Hunting gobblers in Northumberland County

by Jeff Helsdon | April 1, 2012
Hunting gobblers in Northumberland County

The morning started out as every opening of turkey season should, with gobbling ringing through the hardwood forest. I was hunting with Mike Gill, co-owner of Prime Time Pursuits, in the rolling hills north of Lake Ontario in the Cobourg area, east of Toronto.

In the predawn blackness, we pulled into a farmyard and hiked through a cow pasture to Peck’s Hill, where Mike and his father, Jeff, had been regularly spotting gobblers. With us was my stepson, Collin, an apprentice hunter, and his mother, Karen.

Added to the usual challenge of watching out for holes, while walking in the dark, was missing the cow patties. We were up to the challenge, though, and arrived at the woodlot with dry boots and no twisted ankles.

Mike tucked Collin and I on adjacent trees behind the fence separating pasture from forest. The award-winning caller, whose talent seems to surpass his years, started a conversation with a gobbler on the uphill corner of the woodlot. As the black of darkness turned into the slate grey of an overcast day, it became obvious the gobbler decided downhill wasn’t the direction it wanted to come.

The search is on
We spent much of the morning on the road, looking for gobblers, but to no avail. Then, a decision was made to pursue a gobbler Jeff had heard earlier above their home on what they call Chris and Sally’s Hill, a spot with a great view and equally great turkey habitat.

I knew we had a hot bird when we climbed the hill and heard a gobble in reply to Mike’s calls. He explained that gobblers typically came down one of two trails, the first about 30 yards away and the other in front of us. Collin was watching that trail, and I the farthest. It became apparent the bird was coming up the closest trail, as it kept answering Mike’s calls.

I could feel my heart pounding harder as the gobbles became louder and we heard it drumming. Collin and I first saw the bird at about 25 yards, coming through the underbrush in full strut, gobbling as it advanced. I waited for him to shoot…and waited. The bird walked by Collin and he didn’t shoot. It moved in front of me and I hoped it would move out farther, giving me a better pattern. Then, I noticed its neck go up and figured the bird made me at 20 feet. I swung quickly on it, pulled the trigger and missed.

Collin later told me the bird was so close, it threw him off. It had acted like a tom that owned the neighbourhood, but was in fact a jake.

On the road again
While back cruising in search of turkeys, the Gills explained their own version of conservation that goes beyond the hunting regulations. They count the number of gobblers on properties they hunt and then limit their harvest to half that number. Even if they hit 100% success with clients, as often happens, only half the toms are taken.

The greyness of the day turned into mist and light rain before we spotted a tom in a field. We snuck around to approach it from the other side of the woodlot and hid under a cedar. Mike showed his stuff by turning the distant gobble into a hopeful prospect. The bird came closer and stopped on the other side of a large woodpile in the field. That was as close as it got, though, and we never did see it.

The weather got the best of Collin and Karen and they packed it in, as Mike and I returned to Chris and Sally’s Hill. We saw turkeys at a distance, but again didn’t find any that wanted to play our game. Prospects were looking dim until we headed down the hill and spotted a flock of birds across the road about a quarter-mile away.

Final results
When we got there, the birds had crossed the field into the bush. Mike wasn’t concerned and assured me they would return as we settled into a blind next to the field. He was right. Even as they first came out a couple hundred yards away, I could make out the white head of a gobbler in the flock of seven. Mike gave a few calls to bring them closer.

Despite the excitement of the morning and my spirits being dampened by the weather and the missed shot, my heart was again pounding. Determined not to miss again, I waited until I thought the birds were at optimum distance for a shot.

When the gobbler reached about 30 yards, I squeezed the trigger. The 2-year-old dropped. High-fives were traded as we got a close look at the fine bird. The walk back to the Gills’ was wet, but I was happy.

Prime Time Pursuits
Cell: 905-376-5095

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