Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Turkey hunt prospects look fine in ’09

Lansing – Who would have thought, back in 1989 when 22,199
Michigan turkey hunters killed a modest 6,195 birds, that just 20
years later Michigan would be one of the top turkey-hunting states
in the country?

Since 2000, Michigan spring turkey hunters have killed an
average of about 36,000 spring gobblers annually, including a state
harvest record of 40,000 birds last year.

Although experts don’t expect spring turkey hunters to set
another record this spring, the outlook for the upcoming season
remains bright.

“Overall, hunters can expect a season similar to what we’ve had
over the past three years,” Al Stewart, the DNR’s turkey
specialist, told Michigan Outdoor News.

How good do hunters have it?

Consider that there are more than 48,000 square miles open to
spring turkey hunting – about 80 percent of the state – and no one
is more than a 90-minute drive from turkey hunting. Michigan
averages about 100,000 hunters each spring, and has a 41-day season
this year; the annual success rate ranges between 30 and 40
percent.

“Sometimes people tend to take for granted the quality and
opportunity we have here in Michigan,” Stewart said. “We have more
area open to hunting than most states. We have one of the longest
seasons in the country, and one of the highest success rates in the
country. We have a lot going for us.

“Last year was a record year for harvest. All things compared,
Michigan ranks sixth in the nation in terms of harvest. On top of
that, we have some of the best-quality hunting in the country in
terms of hunter success, lack of hunter interference, and hunter
satisfaction. Our goal is to maximize hunter opportunity without
(degrading) the hunt quality. Using these criteria, the majority of
turkey hunters rank us high.”

Since 2006, biologists have estimated the statewide wild turkey
population at more than 200,000 birds.

A severe winter, primarily in the northern Lower Peninsula and
Upper Peninsula, can negatively impact wild turkeys. When snow gets
deep, turkeys have a tough time moving around and locating ample
food sources. They often expend more energy looking for food and
staying warm than they gain from the limited food they find, which
is a recipe for disaster.

Despite the severe winter across Michigan this year, the
statewide estimate remains at more than 200,000 birds.

“In southern Michigan we have good to excellent bird numbers,”
Stewart said. “In the northern Lower I expect there will be fewer
birds than last year. I heard people weren’t seeing as many birds,”
during the winter, “but as spring break-up appeared, people started
seeing more birds again. In the U.P., groups are saying they are
seeing about as many birds as last year.”

Turkeys are present in hurtable populations in every county in
the Lower Peninsula. In the U.P. there are good numbers of birds in
Iron, Dickinson, Menominee, and Delta counties and in parts of
Marquette, Alger, Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon, and Gogebic
counties.

Turkey density levels are highest in southern Michigan and dip
progressively northward. In southern Michigan, turkeys are
distributed throughout the range.

“They are distributed across the state, but the majority of
birds are in their ancestral range, which is south of a line
running from Bay City to Muskegon,” Stewart said.

Hunters are limited to one bearded turkey in the spring season.
This conservative harvest approach has allowed the continued growth
and expansion of the wild turkey population in Michigan, according
to Stewart.

“Some people are asking that we increase the bag limit to two
turkeys,” he said. “I would rather see us look at hunter
recruitment and retention. Turkey hunting is a perfect opportunity
to introduce someone to hunting who hasn’t hunted before.

“Rather than (wanting to) go after a second bird, go ask your
pastor, the principal, or a neighbor kid to go hunting. Apprentice
licenses are available, and there are lots of leftover
licenses.”

As of April 1, there were about 6,500 leftover general licenses
available and another 31,000 available for hunting private property
in southern Michigan.

Hunters and patch collectors who desire a wild turkey patch may
purchase one from the Michigan Chapter of the National Wild Turkey
Federation. Young hunters, ages 10-17, who have a valid wild
turkey-hunting license may receive a free patch.

Adults may purchase the patch for $5, which includes postage and
handling. To receive a patch, send name and mailing address, along
with a copy of the youth’s valid turkey-hunting license, to:
National Wild Turkey Federation, Wild Turkey Patch Program, P.O.
Box 8, Orleans, MI 48865.

Checks should be made payable to the National Wild Turkey
Federation. You do not have to harvest a turkey to purchase a
patch.

The spring turkey season begins April 20 and runs through May
31. Most of the hunt periods only cover a portion of the season to
spread out hunter pressure.

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