DURHAM -- Bowmanville resident Jim Tower is the past president of the Durham Region chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. May 2, 2013

DURHAM -- Bowmanville resident Jim Tower is the past president of the Durham Region chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. May 2, 2013

DURHAM -- It's both the chase and the catch that appeals to Jim Tower where the wild turkey hunt is concerned.

Tower, a Bowmanville resident and past president of the Durham Region chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, was out much of last weekend looking for prey, his first opportunity since the season opened April 25.

He had no luck this time, but is sure to be back before the season closes at the end of May.

"We saw a few, but we didn't get any. The late spring this year seems to have the birds' patterns mixed up a little bit," explains Tower, who typically hunts on Scugog Island or a friend's farm in Bewdley. "It requires a lot of patience."

Tower is a relative newcomer to hunting, period, let alone the wild turkey hunt, which has only been around in Ontario since 1987.

"Actually it was the wild turkey hunt that got me into hunting," explains Tower, who was encouraged by friends to join them about eight years ago. "With the wild turkeys not having been around for ever and a day, it intrigued me enough to go out and get my licence and get involved."

He's been heavily involved since, and for a number of reasons, including the challenge it poses and the taste of the birds, which are more lean and muscular than regular turkeys.

"They're exceptionally good," he says. "We've had a number of them and cooked them a variety of ways, from the very traditional roasted turkey, deep-fried, smoked has become one of the more popular versions at the moment."

Completely wiped out in Ontario a century ago due to unregulated hunting and the clearing of forests, efforts to restore wild turkeys began in 1984. After early attempts to restore birds using those raised in pens proved unsuccessful, the province began working with various organizations, trapping and re-locating wild turkeys from Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Jersey and Tennessee.

As the numbers and range of the birds grew, in the winter of 1986-87, the province began trapping wild turkeys and moving them to unoccupied areas. The last releases were made in the winter of 2004-05.

The result? Well today, wild turkeys are flourishing, particularly in wildlife management units 72, 73 and 78, which take in the geographic area of Durham Region.

"After successful re-introduction by the Ministry of Natural Resources and partners starting back in 1984, the population has grown to a very healthy 70,000 birds," says Jolanta Kowalski, a senior media relations officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources office in Toronto.

"That's important for two reasons. One, because they restore an important component of Ontario's bio diversity. And the pleasant off-shoot of that is they allow recreational hunting opportunities.

"It's definitely a success story."

With studies indicating that the wild turkey populations were thriving, Ontario's first spring hunt was held in 1987. As the numbers continued to increase over the years, so too did the length of hunting seasons and zones which offer both a spring and fall hunt. In 2012, hunters reported bagging 8,079 wild turkeys during the spring hunt and 274 in the fall throughout Ontario.

In Durham Region, reports indicate 584 wild turkeys were harvested in the spring hunt and 34 in the fall. The differing numbers reflect the length of season and zone restrictions in the fall.

Tower explains there are generally two ways to hunt for wild turkeys, either by finding a spot and calling them to the hunter, or by sending out a few calls and then moving to where the birds are. Both are challenging and neither produced the desired results last weekend.

"You're talking about birds that can see significantly better than we can and hear twice as well," Tower explains. "You have to get the bird basically within about 50 yards of yourself before you can get a shot at him. It's definitely a challenge and it's very interactive."

This year's spring wild turkey hunt lasts until May 31. The fall hunt is much shorter, from Oct. 15-27.