Article Written by Jeff Helsdon
My anticipation was running high as we drove south in the mountains in the pre-dawn blackness with Kevin Jacks in quest of a British Columbia Merriam’s turkey.
British Columbia is the only Canadian province with a non-resident season for Merriam’s turkeys. I was there to attempt a Canadian slam, which is harvesting the two subspecies of turkeys found in Canada, Easterns and Merriam’s. I already harvested two Eastern Turkeys in Ontario a year earlier and chose the largest as the other half of my slam.
To turkey hunters, a grand slam is harvesting the four subspecies of turkeys found in Canada and the United States – Eastern, Merriam’s, Rio Grandes and Osceolas. The Canadian slam is a more recent addition to the five different slam types that can be earned. Slam records are managed by the National Wild Turkey Federation and one of the neat things about a Canadian slam is few people have ever completed one. In fact, mine, completed in 2009, was only the second one.
There aren’t too many hunting records out there that a hunter can claim to be one of the first to complete. There are still less than 10 people who have registered a Canadian slam.
After deciding to try for my Canadian slam, I contacted Rob Bishop, chairman of the former Cranbrook, BC, NWTF chapter. He agreed to help me out and was on the road ahead of us in the darkness headed towards Creston, where we were going to hunt.
Scouting the day before I‘d seen an incredible number of deer and elk, actually more than I’d ever seen even in the western national parks. I didn’t see any turkeys though.
Bishop had some of his committee members helping me out on my mission and one had a friend, Dennis Pal, who lived near Creston, where turkeys were regularly seen. We left Cranbrook early and the blacks and blues of night were just starting to turn into shades of yellow and red that signaled daylight wasn’t far off when we arrived at Creston.
Waiting for Pal, we heard the gobbling start. We didn’t have too far to travel to a spot partway up the mountain where he had a blind set up in the red cedars. Behind us were the Purcell Mountains, with the peaks still tipped in snow.
The first bird we heard was to my left. Another bird to my right started gobbling, and this one was much closer. Pal scratched out a few yelps on his slate call. The gobbler answered. I added a few of my own on a box call, to be cut off again. I heard Merriam’s have a reputation to be more vocal than eastern turkeys and these birds were proving that true. The bird kept answering our calls as it moved closer.
Then we heard hens yelping. Still the gobbler continued to move closer. At one point the bird sounded like it was directly behind us, spitting and drumming. I only had about 15 yards of visibility behind me and couldn’t see it.
That bird faded away, but gobbling continued all around us for an hour. Then, about 7:30 a.m. we heard a lot of gobbling in front of us. Unknown to us until we heard a gun shot, there was another hunter in the woods a few hundred yards off. Before the report of the shot had ceased to echo, a hen ran by, coming from the last area we heard gobbling. A couple of deer went bounding in front of us, followed by another hen. Then, a third followed about 25 yards out.
“It’s got a beard, shoot.” Dennis whispered. Seated a little lower, I didn’t see the bird quite as clearly, but swung in front and shot. I ended up with a Merriam’s gobbler, with an 8.5-inch beard and spurs just shy of an inch long.
During breakfast, afterwards and on the drive back, I talked to Rob about his frustrations with the provincial government in regards to turkey management. Currently there isn’t a turkey tag system in BC, something Bishop has lobbied for. He has difficulty even getting the government to recognize turkeys as a game species. Although the NWTF has offered to run a trap and transfer program, they have been denied permission and were told the birds weren’t indigenous. “We have the training, traps and the money to do it.” Rob said.
I’ve often heard Ontario hunters grumbling about turkey management here. I learned the BC situation is much worse and perhaps we should appreciate what we have.
Season and License
British Columbia’s spring turkey season is April 15 to May 15, with a one-bird limit. Ontario hunters need a non-resident Canadian hunting permit ($75) and an upland bird hunting permit ($50).
Registering a Slam
To register turkeys with the National Wild Turkey Federation, a hunter must be a member. Ontario hunters wanting to count an eastern towards a Canadian slam can simply register a turkey they have previously harvested as there is not a time limit on registering. After harvesting a turkey in British Columbia, ensure you record weight, spur length and beard length. With both birds, you need another NWTF member to sign the form as a witness.
Hunting Turkeys in British columbia
Turkeys inhabit the lower mainland portion of British Columbia between the Alberta border and Okanagan valley. Birds are mostly found in the valleys and foothills. There is lots of Crown land in British Columbia where turkeys are found and Bishop said getting permission to hunt turkeys on private land shouldn’t be an obstacle. Hunting with an outfitter is another option.
Don’t Forget Our Registry
Ontario hunters can also register Ontario turkeys through the Ontario Wild Turkey Registry. This is a good way to keep track of your birds and then when an Ontario bird is needed for a Canadian slam you have all the information.