Michigan gobbler outlook is optimistic

Lansing — With only a few weeks remaining until the spring turkey season begins, hunters throughout the state are getting ready to head to the woods and chase gobblers with bow and arrow, crossbow, or shotgun.

April 23 kicks off the spring turkey-hunting season and Al Stewart, a DNR wildlife biologist and upland game specialist, is optimistic about turkeys coming through the winter months in good shape. He states that although the state experienced a cold and wet spring last year with average to below-average production due to hens nesting in wet conditions, the extremely mild winter just ending across the state provided turkeys with the ability to forage on waste grain and other natural foods that they’d otherwise be unable to find in a normal winter.

According to the DNR, 36 percent of the 106,889 hunters who purchased a license during the 2011 spring turkey season were successful. It’s estimated that approximately 51,000 turkeys statewide were killed   last spring. According to Stewart, that makes Michigan sixth in the nation for turkey harvest last year.

“The National Wild Turkey Federation, in partnership with the DNR, plants food plots on public and private lands in the Upper Peninsula and in the northern Lower Peninsula,” he said. “DNR wildlife biologists in southern Michigan also manage game areas, planting food plots, grasslands, and managing timber. This provides mast for turkeys such as acorns and fruit-bearing shrubs. It also provides clover for the turkeys to feed on.”

Last spring, an estimated 21,606 gobblers were shot by hunters in the southern Lower Peninsula. Counties where the most turkeys were killed included Allegan, Calhoun, Jackson, Hillsdale, Ingham, and Livingston. The SLP, Stewart said, continues to maintain a healthy population of turkeys. 

Turkey numbers decrease the farther north you travel. Jim Maturen, president of the Pere Marquette Chapter of the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association acknowledges that turkey numbers have declined in northern Michigan.

“The turkey population throughout the northern Lower Peninsula has been declining each year for a number of years now,” Maturen said “Recently, we have had ideal nesting conditions with a dry, warm spring, yet the hatches have been poor. The past spring was wet and cold, yet we appear to have had a decent hatch for a number of years, but there are large adult hens that have flocked together without poults.”

Due to the low number of turkeys, Maturen’s chapter along with other MWTHA and NWTF chapters are doing plenty of work to help increase the turkey population. MWTHA continues to have winter turkey-survival programs, which distribute 10,000 pounds of shelled corn free of charge.

“This ensures that winter-stressed turkeys will survive until spring, and it also allows us to check the population,” he said.

The DNR estimates hunters killed about 7,511 turkeys throughout the northern Lower Peninsula last spring.

Projects aimed at improving turkey populations also have been implemented in the Upper Peninsula, according to Christy Thomas, DNR outreach technician for the U.P.

“In the western U.P., most habitat-improvement projects across the region have targeted a variety of game species, including turkeys,” she said. “In 2011, herbaceous plantings of clover and rye were established or maintained and seeded for deer, turkeys, grouse, woodcock, and bears. In addition, apple, crabapple, and oak trees were maintained or planted for turkeys and other game species.

“Much of this work was done in conjunction with local sportsmen’s clubs, NWTF, Wildlife Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Woodcock Conservation Initiative, and U.P. Whitetails. Similar work is planned for 2012,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, no turkey-specific habitat improvement was conducted in the EUP, but efforts aimed at other species also will benefit turkeys, including extensive oak plantings.

Like the rest of the state, the U.P. also had a wet spring last year; however, Thomas is optimistic that the mild winter, with low snow depths and mild temperatures, should result in good turkey numbers going into the spring nesting season.

This will be the second year in a row that the entire U.P. will be open to turkey hunting for the entire season, April 23 through May 31.

Typically, turkey populations in the U.P. are highest in Menominee, Iron, Delta, Dickinson, and in certain areas of Marquette, Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon, and Gogebic counties. Last spring, a total of 1,205 turkeys were killed by hunters throughout the U.P., according to the DNR

This spring, for the first time, youngsters under the age of 10 will have the opportunity to hunt turkeys on private and public land under the new Mentored Youth Hunting Program. On March 1, the DNR began selling a $7.50 mentored youth hunting licenses, which is considered a “package” license. 

This allows youngsters to hunt both spring and fall turkeys, as well as other species. (See the Michigan DNR website for more rules and regulations on this new license.)

Hunt No. 234, the guarantied hunt, continues to be available to spring turkey hunters for purchase until May 1.

“Hunters looking for the greatest flexibility should consider Hunt 234, which runs May 7-31 and includes all open areas of the state, except the public lands of southern Michigan,” Stewart said. “Hunter success is not significantly different from the beginning of the season as it is toward the end.”

Leftover licenses are available at license dealers across the state and online on a first-come, first-served basis.

This spring, turkey season runs from April 23 and lasts through May 31.

Categories: Hunting News, Hunting Top Story, Turkey

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