G&F Forecast: Michigan Turkey Hunting in 2013

G&F Forecast: Michigan Turkey Hunting in 2013
Joe Robison, left, a biologist with the Michigan DNR, and Josh Grossenbacher of Zink Calls, pose with a fine Michigan spring gobbler. Robison believes Michigan hunters should see more legal birds in the woods this spring. Photo by Tracy Breen.

Michigan has not had a banner turkey hatch in several years. Although our turkey population has been stable and hunting has been good, the state has not seen a substantial turkey population boom in quite some time.

That is about to change.

Although the numbers aren't in yet to know for sure what the 2012 hatch was like, all indicators show that the 2012 hatch was a very successful one.

"Anytime you have a warm, dry spring you typically have a great hatch," said Joe Robison, a biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and a pro staff member for Zink Game Calls. "In addition to having a dry spring, we had an early spring, which can help with brood rearing."


There is an extremely high mortality rate among ground-nesting birds, including turkeys. An early spring means hen turkeys that lose a nest due to predators, high water or bad weather conditions will have a chance to have another brood.


The NWTF offers a more detailed hunt guide with exclusive, member-only information prepared by NWTF biologists and field staff. To access this information please join the NWTF. Please check with your local wildlife agency to confirm seasonal information before planning your hunt, as information is subject to change.

"Hens that lose a nest will re-nest and do so all the way into the middle of summer," advised Robison. "The fact that we had an early spring means hens had a lot of time for a second nest if needed."

One great indicator of a good hatch is seeing large broods of chicks throughout the spring and summer, which was definitely the case during the spring of 2012.

"Everywhere I looked, I saw hens with chicks," said Scott Cole, an avid turkey hunter from west Michigan. "We even saw lots of hens and poults in the northern Lower Peninsula, which hasn't been the case for several years."


Turkey numbers have struggled in the northern Lower Peninsula the last several years, and so the hatch of 2012 should help bird numbers rebound in that area. The turkey population in Michigan is well over 200,000 birds and may grow slightly this year. As a result, the 2013 spring season should be a good one.

"I think hunters should expect a great season this year," said the biologist. "There will likely be many 2-year-old toms around, which should make hunting exciting."

Those who hunt turkeys sparingly and don't get very excited about it should consider going all-in this year.


"The success rate in Michigan is fairly high," said Robison. "About 36 percent of hunters fill their tag. In addition, hunters report that they don't have much interference from other hunters when turkey hunting, which makes hunting turkeys a great experience for anyone who enjoys hunting."

One of the reasons Michigan hunters don't have much interference from other hunters is because the majority of the birds taken each spring are harvested on private ground. In previous years, 90 percent of the turkey harvest took place on private ground. More than 80 percent of turkey hunters hunt only on private property.

"What the numbers reveal is that many people don't utilize public ground for hunting, and so hunters who are discouraged about hunting on public land shouldn't be. The numbers show that public-land hunters will have great opportunities because not many people hunt turkeys on public land."

There are more than 58,000 square miles of land open to turkey hunting every spring in Michigan, and so it is safe to say that even hunters who only hunt on public ground will have the woods to themselves. That's especially true if they scout ahead of time and find areas that other hunters overlook.

In 2011, roughly 86,000 turkey hunters tagged more than 30,000 birds. It is safe to say that Michigan is a great place to hunt turkeys in the spring. Although the state has an extremely healthy population of turkeys, only one bearded turkey can be taken each spring.

To hunt turkeys in Michigan, hunters must draw a tag for a limited draw unit, purchase a leftover tag, or buy a hunt 234 tag, which allows hunters to hunt the late season. Although the tag drawing system discourages some hunters, anyone who wants to hunt turkeys in Michigan can and likely will have plenty of opportunities to fill their tag if they hunt, regardless of which unit they hunt. Following are some of the best units to hunt from around the state.

