Wild turkey hunting in Ontario is one of the most thrilling pursuits imaginable. The sound of a big gobbler, thundering in response to a hen call, makes almost every hunter's blood boil. Then the sight of the bird appearing, head glowing white, fan spread, can make even the steeliest hunter get the shakes. Saying "it's just a bird" over and over should theoretically help, but doesn't.
Yet turkey foil many hunters and leave little or no room for mistakes. This is why a successful turkey hunt remains one of the most satisfying experiences a hunter can enjoy. I've been humbled enough by these birds to know what can go wrong will go wrong. But here are a couple of tips that have certainly helped increase the odds of having a wild turkey in the freezer for Thanksgiving.
Learn Different Ways to Call
Calling like a lovelorn hen is a key ingredient to successful turkey hunting, particularly if you are hunting in the spring. The call does not have to be perfect: I've heard some of the wonkiest-sounding hen calls come from birds I had in my field of vision. You obviously need to have the basics of hen calling down, and you can turn to YouTube or any number of instructional videos to do that.
My suggestion is to learn how to use a box call, a mouth (diaphragm) call, and then one other style of your preference. The reason you need to be a multi-style caller is that turkey hunting is best executed with the utmost flexibility. If a gobbler is approaching and you are sitting at the base of a tree in its visual range, trying to operate a box call will get you busted. This is when a mouth or diaphragm call is gold. A diaphragm call also allows you to be hands-free and have your gun up.
On the flip side, there is nothing louder than a box call. If you are trying to locate a bird in the wind or other bad weather, a box call is your friend. A couple of years back, as pounding rain came down, I called out a gobbler with a very loud box call. I almost couldn’t believe it when the bird sounded to my right and appeared, soaked but ornery. The gobbler was also very nervous, but I managed to take him despite a long shot. That box call did the trick.
Other calls, like the slate call or a hand power call, have a lot of pluses. The slate call is very realistic but requires quite a lot of hand movement. Not bad in the pre-dawn dark, but a bit tricky in open light.
The traditional way to hunt turkey is sitting on the ground, usually with your back to a tree, in full camo. This is a good technique and, when you are moving through hardwoods, the only real way to go. The downside of this is you are much more likely to give away your position to a turkey in the open. Even the best camo suit cannot cover an arm reaching up to scratch your nose.
However, when inside the confines of a pop-up ground blind, the random movements and noises of the hunter are covered and muted. You can still potentially be busted by a gobbler—especially by the flash of a face in the shooting opening—but it's less likely. Overall, a blind will give you a slight upper hand over Mr. Jelly Head. The blind also keeps you out of the wind and rain and allows you to be comfortable sitting on a chair or stool. The last two birds I shot were taken from a blind, and I am convinced that in both cases, the hunts would have turned out differently without it.
Blinds are best placed near areas where birds are likely to appear at some point during the day. Fields and opening are prime. Amazingly, some turkey hunters place ground blinds in the centre of a field, where turkey are often seen but are out of range from the tree line. Many hunters believe turkey don't care if a blind suddenly appears in a field. I can say that turkey seem not to notice them when they are placed on the edge of a field. Spend a little time adding some sticks and stubble to a ground blind, as it makes it look a bit more natural. Whether this matters to a gobbler is anyone's guess.
Harvesting a mature gobbler is one of the great thrills of hunting. Use these tips to help increase your odds.