MI: Outlook optimistic for 2011 turkey hunt
Lansing – The spring wild turkey season gets under way in less than three weeks, and gobbler chasers across the state are getting antsy.
"I'm excited about the spring season. I'm looking forward to an awesome season," Tony Snyder, president of the Michigan Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, told Michigan Outdoor News. "It doesn't appear that this winter hurt the turkeys a lot. The really bad cold spell we had came and went and didn't linger, and we had a melt-off in January when we really needed it. I think it will be another good season."
Turkey hunters in Michigan are used to having good seasons. Michigan is consistently among the top five or six states in the country in terms of the number of hunters and the number of birds killed, and Michigan's hunter success rate hovers around an impressive 35 to 40 percent each year.
Approximately 120,000 hunters apply for a spring turkey permit in Michigan each year, and around 95,000 to 100,000 hunters participate in the hunt. Michigan's annual spring turkey harvest has averaged between 35,000 and 40,000 for several years, with a record harvest of 43,000 birds in 2008. Approximately 75 percent of the total harvest each year consists of mature toms, about 24 percent are jakes, and around 1 percent are bearded hens.
In Michigan, no one is more than a 90-minute drive from turkey hunting, and this year's 44-day season is one of the longest in the country.
Michigan's turkey population is stable in the northern two tiers of the state and is growing in the southern Lower Peninsula. The statewide turkey population is pegged at around 200,000 birds, with the lion's share of them taking up residence in their ancestral range, which is in southern Michigan below a line running from Bay City to Muskegon.
"With our on-again, off-again, almost spring weather I've seen toms out strutting and displaying," said Al Stewart, a wildlife biologist and the DNR's turkey specialist. "I expect another very good season. Maybe not quite as good as last year, but still a good season."
Stewart said turkey numbers may be down a little this year.
"We kind of had poor production the last couple years due to the weather," he said. "We'll probably be down a little bit, but I don't think most people will see a significant change from last year."
Kent, Allegan, Newaygo, and Montcalm counties in the southwest Lower Peninsula annually have the most hunting pressure and the highest harvests in the state. Turkey density levels are highest in southern Michigan and decline as you move north.
"The turkey population up here, over the last five or six years, continues to go down," said Jim Maturen, president of the Pere Marquette Chapter of the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association. "We don't have the turkeys like we had a few years ago, but we still have birds. You just have to do your scouting. I think this season will be similar to last year."
Maturen's group works hard to ensure turkeys make it through the winter by conducting an active feeding program in hunt Unit K. The Pere Marquette chapter is one of five chapters of the MWTHA that conducts a feeding program. Maturen said his chapter distributed 16,200 pounds of corn this winter and fed close to 3,000 turkeys.
A couple changes were made to the turkey regulations this year. For the first time, the entire U.P. is open for the spring turkey season. Statewide, more than 56,000 square miles are open to spring turkey hunting, which is over 80 percent of Michigan's land mass.
Turkeys are present in huntable populations in every county in the Lower Peninsula. In the U.P., there are good numbers of birds in Delta, Menominee, Dickinson, and Iron counties and in parts of Marquette, Alger, Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon, and Gogebic counties.
The other major regulation change allows hunters to purchase a license for the guaranteed hunt, No. 234, until May 1. In the past, hunters had to apply for hunt No. 234 during the application period in January.
"The good news is that if you haven't applied for a turkey license, you still have lots of opportunities," Stewart said. "We have some leftover licenses available or you can purchase the guaranteed hunt (No. 234) and hunt anywhere in the state the entire month of May, except on public land in southern Michigan."
The 2011 spring turkey season opens April 18 and runs through May 31.