THE ZZ UNIT

For hunters who want to hunt on private property, one of the best tag options is the ZZ tag, which is good for private land in about half of the state. The tag is good for the first two weeks of the season, plenty of time for hunters to find birds and fill a tag. I like this tag when I get permission to hunt small parcels of land in southern Michigan.

"The southern portion of the state is home to many turkeys," said Robison. "Several of these birds live on small parcels of private property."

Small parcels are overlooked by far too many hunters, but birds that live on small parcels are often easier to pattern and hunt. That's nice for hunters who have a limited amount of time to hunt.

When hunting small parcels, it is important to note that figuring out where turkeys are roosting is extremely important. Shortly after they fly down, the birds may leave one parcel and go onto another. Over the years, when hunting small parcels I have had the best luck tagging birds by knowing exactly what trees they roost in and calling in a tom right after his feet hit the forest floor in the morning.

If you enjoy hunting with a bow or crossbow, small parcels can be just the ticket, especially when you consider discharging a firearm on small parcels of land is against the law if you are in close proximity to other houses or occupied buildings. The biggest tom I have taken in Michigan was when I had the ZZ tag and used a bow to hunt on a small parcel of ground. I tagged the bird a few hundred yards from a house.

If you have private land to hunt on, ZZ is a great tag. However, keep in mind that if you draw the ZZ tag, you cannot hunt on public land.

UNIT M

Although hunting small parcels of land can be fun, hunting big chunks of public ground can also be fun. Hunters who want to hunt big woods and aren't afraid of a drive should consider putting in for Unit M, which is in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Far too many people don't even consider the Upper Peninsula as a place to hunt turkeys, but the southern portion of the Upper Peninsula is home to a healthy population of the birds. The mild 2011-2012 winter along with a good 2012 hatch should result in good hunting during the 2013 season.

With miles of public ground and few turkey hunters, the Upper Peninsula has a lot to offer turkey hunters. Menominee County is home to multiple farms that contain large crop fields and rolling hills, just the places that turkeys like to call home. Knocking on a few doors and asking for permission to hunt can result in great hunting opportunities.

UNIT ZF

When it comes to hunting on public land, it is hard to beat west Michigan and the state game areas in Muskegon and Allegan counties.

"Many years ago, many of the turkey restoration projects took place in West Michigan," Robison observed. "The turkey population in those areas has really exploded over the last decade. Muskegon State Game Area is home to many hardwoods, river bottoms and to farm ground, which are all very attractive to turkeys."

I know several people who have been successful hunting the state game areas in southern Michigan. Most of them put in their time scouting to determine where turkeys are roosting and feeding, and where other hunters are hunting. Kevin Jensen from Fruitport hunts on the Muskegon State Game Area almost every year and typically tags a bird.

"I spend a lot of time in the preseason scouting," he said. "When I go hunting, I know where the birds are and where the other hunters are. I have become successful by hunting hard and spending a lot of time in the woods. The nice thing about the Muskegon State Game Area is that it is large so if I don't get a bird first thing in the morning, I can walk and call, or sit in my blind and call periodically. Likely, sooner or later a tom will respond."

Robison believes that many of the state game areas in southern Michigan offer fine hunting.

"Hunters looking for great hunting opportunities on public land should get online and look for state game areas in their area. State game areas are managed for wildlife and offer great hunting."

One tag that allows hunters to hunt on public and private land like the state game areas is the ZF tag.

UNIT 234

One of the best tags to have during a Michigan turkey season is the 234 tag. It is an over-the-counter tag. The hunt usually opens in early May and goes until the end of May, giving hunters almost an entire month to tag their birds.

"In my opinion, this is one of the best opportunities for Michigan hunters because it gives them plenty of time to hunt," said Robison. "Many hunters can only hunt on the weekends. This tag allows them to hunt several weekends and increases their chances of getting a bird."

