Michigan’s turkey population a fine example of conservation at work

Michigan’s turkey population is a great example of conservation at work in Michigan. (Photo by Bill Parker)
When I was a kid growing up in northern Oakland County, we hunted small game on the surrounding farms and state land. Not once did I, nor anyone I know, ever see a wild turkey.
My dad would take my brothers and I “up north” to deer camp each fall to hunt whitetails in Montmorency County. We’d see deer, partridge, rabbits and squirrels, ducks and geese, occasionally a coyote and rarely a bobcat or a black bear. Not once did anyone in camp ever see a wild turkey.
When I graduated from high school in 1977, I was not a turkey hunter. Here’s why: In 1977, Michigan only had about 4,000 hunters who applied for a spring turkey license, and only 25 percent of them received one; their success rate was a dismal 10 percent and statewide about 400 birds were tagged by hunters. Turkey hunting just wasn’t that big of a deal in Michigan back then. There weren’t many birds and the ones we had were limited to Mio, Baldwin and Allegan hunting units. Most of these birds were descendants from restoration efforts between 1954 and 1964, which saw limited success.
Then in 1983, the Michigan DNR – which, by the way, is primarily funded through hunter and fisher license fees and self-imposed excise taxes on our gear, not state tax dollars – worked with hunting groups to implemented a program to further restore wild turkeys to the state.
Wild turkeys were acquired from Missouri and Iowa and released in southern Michigan. In the years that followed, the DNR acquired additional birds from other states and relocated birds from southern Michigan to northern Michigan.
The population expanded and hunters responded.
Today, groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association, among others, work collectively and with individuals to enhance habitat and support our turkey population. They provide financing and the physical labor required to plant crop fields and food sources that help turkeys survive the harsh winters in northern Michigan. They provide grain and labor to feed turkeys in some of the areas that get squeezed the hardest by winter’s icy fingers.
Thanks to the financial and physical contributions of Michigan’s hunting community the spring turkey hunting season in Michigan is now celebrated on both peninsulas. Turkeys are present in every county in the Lower Peninsula and a handful of counties – mostly in the southern, agricultural areas – of the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan now is home to over 200,000 birds. Nearly 100,000 hunters participate in the spring season annually and they enjoy a success rate of 30 percent.
We shoot about 30,000 birds annually, making us one of the top seven or eight states in the country in terms of spring turkey harvest. And the population rebounds each year.
The wild turkey is a fine example of conservation at work in Michigan. We have a robust turkey population – not despite hunters, but because of hunters.
As I was pondering a subject to blog about, I looked out my window and watched a hen turkey walk across the yard, right back here in Oakland County where we never used to see any turkeys.

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