Sunrise Gobblers of the East Kootenay: Part II

Merriam's wild turkey got kickstarted in the Creston Valley 35 years ago when a few nomads made their way into B.C. from Northern Idaho.

F.J. with his 2014 opening day sunrise gobbler.

F.J. with his 2014 opening day sunrise gobbler.

FJ Hurtak

As I alluded to in part one of this article last week, here in the East Kootenay we have the Merriam’s turkey, one of about 12 different species of wild turkeys in North America.

The Merriam’s got kickstarted in the Creston Valley around 35 years ago when a few nomads made their way into B.C. from Northern Idaho. In 1989, Creston had enough turkeys to allow an LEH season and 30 permits were issued for toms only.

Then 25 years ago, some birds were transplanted from Creston to the East Kootenay and the rest is history, as the saying goes.

The Merriam’s turkey is a very challenging and sporting bird to hunt, and the mating ritual begins in late February or early March in most areas, and by the time the spring hunting season rolls around in the middle of April, they are already going strong. The toms puff their feathers and strut around, gobbling loudly in an effort to attract prospective mates. What really adds to the excitement of hunting them is the ability to call them into close range. At this time of year gobblers can be enticed to betray their location by using crow, owl, hawk, coyote, or another gobbler call. Once their location is pinpointed you can close the gap and begin some seductive hen calling. One of the mistakes that hunters sometimes make is attempting to get too close to a Merriam’s gobbler. Merriam’s don’t seem to mind  travelling long distances to come to a call, whereas other species can be more reluctant.

After countless errors on my part, I have now formulated a rule of thumb. If the turkey appears to be moving forward and consistently changing his calling location I stay put.

Merriam’s turkeys have absolutely incredible eyesight and just one mistake of moving unnecessarily can end the hunt immediately. However, if after a period of calling and getting responses, if the gobbler appears to be staying in a fixed location then I will try and close the gap between us. It is here that it gets risky, because the less distance you have to travel to set up again the better it is, especially if you are using decoys as part of your calling strategy. That means more movement on the hunter’s part, but if a turkey is not moving it is sometimes worth the gamble.

This past spring I did about five or six days of scouting before the season began and I had located two different flocks in separate areas.

I decided on the closer of the two for the first day of the hunt, so opening morning I was already making my way in the dark to a spot where I could try some ‘locator’ calling.

The morning was cool and clear and I was about to take my pack off when I heard what I thought was a gobble a few hundred yards away. I knelt down and waited for about 2-3 minutes and it was then that I heard not one gobble, but two back to back. In the pre-dawn I closed the distance to what was probably a couple of hundred yards. I was not worried about being seen, as it was just dark enough to warrant almost unlimited movement on my part.

At this point, I laid my pack down behind a tree and fumbled for my calls.  As I did, I heard several gobbles and I knew the turkey(s) were in a roosting site in the big pines. The terrain they were in would make for very tough pursuit so I knew instinctively that I had no choice but to be patient and see how the situation played out.

When daylight finally had won the battle over darkness I was kneeling inside the branches at the base of a big fir tree and I began calling on my box call. This type of friction call is great for long distances because it has ample volume as opposed to the traditional mouth call. I was fairly aggressive with my calling and received the reward of responses every single time. However, I was somewhat confused at the location of the closest gobbler. I realized quickly after successive answers that there were at least 3 toms answering my calls and they appeared to be moving around. I scoured the dark pines with my binoculars for any sign of movement and then finally away off to my left I saw a turkey make a quick left turn and head into a depression in the landscape. I scratched on my call again with all the volume I could muster, and there was a barrage of gobbles in response coming from an area not more than 75 yards away. I shouldered my ancient single shot 16-gauge shotgun, in anticipation of the birds coming into view.

“Be patient, sit tight, sit tight,” I kept muttering to myself.

A few minutes passed by and frankly the silence was deafening. I thought for a moment I had blown this set-up somehow, so out of desperation I cranked on my gobbler call followed by three or four soft yelps on the box call. The woods lit up again with gobbling toms and they were closer now, so I cocked my gun and not a moment too soon. What a sight to behold…several toms crested a small hill, one after the other and began to make their way towards me.

One gobbler would sound off and another would follow and blow up to display his wonderfully coloured plumage. I was enjoying it immensely but remembered why I was there. I chose the bird that offered me the best clean shot and my Remington roared, and the bird dropped like a stone, while the others scattered quickly.

There is no doubt about it, hunting the wild Merriam›s turkey can be frustrating at times, but when everything comes together as it did for me on opening day, it can be very rewarding, and it’s safe to say addicting, in a good way. The silence, the waiting, the morning chill, and the spine tingling call of a big tom in the distance. It’s what makes the sport of turkey hunting so special. Then there’s the very satisfying feeling of walking out of the woods with a nice tom on your back just as the sun peaks it’s head over the mountains. Priceless!


F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books,  Elk Hunting in the Kootenays and Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays available at selected retail outlets in B.C. and Alberta. All profits go to acquire land for wildlife.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 65 new cases of COVID-19

Province-wide, there are 887 new cases of the virus

Item no 22, De-Kieviet Kindergarten class - Highlands, Starting Bid: $20
Christmas Village 2020 school auction items

The annual Christmas Village has gone virtual, here are the auction items from local schools

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

RDEK reminds public to register for their emergency notification system. File photo.
RDEK reminds residents to register for East Kootenay Evacuation Notification System

Provincial Alert system cannot be used for local emergencies

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

The bids for the 2020 Christmas Village are open as of noon on Thursday, November 26. Please scroll through this album to see auction items available for bidding.
Christmas Village 2020 auction items

The Christmas Village has gone virtual, here are all the details

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

Most Read