This article originally appeared in Ontario Out of Doors magazine in May 2015

By Jeff Helsdon
Turkey Columnist

The real diehard turkey hunters are at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts pursuing deer when it comes to hunting opportunity.

Deer hunters have the luxury of extra tags and party hunting, allowing an individual to harvest several deer – the exact number of which varies situation by situation. But, turkey hunters can only shoot two birds in Ontario during the spring – period.

This is not to question Ontario’s two-bird limit, but just to yearn for more hunting opportunities. Along the 800-plus kilometers from Windsor to the Quebec border – all of which is turkey territory – an American hunter would have passed through four states with a cumulative bag limit of seven spring birds. So, the obvious alternative is cross-border hunting.

The majority of southern Ontario turkey country is within three hours of an American border. If turkey hunting is the sole reason for a trip, the closest state geographically makes the most sense.

The Empire State

New York is the shortest drive for most of Ontario’s population. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation offers a map of public lands and detailed information on turkey harvest by county. These two resources are great planning tools.

For me, the destination last spring was Chautauqua County as part of an outdoor writers’ trip. Chautauqua has the distinction of boasting the state’s top turkey harvest for several years running. It also has 20,000 acres of public land.

Although directly across from Grand River and bordering on Lake Erie, the terrain in this corner of New York is markedly different. The rolling foothills of the Allegheny Mountains slope down to grape and fruit growing areas adjacent to Lake Erie.

The public land I hunted was mostly forested, with a roll no worse than some of the gullies I have hunted in Ontario. We hunted a mix of private and public land. My closest opportunity at a gobbler came on public land. Hunting with Tracy Groves of Mossy Oak and a local guide, we quickly set up when hearing a nearby gobble off an access road cutting through public land. We estimated the bird at 100 yards away, just over a rise that wasn’t far from the road. The bird refused to come any closer and we eventually wondered if the vehicle spooked it. That was as close as I was to come to a gobbler that trip, although others did harvest birds.

Previously, I hunted turkeys in the fall in central New York. This area has even more public land and is the closest for eastern Ontario residents. It also has two guides for hunting fall turkeys with dogs. One thing of note with New York is if you buy a license for a fall hunt, it includes two tags for the following spring in the price as well as the fall tag.

The Great Lake State

For Southwestern and northern Ontario residents, Michigan is the shortest drive for cross-border hunting.

Michigan’s turkey hunting system is different than the other states bordering Ontario: turkey licenses must be applied for in advance and the limit is only one bird. A license application isn’t for the entire season, but specific periods of the season and some application codes are for private land only. Although more complex, it can translate into a better hunting experience as it limits the number of hunters on the landscape at one time. Once a hunter has a Michigan base license, a fall tag costs only a few dollars more.

With 10 million acres of public land, there is no shortage of areas to hunt in Michigan. The online MiHunt web page gives detailed information about vegetation type in each area to allow better pre-planning.

The pressure was on Michigan upland game biologist Al Stewart when he took me out last spring as I only had one day to hunt. Sure, that day was opening day, but turkeys are turkeys.

After seeing a flock with multiple bearded birds the night before, we were ready where we thought they roosted before the first twinges of dawn the next morning. That guess turned out to be a wrong one and Stewart couldn’t call the toms away from the real hens at a greater distance.

Relocating on the opposite side of the woodlot, we tangled with a big bird that eventually busted me in close. With time running out, I eventually took a jake out of a flock of five.

Further afield

Turkey hunters wanting to complete a grand slam, or experience hunting in other states, will need to travel farther. My turkey hunting travels have covered four states and have been great experiences. Still there’s nothing like home. And, of note, I must say my highest gobble count so far was in Ontario.

Crossing the border
Is approaching the U.S. Customs booth with a firearm in tow a daunting experience?

The answer depends on how well prepared you are. If your forms are filled out and guidelines followed, there shouldn’t be a lot to worry about.

To enter the United States with a firearm and ammunition, a Canadian needs to have an approved ATF Form 6. A part of this is getting a hunting license from the destination where you are headed. The Internet makes this quick and easy. Ensure you take your hunting license with you.

Although it can take up to eight weeks to receive the approved form, my experience is faxing the form can expedite the procedure. My last Form 6 was e-mailed back to me in considerably less time. Ensure you plan what ammunition you will take when filling out the form and don’t take any more than you declare on the form.

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