Merriam’s turkeys inhabit Alberta’s mountains and foothills, and portions of the southern grasslands and the Cypress Hills. Hunters fortunate to draw a licence can hunt a “spring gobbler,” an adult male bird. The best part of hunting big, aggressive Merriam’s turkeys in May? They’re still in breeding mode.
Often called toms, gobblers, or strutters, adult male turkeys are territorial. Springtime means they’re actively seeking out hens in their home range. They gobble to not only project their presence to rivals, but also to entice breeding hens.
If you’re lucky enough to draw a licence to hunt a spring gobbler, think about adding a decoy. This realism can bring a sly, keen-eyed strutter into shotgun range. There are different decoy strategies, but one of the most common is to place a single adult hen decoy in a shooting lane the hunter can see from cover or a blind. A single decoy is simply takes advantage of the male bird’s breeding instinct—they just can’t resist checking a hen out.
When a tom arrives, it will have a bright red head, tail fanned out, and it will be drumming its feathers. The beard hanging from its chest is the most identifiable mark to make it a legal bird to harvest.
Another option is try using a jake (a year-old male turkey). Jakes have short, stubby beards, and are legal to harvest. Mature birds will get agitated and want to run jakes away from breeding hen. One glimpse can bring them running! Setting up a jake and hen decoy together triggers a big gobbler’s territorial nature, keeping it focused on the young rival.
More is not always better—only dominant birds will come in when any male turkey decoy is deployed. If you know there is a big, dominant bird in the area, a jake decoy can be a great asset to draw your target bird close. If the local males have been fighting, less dominant birds can be timid and not want to get involved in another fight.
Keep your turkey decoys 20 to 25 metres from where you are set up so they’re at a range where your shotgun pattern will be most effective. It’s far enough away to stay undetected, but close enough for a clean shot.
Wild turkey has incredible flavour. Use any of your go-to turkey recipes, just remember wild turkey is lean so you need to add moisture. Find tips on Brining Game Birds here, and, if you’re looking to win the kids over, there’s always Turkey Fingers (recipe coming soon!).