It is important to note that this tag is good during Memorial Day Weekend. Many people have a three-day weekend, which gives them an extra day to hunt. The downside of this tag is that although it is good on public and private land in much of the state, hunters can't use the tag on public land in the southern portion of the state. To know which units are open and which ones are closed, check out a current copy of our turkey-hunting regulations.

UNIT J

Area J in the northern Lower Peninsula is a great place to hunt on public land with the 234 tag. Area J is a large unit that covers several counties and lots of public land. The spring in the Northcountry comes later than the rest of the state, making this a great place to go during the late season because toms are often still gobbling heavily.

"I hunt Area J almost every year and am amazed how late the buds on the trees are up there compared to the rest of the state," said Doug Kuiper from Holland. "It stays colder up there longer, but in May, the toms really talk up there and I love hunting in the big Northwoods. We get birds almost every year."

Many hunters prefer hunting the early season. One of the most popular units to hunt the early season is Area K. Area K is a large unit that holds a large population of turkeys. The problem with the early-season hunts is that they only last a week and the weather is sometimes cold.

Drawing a tag for the early season hunt can be difficult because many people put in for the tag. The 2012 spring season was a great time to hunt the early season because of the early spring. Many years, however, there is still snow on the ground in places. Hunters who can take several days off from work and want to hunt birds that haven't been called to or shot at should consider putting in for the first hunt.

Gobbling is typically at its peak during the first week of the season. If you have private land to hunt in southern Michigan, put in for the ZZ tag and the hunt that takes place during the early weeks of the season. If your time is limited, or you want to hunt large tracts of public ground, consider getting the 234 tag, or hunting one of the northern units where you can walk for miles without seeing another hunter and likely call in birds that rarely, if ever, get called to.

One thing is certain: The turkey population in Michigan is high, and so are your chances of success this spring if you spend time in the woods.

Arkansas

Arkansas turkey hunting is still on life support, but it's showing remarkable signs of improvement. After a record year in 2003, Arkansas fell to 9,000 birds harvested in 2012 — 11,000 less birds in a 10-year span. The state has responded by cutting back on hunting opportunities, and it feels confident numbers will slowly rise.

For more information about turkey hunting in Arkansas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

California

The turkey population in most areas is robust this year and hunter success should be high. As usual, several factors will come into play, including the timing of breeding phases and inclement weather. The turkeys are there and the trick is to persist until you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

For more information about turkey hunting in California, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Florida

With the ability to hunt two species of wild turkey in the same state, Florida hunters definitely have an edge. Although Florida doesn't do statewide turkey assessments, officials believe numbers will be as strong and impressive as last year.

For more information about turkey hunting in Florida, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Georgia

Turkey populations for 2013 are estimated to be around 335,000, which has remained steady since 2010. The numbers are very solid — even more impressive when you consider they were around 17,000 in 1973. Much like last year, hunters in Georgia can expect a great chance at a turkey again in 2013.

For more information about turkey hunting in Georgia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Great Plains

It's hard to conceive of a better place to hunt turkeys than the Great Plains region. You can buy multiple permits across states, seasons are liberal in length and you can hunt Rios, Easterns and Merriam's in the same state. It doesn't get much better than that.

In Nebraska, 32,520 permits were issued and 21,419 turkeys were harvested in 2012 — that's a 62 percent success rate, well above the national average (25 percent).

For more information about turkey hunting in the Great Plains region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast for Kansas , Nebraska , North Dakota and South Dakota.

Illinois

Illinois turkey numbers in 2012 grew to 15,121, which was better than an already impressive showing in 2011. Will the same trend prove true in 2013? According to biologists, turkey numbers are still strong, but the state DNR is taking a wait-and-see approach.

Northern Illinois typically provides the best harvest numbers, with 8,935 turkeys taken in 2012. The southern part of the state was still at an impressive 7,006 turkeys harvested. Biologists in Illinois predict that turkey numbers in 2013 will be the same, or slightly improved, from last year, which is great news for hunters.

