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Wild turkeys a U.P. success story

“When I was young I remember well, I’d hunt the wild turkey and bobwhite quail,” – Bob McDill

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MARQUETTE — There was a time, not too long ago, when seeing a wild turkey in the Upper Peninsula, especially the more northern portions of the region, was indeed a rare occurrence.

However, with the help of hunters and others, that fact has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Today, the chances of seeing a turkey or successfully hunting one in Michigan has improved greatly.

Those interested in the continued expansion of wild turkey populations in the U.P. can help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources by reporting January sightings. This information is kept confidential and helps the DNR manage the state’s wild turkey populations.

Forty years ago, a hunter had a 25 percent chance of getting a turkey hunting license in Michigan with hunter success rates roughly 10 percent, resulting in about 400 turkeys total harvested statewide.

With tremendously successful comeback efforts aimed at improving turkey populations, hunters now are assured of the certainty of getting a Michigan turkey hunting license. Hunter success is now at 30 percent, translating to about 30,000 turkeys harvested in Michigan each year.

As of 2014, Michigan ranked 8th nationwide in turkey harvest.

The Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. unsuccessfully released wild turkeys on Grand Island in Alger County in 1905. To illustrate how rare wild turkeys were at one time in the North Country, during the 1980’s moose lift to the U.P., Canada traded moose for turkeys.

Across the U.S., there are now more than 7 million wild turkeys. Prior to settlement, turkeys were common features of the natural environment. At that time, about 94,000 wild turkeys were estimated in Michigan.

Settlement brought habitat changes, turkey harvest went unregulated and the birds all but disappeared from the landscape. However, efforts by conservationists were undertaken to re-establish turkey populations across Michigan, with releases of birds at several locations.

Turkeys need trees, grass and openings, along with food sources available year-round ranging from buds to fruits to nuts.

In the U.P., turkeys have survived the winter with feeding by residents. About 70 percent of the region, especially the more northern area, would otherwise not be productive range for wild turkeys.

Examples of unlikely places where turkeys have been located include the Seney Stretch along M-28 in Alger and Schoolcraft counties and in northern Marquette County near Big Bay.

The U.P. wild turkey populations have also been augmented by birds that were raised from eggs and then walked away from farms. Intentional releases by private parties have also contributed to the current status of turkeys in the region.

By 1937, at the urging of a national coalition of conservationists and hunters, with support from the sporting arms industry, the U.S. Congress approved the Pittman-Robertson Act.

The act, also known as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, directs proceeds from an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, bows and arrows to a special fund for wildlife restoration.

The Internal Revenue Service then distributes funding to states, based on a formula that reflects the number of hunters and size of each state.

Money allocated from this action raised support from hunters across the country for numerous species, including wild turkeys, as habitat management efforts began. Since the law was enacted, more than $275 million has been allocated to Michigan for wildlife restoration efforts.

A limited license spring turkey hunt will take place from April 17 through May 31 across the U.P. A maximum license quota of 6,000 licenses has been set. However, quotas may be adjusted based on wild turkey hunter and population surveys.

A fall turkey hunting season is also offered.

Since the 1980s, efforts to re-establish wild turkeys in Michigan have continued with improved habitat and several intentional releases of trapped wild turkeys. Today, most of the state’s 83 counties are populated with wild turkeys and more areas are open to spring turkey hunting than at any other time in Michigan history.

To find out more about turkeys in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/Turkey or contact U.P. DNR offices.

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Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.

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