The 2012 spring turkey season is almost here. The good news is Michigan has a very large population of wild turkeys. Whether you enjoy hunting the early season before the toms have been educated by hunters or the late season when most of the hens are already on the nest and toms are more receptive to calling, you can plan on having a great time chasing spring gobblers if you invest some time in pre-season scouting.
According to Al Stewart, upland game bird specialist for the Michigan DNR, Michigan has a healthy turkey population of more than 200,000 birds — one of the largest turkey populations in the country. With a healthy population of turkeys, hunters can expect to have plenty of opportunities to bag a bird this spring, as long as the weather cooperates.
“Weather plays a big role in the outcome of a spring hunt,” Stewart said. “If you can remember the spring of 2011, we had plenty of bad weather during the first few weeks of the season. All the numbers aren’t in from last spring, but I would suspect there were fewer birds harvested in the state as a result. When we have a warm, sunny spring, we tend to harvest more birds than when we have a cold, wet spring.”
Cold, wet springs have an impact on the number of hens that end up with successful hatches. Since the spring of 2011 was cold and wet, Stewart believes the turkey population will be down slightly in the spring of 2012 from the number of birds we had several years ago.
“We certainly won’t be at our peak for turkey numbers in 2012. The population fluctuates some over the years. This year the numbers will probably be down some. The good news is we have many turkeys in this state and there are ample opportunities for turkey hunters across the state to harvest a spring gobbler. We have a high success rate in Michigan because we have so many birds. Our success rate average, which exceeds 20 percent and goes as high as 40 percent or more in some units, is higher than the national average.”
The 2012 Michigan turkey season will start on April 23 and go through the end of May. Michigan offers a variety of hunting units and tag options that provide plenty of opportunities for all hunters.
Many of the hunts have quota limits while Hunt 234, which is gaining in popularity, is an over-the-counter license that allows hunters to hunt private and public land in all the open units except public land in the southern portion of the state.
The 234 hunt takes place during most of May. The license must be purchased by May 1, which means hunters who think they might want to hunt turkeys during the spring should buy the license ahead of time. Licenses cannot be purchased after May 1. Stewart believes Hunt 234 is a great option for hunters.
“Many hunters believe the best time to hunt turkeys is during the early season,” Stewart noted. “However, during the latter part of May, the toms are often by themselves so they can be easier to call in. The weather is nicer and Hunt 234 is several weeks long so hunters have plenty of time to hunt. I typically buy the 234 tag.”
If you are one of the hunters who want to apply for a certain unit, below are a few great units to consider hunting in this spring.
If you are looking for a classic big-woods gobbler hunt and are up for an adventure, consider hunting in Unit M, which includes the Upper Peninsula of Michigan except for Isle Royal. There are 8,000 tags distributed for that unit. The season is one long season instead of being broken up into weeklong seasons as much of the Lower Peninsula has. As a result, hunters can take their time and wait for the decent weather to arrive instead of having to hunt a specific week.
There are plenty of places to hunt in the Upper Peninsula. “The Upper Peninsula has lots of public land,” said Stewart. “Much of the public land is big sections of property so hunters can walk deep into the woods to hunt and find a few places where other hunters don’t go.”
The bad news about hunting in Unit M is that the beginning part of the season can be cold. I hunted in the Upper Peninsula a few years ago and harvested a gobbler on the second day of the season — with an inch of snow on the ground.
The other drawback is that the Upper Peninsula is a long way from most Michiganders. But if you are looking for a wilderness turkey hunting experience, Unit M in the Upper Peninsula offers it.