A Father-Daughter Date in the Turkey Woods
4:00 am is too early for almost anything unless it's time with those you love watching the woods and the world wake up. Turkey hunting is one of my favourite things to do, and now that I have kids, it’s allowed me to combine my love for the outdoors with my true love of spending time with my kids.
As young lads growing up in southern Ontario, we did not know what wild turkeys were. Having very little access to US media, we were not sure about them or the fact people even hunted them. Ontario had reintroduced them in the early 1980s in selective pockets, but they were limited. But in the early 2000s as young adults, the turkey populations spread and we had them within an hour from our home. We went out and attempted to hunt them, but we were terrible at it. Many hours were spent being humbled in the turkey woods and feeling we would never succeed. But during those challenging times, we fell in love with turkeys and the chase.
Fast forward to today, and I am a busy but happy father of five beautiful young kids. My love for hunting turkeys has grown, and my love of taking kids in the woods is just as passionate. I am very blessed to have four boys and one beautiful little girl. My daughter is every father’s dream. She likes to dress nice, do her hair, and look beautiful (like her mom). She enjoys “traditional” girl things and she does great in school. She also likes mud, the woods, and is probably our family’s best frog catcher and most skilled at lipping big bass. And when we can sneak away from four brothers, she and I enjoy some daddy-daughter time in the woods and on the water.
Well, I had scouted some turkeys that were roosting on the edge of an alfalfa field and using it to feed and gather during the late April days. My wife put Julia to bed early, and I went scouting and made sure the birds went to bed in the trees that they had previously been using. I snuck in after dark and set aground blind up approximately 100 yards from the roost site.
The next morning I woke Julia up at 4 am and piled in the truck. With plenty of treats and a calm, star-filled sky, we parked a long way off and snuck across the moonlit field. To make sure the turkeys did not hear or see us in the moonlight, we snuck in along the opposite tree line and crawled into the blind with all our gear. I snuck back out and placed a ¼ strut Jake and hen decoy 25 yards in front of my blind between me and the roosted birds. As you can tell by now, the real work has already been done. The scouting, the blind setup, and now the decoy placement. If we were to be successful now, it would be a bit of luck mixed with possibly some light calls.
I always come prepared for the kids to rest in the blind, as it’s usually a solid hour or more from the time we enter the blind until birds start pitching down. Julia nestled into the corner on some blankets and closed her eyes.
I sat back in my chair and took in the view as the eastern sky started to give way to the morning sun. Songbirds started to chirp and sing, and then, as all hunters dream of, the first thundering gobble lit up from 100 yards away. It was followed by his buddies and his other buddies, and then some young jakes. The trees lit up and silhouettes of turkeys dotted the timber. Gobble after gobble, they pounded off, letting every hen in the county know they were awake and ready for love. Julia slept through the first few minutes of gobbling, then started to stir and sat up bright-eyed at the sound of thundering gobbles. “Dad, are they close?” she whispered. As she sat up quietly and saw the birds lining the tree line and some big toms strutting on perch, she was all smiles and we knew we were in for a good morning.
A few minutes later, the birds started to pitch down, and most of them would drop into the timber out of sight. A few hens pitched out into our field and headed away on a steady walk. No redheads pitched in eyesight of us but having those hens go the other way brought some hope. The birds cackled, chirped, and gobbled in the timber as toms fought over who strutted closest to hens, and the large portion of the group did not follow the script and never entered our alfalfa field. So then Julia and I pulled out the call.
With the decoys so close to the roost and visible while they are in the tree, I don’t like to call until they are on the ground, and even then sparingly. I started to let out some light hen calls, and each time received multiple loud gobbles. We worked that system for 10-15 minutes, and it grew obvious we were holding a group of toms back as they waited for us, the imagined hens, to join them. But we were competing with live hens as distant clucking walked further away. All of this was out of sight for us. Eventually, the group of toms’ gobbles moved farther and farther off through the timber. Julia and I were bummed. But at this point, we knew it was patience, and if we could stay put, one would eventually come back and see us after those other hens moved off to nest.
We sat quiet and kept letting some hen calls out, making them louder and louder as our main birds had moved off. About 30 minutes after the last gobble we had heard, some warm sun shone on our decoy, we got a lone gobble back from the distant timber, and it was facing our direction. I told Julia he was coming! We can only assume he was tired of competing with other toms and was coming to see the hens on his own.
At this point, I knew to fire him up, so I called four or five times over one minute and had him gobble and triple gobble back each time. By now he was within a hundred yards inside the timber and I laid the call down and sat tight knowing he was committed. Julia and I studied the tree line and soon watched his red head pop over the rock fence and enter our field. He saw our decoys and went full strut for five seconds, then walked straight on a rope to our setup. At 27 yards, I asked Julia if she was ready, she plugged her ears, and we let the gun boom.
Our amazing morning together just got more special as Julia was able to lead us out and hold our big tom. With amazing colours, a big beard, and spurs, we sat and enjoyed a very special moment in the woods together.
There are millions of things I like to spend time doing with my kids but time in the woods, the smiles it creates, and the memories we share are truly the best!
Ontario has amazing turkey hunting, and we are so grateful our kids are growing up experiencing it.