Hunting Turkey Hunting

6-Year-Old Turkey Hunter Is the Youngest Girl to Achieve a Single-Season Grand Slam

River McDaniel and her dad Matt covered a lot of miles and made plenty of memories in their pursuit of the four common North American subspecies
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six year old girl single season grand slam

River McDaniel with the four subspecies in the order she harvested them this spring, from left: an Osceola, an Eastern, a Rio, and a Merriam's. They froze the gobblers whole and then thawed them out for a picture before cleaning the birds in late May. Matt McDaniel

River McDaniel had herself quite the turkey season this spring. Hunting with her dad, Matt, the six-year-old from Ridgeland, South Carolina, tagged the four common North American subspecies and earned herself a Grand Slam. While hundreds of hunters have pulled off the same feat (many of them multiple times), only some have accomplished it in a single season. And to Matt’s knowledge, River stands alone as the youngest female to ever do so.

“As far as I know, she is the youngest,” Matt tells Outdoor Life. “I did a lot of research, and I found a boy in Mississippi who [got a Grand Slam] at age five, but he didn’t do it in a single season. There was also a girl from Alabama who did it at age seven.”

Matt, who has five Grand Slams under his own belt, explains that the National Wild Turkey Federation doesn’t recognize age in its running list of hunters who’ve earned their Grand Slam pins. He’s been trying to convince the organization to incorporate age into its record book, and NWTF Communications Director Pete Muller confirms that those changes are in the works.

Muller says their book shows at least one boy who achieved a Grand Slam at age four, but that as far as he can tell, River is the youngest female hunter to do it in a single season.

Setting Her Sights on a Slam

While River deserves the credit for sealing the deal on each of her gobblers, it was her dad who set her up for success. A lifelong hunter and career wildlife manager, Matt oversees a private hunting plantation in South Carolina. He has the skills, the connections, and most importantly, the desire to put River on birds. And he points out that her Grand Slam isn’t the only “first” in his daughter’s short hunting career.

six year old girl single season grand slam
Matt and River McDaniel take a celebratory selfie. Matt McDaniel

“She is officially the youngest person to kill a turkey in the state of Georgia at age 4. And she’s the youngest girl to kill a turkey in South Carolina at age 5,” Matt says. “She’s always heard me talk about my own Grand Slams and this spring she said she wanted to get one. So, I said, ‘Okay, let’s go get one.’”

To accomplish their goal in one season, the daddy-daughter duo traveled across four states between early March and late May. Because of Matt’s connections in the hunting industry, they were able to hunt on private land the whole time.

River used a custom-built TriStar .410 semi-auto mounted on a BOG DeathGrip tripod to shoot each of her gobblers. Complete with a pistol grip, a 22-inch barrel, and a Burris FastFire red-dot sight, Matt also swapped in a custom trigger with a lighter break so River could pull it with one finger. She was shooting No. 9 Apex Turkey Ninja TSS loads through a SumToy Customs turkey choke.

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“I put her gun on that tripod and she does everything else 100 percent herself,” Matt says. “She turns the [sight] on, clicks the safety off, and pulls the trigger. I just sit behind her while I call and video.”

Four Gobblers in Four States

Starting in Florida, River killed an Osceola during youth season on March 10. Over the next two weekends, they capitalized on youth seasons in Georgia in Oklahoma and tagged both an Eastern and a Rio. With only one bird left on their hit list, the two flew to Nebraska in early May to chase down a Merriam’s. This proved to be the hardest hunt of them all, and after a week in the plains, they headed back to the South empty handed.

“We hunted for three days and just didn’t have any luck,” Matt says. “It was a tough hunt between the weather, terrain, and a lack of birds. We almost chalked it up as a loss, but a bunch of our friends insisted that we had to keep trying.”  

He says they would have tried their luck elsewhere, but due to River’s age, Nebraska is one of the only states in the Merriam’s range where she can legally hunt. (South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado, for example, all have hunting age minimums of 10 or 12.)

Read Next: Turkey Population Declines in the Great Plains Lead to Canceled Seasons and Reduced Bag Limits

Their sights still set on a Merriam’s, Matt pulled River out of school a week early so they could fly back to Nebraska during the last week of May. They booked a DIY hunt with an outfitter, and on the second-to-last day of their trip, River finally connected.

six year old girl single season grand slam
River is all smiles after tagging a Merriam in Nebraska. Matt McDaniel

“We set up on some birds around three in the afternoon, and I called them in at 4:30 but some hens took them off. The birds came back in at 6:30, but then the hens took ‘em off again, and the only reason we stayed is because we could constantly see or hear them.” Matt explains. “She killed her bird at 8:30. Shot him coming in across the pond in the rain.”

Looking back on their turkey season, Matt says it was the miles traveled and memories made that he’ll remember. As for River, she’s already looking for that next gobbler. When asked about her future goals, the six-year-old girl’s response was short and simple:

“I want to get another grand slam.”

This article was updated on June 29, 2023 to include a comment from the NWTF.