible is generally good practice. Even in mid-May, you may experience snow in South Dakota.

Located in the western part of the state (and some of Wyoming), Black Hills National Forest is 1.2 million acres. That’s a lot of territory to hunt! With all that room, you should be able to get away from other hunters. While it does get some hunting pressure, there are plenty of acres and turkeys so that you won’t have to work the same bird as another hunter.

If you’re interested in hunting South Dakota for Merriams, visit for more information.

Pine Ridge Region of Nebraska hunting Merriam's turkey
The Pine Ridge region of Nebraska can be rugged.
Photo courtesy of Christine Warner on Flickr

1) Our Top Choice for Merriam’s Turkey Hunting-Nebraska

Nebraska is our top-rated state for hunting Merriam’s turkeys. This state has an extremely high success rate, a good amount of accessible public land, and a large bag limit.

In 2020, Nebraska issued 22,750 spring permits with a 59.7 % success rate (adults and youth combined). Are you an above-average hunter? You shouldn’t have any trouble filling a tag then!

Nebraska’s spring season is very long with archery beginning in late March, shotgun opening mid-April, and the season closing on the last day of May.

If that’s not enough, Nebraska allows you to buy three permits for the spring season over-the-counter. Yes, you read that right. You can take three turkeys in Nebraska every spring season without drawing.

While Nebraska has multiple subspecies of turkeys including Merriam’s, Easterns, and Hybrids, you will find the purest strains of Merriam’s turkey the further west you go.

One of the most popular areas to hunt for Merriam’s turkeys is the Pine Ridge area located in the northwestern part of the state. Pine Ridge is where the initial reintroduction of the wild turkey to Nebraska began in the middle of the 20th century. Today, you will find some of the highest turkey population densities in this area of the state.

Nebraska has over a million acres of public land to hunt, and the Pine Ridge area offers plenty. Here you will find access to the Nebraska National Forest, multiple WMAs, and huntable state parks.

If you want to avoid the snow in the spring, plan on hunting the latter part of the season. Another advantage of hunting late season is that as the weather warms up, some birds will migrate out of the agricultural fields and into the hills. Like most places, public land can be crowded so be sure to do your scouting online and in-person to have a backup to your backup spot.

For more information on Nebraska turkey hunting, visit the state’s website.

Ron is a small business owner with a passion for hunting. He has been hunting both public and private land in Georgia all his life. He also travels around the country pursuing big game, waterfowl, and turkeys.