In the mid-1980s, a few hundred wild turkeys were captured in the forests of the United States and released in prime Ontario habitat. As the population has grown, the Ontario government, in cooperation with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), the National Wild Turkey Federation, and
thousands of dedicated conservation volunteers, has moved some birds each year to establish new flocks. The
provincial population now almost exceeds 100,000 birds. It’s a conservation success story that has re-established the Eastern wild turkey across much of southern Ontario.
Spring gobbler hunting is challenging. Wild turkeys have exceptional eyesight and hearing, and toms are especially wary in spring. For sheer excitement and challenge, gobbler hunting is one of North America’s best hunting experiences.
Dominant toms strut their stuff in April and May, attempting to attract the largest harem of hens possible. Hens usually mate with dominant gobblers once each day. The sexes locate each other by calling. Luring a gobbler into range by imitating hen calls is the most effective hunting method.
The spring hunting season, late April to the end of May for bearded turkeys only, covers much of southern Ontario. A two bird limit applies. To hunt for a second bird, a second turkey tag must be purchased. Only one bird may be taken in a day. To be eligible to purchase a wild turkey licence, all hunters, resident or nonresident, must pass a written examination after taking Ontario’s one-day Wild Turkey Hunter Education Course covering biology, hunting techniques and safety.
Courses are put on by the OFAH in cooperation with the Ontario government at various locations in the months before the season opens. To register, call the OFAH. To hunt these birds in Ontario, you must have a small-game licence and a wild turkey licence.
Most hunters prefer heavy 12 or 10 gauge shotgun loads fired out of extremely tight chokes for maximum effectiveness on these tough birds. Large charges of No. 4, 5, or 6 pellets are needed in a head/neck
shot to ensure a clean kill. Shot size is controlled by regulation and no gun smaller than 20 gauge may be used. Each spring, however, a few of Ontario’s bearded beauties are harvested by archery and muzzleloader hunters who take on this higher level of challenge.
Access to turkey country, much of it private land, will be simplified if you arrange to hunt with a local resident (or with a local guiding service), or if you start early to make personal contacts and secure property access in the area that you wish to hunt. Respect for private property ensures a good future for this unique spring hunt.