This year’s wild turkey hunt sets records in Quebec

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Hunters are only allowed to hunt male wild turkeys (left); female wild turkeys (right) are about half the size.
Government of Quebec

QUEBEC — It has been a good year for the hunters, not so hot for the birds.

Quebec’s annual wild turkey hunt continues to grow in popularity with this season’s version breaking all the old records.

Not only were there eight times more hunters licensed to partake in the spring ritual — 16,565 in all — they bagged 29 per cent more compared with the 2016 season.

The total hunt for the 2017 season was 7,565 wild turkeys compared with 5,882 in 2016.

It goes without saying that more hunters means more gobblers on the dinner table, but wildlife officers say hunters are also getting better at figuring out their wily prey in a hunt that is newish to Quebec.

Notoriously paranoid with a brain the size of a peanut, wild turkeys nevertheless have excellent vision and can see your average middle-age, gun-toting Elmer Fudd coming a mile off.

That makes the hunt a challenge, hence the growing interest.

“The game is more abundant and the hunters have refined their techniques,” said François Lebel, the biologist at Quebec’s Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, who oversees the event.

“It has been a very big hunting season.”

Despite the cull, the number of turkeys out there is stable and continues to grow, colonizing regions of the province where they were indeed rare birds in the past. The hunters are not far behind.

The move is to the north, in the Lanaudière and Laurentians region. There have been significant populations of wild turkeys in the Eastern Townships, Montérégie, Quebec centre and Outaouais regions for several years now.

Quebec created the hunt of the wild turkey — Meleagris gallopavo silvestris — in 2008 after re-introducing the species to southern Quebec in 2000. Quebec’s unusually mild winters have helped boost the population to the point there are plenty of birds and today the hunt represents about $5 million to the provincial economy.

It is still tightly controlled. In most regions, hunters are only allowed to hunt one turkey a year, a male, and only at a specific time of the day. The females, which are half the size of males that can weigh between six and eight kilograms, are off limits.

The 2017 hunt ran from April 28 to May 19.

Historically, the odds have been on the turkey’s side; the hunters condemned to shiver in the rain and cold while trying to woo the beast out into the open by imitating love songs the male uses to woo the female.

In 2016, their success rate was about 30 per cent.

But 2017 was a record breaker in other ways, Lebel said. Not only did more than one-third (34 per cent) of hunters bag a bird, 12 per cent managed to hunt a second in the same season, which is allowed in the regions where they are most plentiful.

The ministry is keeping close tabs on the population. Each hunter is asked to fill out a survey on the numbers of birds they saw and shot and where they were.

On the downside, there are complaints there are too many wild turkeys, with farmers in some regions saying they are damaging fields and crops.

There has been at least one reported tragedy in connection with the resurgence of the game bird. In early June, a 21-year-old motorist died when he tried to avoid a wild turkey in the road while making an illegal pass on Highway 108 near the municipality of Bury in the Eastern Townships.

pauthier@postmedia.com

Twitter: @PhilipAuthier



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