Early Season Gobblers: My First Manitoba Spring Turkey Hunt
For years I have always wanted to go on a Manitoba spring turkey hunt. In 2017 and 2018 I was fortunate enough to get some great first experiences in the turkey woods but was unable to harvest my first bird.
This year, when a couple of my buddies, Justin and Riley, asked me to join them in the heart of turkey country to chase spring long beards I could barely contain my excitement, and the planning for the trip began. The journey started as I made my way from the Interlake into Manitoba’s Central and Western Regions, to Justin’s house, where turkey camp was going to be located.
Scouting for Turkey
Upon arrival to our turkey camp, we hopped into the truck and began scouting for these birds in the stunning valleys that these regions have to offer. When scouting we focused our efforts in areas close to agriculture fields, farm yards and large stands of trees. Turkeys tend to concentrate in areas that offer those three features. They use the farm yards and agriculture fields to feed during the day, and the cover of the forest to roost in the trees at night. The focus of our scouting revolved around finding turkeys and keeping a close eye on where they head to roost in the evening. Quickly into the scouting I was amazed to see the numbers of turkeys that we were encountering and after checking the areas that we had permission on, things began looking promising for the morning hunt.
The Morning Turkey Hunt
My sleep felt like minutes, as my alarm jumped me out of bed for an early 4:45am wake up call. After gathering our gear, and finalizing our game plan, Justin and I began the short drive to our hunting location. Once arriving, we parked the truck on a nearby road and began to listen for shock gobbles echoing through the darkness of the cool spring morning. In minutes we were able to pinpoint the location of a few roosting birds, and the hunt was on. We moved the truck down the road to a nearby crossing, quietly parked and began our methodical walk in.
The walk began through a stunning oak stand, spanning across the rolling hillside on the edge of the valley. Gobbles echoed through the oaks getting increasingly louder with every step. We kept a close eye on the terrain looking for an ideal spot to set up. As we approached a steep sidehill, our curiosity led us to see what the top had to offer. As we crunched through the frosty leaves that blanketed the forest floor, we peaked over the hillside and laid our eyes on one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever encountered. This hilltop plateaued into a small meadow, perfectly overlooking the bottom of the valley below. A game plan was made as we strategically set up the decoys in the middle of the meadow and nestled into a small patch of underbrush to begin our calling sequence.
Only minutes into sitting down the gobbles went from a distant echo to a heart pumping roar. They were on their way. We grabbed our composure and prepared ourselves for an encounter. These turkeys were coming in from right behind us. With each yelp from our calls, the toms gobbled back with increasing ferocity. The leaves behind us began to rustle to our left and as I slightly glanced over, there were three majestic toms in full strut only 8 yards away from us.
These birds had the decoys in their sights and there was nothing getting in their way before they had the chance to challenge our strutting tom decoy. As they strutted past us, with their focus on the decoys, we had our chance to get in position and prepare for a shot opportunity. These toms grouped up in a tight formation in attempts to challenge our decoy.
This tight formation did not allow us to have a clear shot opportunity. As time wore on, we wondered if we were going to get our chance. Once the birds realized that our tom decoy was not going to challenge them back, their attention swiftly moved on to our hen decoy. In doing this, their tight formation was broken and presented us both a clear shot on a tom. Justin and I readied up and began the count. 1…2…3… and in one well timed moment both our fingers hit the triggers simultaneously in what sounded like only one shot, and coincidentally we harvested two beautiful toms in one motion.
My First Turkey
It was over, my three-year mission to harvest my first ever Manitoba spring turkey hunt was complete. Once we gathered our thoughts, the realization of what a special moment this was had set in. After exchanging a couple celebratory high-fives, we stood up from our position and approached the toms. The sun had just began peaking over the horizon, casting a postcard worthy shade of orange and red across the landscape; this lit up the stunning colours that each feather on the turkey’s body possessed. It was a breathtaking view. We soaked up every second of this moment as we notched our tags and captured some photos in preparation for entering our birds into the Manitoba Master Hunter program. We soon realized that the two toms that we harvested were different species of turkeys. Justin had taken an Eastern Turkey, typically recognized by the darker shades of brown on their tail feathers. The Turkey I took was a Merriam, which is easily identifiable by the light-coloured band across the center of their tail feather. This just furthered our feelings on how lucky we were to be able to hunt these birds and marveled at the success that the wild turkey reintroduction has had in the province.