For more information about turkey hunting in Illinois, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Indiana

Despite warmer conditions in 2012, hunters killed 12,655 turkeys in Indiana, which made for a solid year. Does that mean 2013 is set up to be a great year? Biologists in Indiana are hesitant to make that bold of a prediction, especially since brood numbers haven't been that great in recent years. This has mainly affected the number of jakes harvested.

Even with some of these concerns, state biologists are optimistic about turkey production in 2013.

For more information about turkey hunting in Indiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Iowa

Turkey harvest numbers were up slightly in 2012 from the year prior — a positive trend for turkey hunters in Iowa. With a robust youth season and strong adult harvest numbers the last couple of years, state officials think 2013 is going to be a strong year as well.

For more information about turkey hunting in Iowa, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Kentucky

With strong survival and nesting numbers in 2012, officials in Kentucky are predicting another solid year in 2013. Despite two years of odd weather, Kentucky has maintained strong numbers all around. Officials also believe a dry spell actually helped more than it hurt.

For more information about turkey hunting in Kentucky, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Louisiana

According to biologists, this spring's hunting in Louisiana should be a bit tougher than last year's. In some areas the birds had a hard time in the spring of 2011, resulting in both poor nesting success and adult bird mortality. That doesn't mean the turkey population is in trouble, but it does mean hunters may be in for a couple of years of more challenging hunting.

For more information about turkey hunting in Louisiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Michigan

Michigan has not had a banner turkey hatch in several years, but it looks like 2012 may provide just that. As a result, Joe Robison of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources predicts 2013 will be a fantastic year for turkey hunters.

With an already impressive population of right at 200,000 birds in 2012, Robison predicts that number will increase this year. Also, Michigan has a high success rate — 36 percent — which should make for an exciting turkey hunting season.

For more information about turkey hunting in Michigan, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Minnesota

Minnesota had a great spring for nesting in 2012, something that should bring great turkey hunting this year. While in the past hunters had to traverse to the southern part of the state if they wanted to bag a turkey, numbers have rapidly expanded all across the state.

"I'm thrilled with what turkeys are doing in Minnesota," Tom Glines, National Wild Turkey Federation regional director, said. According to Glines, lottery tags are up 10 percent in many areas, and 20 percent in others. All that means lots of opportunity in 2013.

For more information about turkey hunting in Minnesota, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Mississippi

Mississippi boasts one of the largest wild turkey populations in the country. And with over a quarter million of these birds scattered from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico, hunters should have no problem finding a gobbler to chase on opening morning.

For more information about turkey hunting in Mississippi, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Missouri

The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates the state's current spring turkey population is at around 300,000 birds. Unfortunately, poor production in recent times has caused a decline in the turkey population, due to abnormally wet periods during nesting and hatching periods. However, because the last two years were so good in terms of production, it is likely 2013 will be a high water mark, which is great news for hunters.

For more information about turkey hunting in Missouri, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

New England

There are no two ways about it — New England is stocked full of turkeys, which is great news for hunters in 2013. With an estimated turkey population of 214,000, hunters have great chances to tag a bird. Maine has the highest numbers, while New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are not far behind.

For more information about turkey hunting in New England, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

North Carolina

While turkey hunting numbers should remain somewhat steady, early data in North Carolina suggests the downward trend of turkey populations may continue into the 2013 season. Almost 20 percent of turkeys harvested in 2012 were jakes, which means less mature turkeys this year. State officials also recommend hunting federal lands, though permits are required for these particular hot spots.

For more information about turkey hunting in North Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Ohio

Ohio looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey hunting season, with great populations of birds across the state. Officials estimate 2013 and 2014 will both be great years, with harvest rates predicted to be around 18,000 birds.

