If you have driven through some of Michigan’s rural areas this spring you have probably noticed wild turkeys. Turkeys are out and about in the daytime and in the spring breeding season it’s easy to spot them along roads and in farm fields. Once scarce in Michigan, wild turkeys have managed to make an impressive comeback with an estimate of over 200,000 birds in Michigan this year. In some places they are so numerous they have become serious pests.
Wild turkeys live in flocks of 2 to 30 or more birds, often related. Each hen turkey can raise 10 or more turkey chicks each year. In the daytime wild turkeys scavenge fields for grain, eat bugs and graze on grasses and gardens. At night, wild turkeys roost in trees. While coyotes, fox and mink may prey on them in lower Michigan, adult turkeys are pretty safe from bird predators like hawks and owls.
If you enjoy hunting the Michigan DNR wants you to know that spring turkey hunting licenses are still available, especially those for private land. A spring turkey license costs $15 or $6 for seniors. You can take one bearded turkey with this license. (Bearded turkeys are older males; the beard is a tuft of feathers on the breast.) To purchase licenses, go to www.mdnr-elicense.comor visit any license agent.
Turkeys can be hunted with bow and arrow, crossbow or shotgun. You cannot use mechanical or electronic decoys, electric calling devices, dogs, or baiting during your hunt. Turkeys in trees cannot be killed. You can use tree stands with bow and arrow or crossbows only.
Turkey hunting is for true hunters. Turkeys are much smarter than the common public perception of them and to bag a spring turkey takes both luck and skill. Learning how to use a non-mechanical call to draw in toms and using camouflage to fool those sharp eyes are necessary. And before you go out to the woods learn how to distinguish a tom or male turkey from a hen.
The nice spring weather makes it an ideal time to be outside and enjoy nature while hunting. Turkeys are easy to carry and clean and make a nice meal for a family. They have more dark meat and less breast meat than domestic turkeys and the flavor is a bit stronger but they still make a delicious meal.
You will want to avoid turkey hunting – or at least eating a wild turkey- from the river shed areas of the Tittabawassee River and Saginaw riversdownstream of Midland. The government has found high levels of dioxins in wildlife from that area, including turkeys. Dioxins have serious impacts on human health.
If you want to help provide habitat and management for Michigan’s wild turkey population you can buy a turkey patch for $5. You don’t have to be a hunter or have a license to buy the patch. To buy a patch send your mailing information with $5 to National Wild Turkey Federation, Wild Turkey Patch Program, P.O. Box 8, Orleans, MI 48865. Please expect 4-6 weeks for delivery. If you have questions, please e-mail email@example.com.
Don’t be caught turkey hunting without a license or taking more than one turkey with your license. You’ll be reimbursing the state $1000 for each bird plus fines and losing your hunting privileges. That’s an expensive meal.