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Turkey time: Optimism abounds for ’13 hunt

Posted on March 28, 2013

Lansing — Michigan turkey hunters have tagged more than 30,000 gobblers each spring since 2000 and should continue that trend – weather-permitting – in the upcoming season, which begins April 22. A stable flock of about 200,000 birds statewide, a relatively mild winter, and a favorable nesting season last year are the reasons for the optimism.

“We had a reasonably mild winter, so we’re anticipating a similar number of birds as we had last year,” said Al Stewart, DNR turkey specialist.

He’s not alone in his optimism. Tony Snyder, president of the Michigan Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, said he’s heard a lot of good reports from hunters across the state.

“I’ve attended a lot of banquets this year and talked to a lot of people, and everyone is telling me they’re seeing lots of turkeys,” Snyder told Michigan Outdoor News. “We had a pretty awesome poult hatch last year, so it makes sense. I’m looking forward to a good season.”

According to the DNR, 82,297 hunters combined to kill 31,377 gobblers during the spring season last year, for a statewide success rate of 38 percent.

Cold winters with heavy snow are tough on wild turkeys, which must dig through the snow to forage for food. Harsh winters, when birds expend more energy looking for food than they take in, can take a toll on local populations. The success of nesting season also plays a role in bird numbers.

“A few years ago we had a season when the harvest declined following a poor nesting year,” Stewart said. “The first two weeks of that season we had really poor weather with a lot of rain and high winds, and in actuality we pretty much lost the first two weeks of the season.” Prior to that year and since then, the annual kill has exceeded 30,000 birds. The peak year was 2007, when hunters killed 43,000 toms during the spring season.

Turkey hunting is allowed in all or part of all 83 counties in Michigan. Turkey densities are highest in southern Michigan – where habitat and winter weather conditions are most favorable – and decline as you move north.

However, hunting in the north is expected to be pretty good this spring.

“I think turkey hunters in the northern Lower Peninsula will see more turkeys that they’ve seen in the last few years because we had a pretty good hatch last year,” said Jim Maturen, president of the Pere Marquette Chapter of the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association. MWTHA runs a winter turkey-feeding program in northern Michigan, and the PM chapter alone fed about 3,000 birds this year, according to Maturen.

Stewart said hunters spent 338,493 days afield last year, or about four days per hunter. A whopping 12 percent of hunters were age 17 and younger.

“Spring turkey hunting is one of the best hunts to introduce a new hunter to hunting,” he said. “Taking someone into the woods in darkness and watching the world come alive is an adventure in itself.”

Following years of a growing population, Michigan’s turkey flock has leveled off, according to Stewart.

“That means we expect to see fluctuations from year to year based on nesting success,” he said. “Despite all of that, we’re still one of the top states in the nation for turkey hunting.”

Michigan has 12 turkey-management units and offers one or more hunt periods in each unit. Leftover licenses are available in many units, and a late hunt in May – the “guaranteed” hunt – has an unlimited number of licenses available, but they must be purchased before May 1.