For more information about turkey hunting in Ohio, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Oklahoma

Depending on what happens with the drought, Oklahoma officials predict the 2013 turkey season will be a mirror of what happened last year. The state had solid numbers, despite obviously dry conditions. That said, the drought definitely had a negative impact on overall turkey numbers state wide. Numbers are still strong — 55,747 turkeys in the western region alone — but down 9 percent from last year.

For more information about turkey hunting in Oklahoma, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Pacific Northwest

States like Oregon and Washington, both in the Pacific Northwest, have an optimistic turkey outlook for 2013. The southwest corner of Oregon is the state's typical hot spot for turkey hunting, and it looks good this year as well. Since 2011, the Melrose unit in southwest Oregon has a 51 percent success rate, which is well above the national average.

Washington figures not to be far behind, with a success rate of 36 percent last year and a harvest of 5,600 birds. The hottest areas are in northeast part of the state.

For more information about turkey hunting in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania turkey numbers have continued to rise and fall over the last few years, but the good news is results have been consistently stable. According to officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, population numbers have dropped off a little, but that was after a roaring boom in the 2000's. They also predict a solid year for turkeys in 2013.

For more information about turkey hunting in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Rocky Mountains

When most sportsmen think of Colorado, Wyoming and much of the Rocky Mountain region, they think of monster mulies and bugling elk. And for good reason. But with a turkey hunting success rate of 25 percent in Colorado — on par with the national average — and 70 percent for non-residents in Wyoming, it's also a great place to track down a turkey.

For those hunters lucky enough to draw a limited tag, there is usually a success rate of 55 percent. Hunting Rio Grandes is a bit tougher, as the tag usually takes about 3 to 4 years to acquire.

For more information about turkey hunting in the Rocky Mountain region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

South Carolina

After two productive years for wild turkeys, South Carolina looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey season. According to state officials, some of the best places to hunt are public land areas like those in the Sumer National Forest. With good production since 2010, these areas are full of 2-year-old gobblers.

For more information about turkey hunting in South Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Tennessee

Coming off great turkey harvest years in 2010 and 2012 — with 37,000 and 33,789 birds harvested, respectively — things look good again for Tennessee in 2013. Amazingly, Tennessee harvested 30,000 birds every year for the last decade, which says a lot about its ability to produce great turkey hunting year after year.

For more information about turkey hunting in Tennessee, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Virginia

Virginia state officials believe the state is in the midst of a leveling off period, which means consistent turkey harvest rates statewide. Turkey populations have dropped by about 1.2 percent over the last decade, but harvest numbers have remained strong.

For more information about turkey hunting in Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

West Virginia

In 2012, West Virginia saw a fairly substantial decline in turkey harvest numbers, which was probably affected by low brood numbers dating back to 2009. Likewise, state officials believe a strong hatch in 2011 should translate into much improved harvest numbers for 2013.

For more information about turkey hunting in West Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin has consistently been rising in turkey production each year, and this year it looks like it has reached a place of dynamic stability — turkeys are present everywhere in hearty numbers. In 2012, 42,612 turkeys were harvested — a 6 percent increase over the previous year.

Likewise, a mild winter and early spring appear to have helped turkeys pull off successful broods, according to the state DNR. With 82 percent of broods consisting of toms last year, biologists say hunting should be great in 2013.

For more information about turkey hunting in Wisconsin, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Alabama

State officials in Alabama say 2012 was a solid year for turkey hunters across the state. They predict 2013 will be much of the same, with good poult production to show for the last couple of years. As is the case in many states, quality turkey production in Alabama has come as a result of good habitat management.

Private land in Alabama offers some of the best hunting options, though a $16 permit gives you access to Wildlife Management Area lands that are also prime hunting grounds for turkeys.

For more information about turkey hunting in Alabama, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

Texas

According to state officials, there are around 500,000 Rio Grande turkeys living in Texas, meaning there are lots of opportunities for hunters across the state. The state also had above average survival rates, which should make for a great season in 2013.

For more information about turkey hunting in Texas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.

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