The trek back to the truck was a much heavier one, however, the added weight of a turkey slung over each of our backs did not phase us in the slightest, as the adrenaline from the experience was still pumping through our veins. After making our way back into town, we met up with the rest of our hunting party and exchanged hunting stories from the mornings’ adventures. Collectively we travelled to an area to begin processing our birds. Upon completion, my mouth was nearly watering thinking about the amazing meals these turkeys were going to provide us and our families. The turkey I was so fortunate to harvest that morning is going to be used at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner later this year, a tradition I have just started, and one that I hope to keep going for years to come.
On the ride back home from this unforgettable adventure I couldn’t help but reflect on this experience and think about how grateful I am to live in such a beautiful province with so many phenomenal outdoor opportunities.
Top 5 Turkey Hunting Tips
For any hunter about to embark on their first ever turkey hunt, there are a lot of things to consider. The following are my top 5 turkey hunting tips for new hunters, as learned by my turkey hunting experience.
- Scouting: Be prepared to put a lot of time into scouting the areas you wish to hunt. Look for features that turkeys will relate to, features like farm yards and agriculture fields are a good place to start, as turkeys will often be found feeding in these areas throughout the day. Another feature to look for is mature oak stands, turkeys will roost in the trees with large branches overnight, and use the cover of the forest canopy as a sanctuary from predators. Turkeys can have pattern-able routines and the more time you spend figuring out their patterns the better chance at success you will have.
- Locations: After finding an area that has turkeys, the next step is finding a location where you can hunt. An excellent option is to explore the crown lands and Wildlife Management Areas that are scattered throughout turkey country here in Manitoba. These lands are accessible to the public, and often hold great numbers of birds. Another option is to seek out permission on private land. For this, be sure to get a land map of the area you are hunting; this helps you learn the area and the landowners within it. This option often involves on knocking on doors and asking the landowners for permission.
- Finding the best location: Once you have found some birds and locked in a location to hunt, the next step is to learn where these birds are roosting. Turkeys roost in trees at night for protection against predators. Knowing where they are roosting plays a key role in how you will set up for your morning hunt, as it allows you to be in position to hunt the birds before the get out of the roost. It also plays a key role in how you will set up for your evening hunts, as you can set up in a position to cut them off as they are traveling back after their day of feeding.
- Location Gobbles: Now you have done all your homework, its time to hunt. It’s early morning, and you have ventured into your hunting location. Before getting too deep in the woods and potentially pushing birds off the roost. You stop and listen for location gobbles giving away the turkeys’ exact location to their roost. If you don’t hear anything you can initiate a location gobble by mimicking the sounds of a coyote or even an owl. Once you are able to pinpoint their location, it is crucial not to get too close to them and bump them off their roost, but close enough that they can hear your calls when the sun begins to rise.
- Calling: Now that you know where the turkeys are roosted and have set up a safe distance away from the roost, its time to start calling. There are a wide variety of calls you can buy, including slate calls, diaphragm calls and box calls. Whichever you choose, become comfortable with the call before the hunt. Most commonly hunters will mimic hen calls such as a cluck or a yelp to entice toms into shooting range. As you call take note to the distance away the return gobbles are, as the gobbles get closer start calling a little bit softer. If the stars align in your favor, and that turkey steps in your shooting range, take your time and make your shot count.
For more information on hunting wild turkeys in Manitoba, visit our Game Bird page.
Celebrate the experience of hunting in Manitoba, submit your harvest to the Manitoba Master Hunter Program.
Written by: Keevin Erickson