May 03, 2016
By Tony Hansen
I can clearly remember the first time I saw a wild turkey in Michigan. I was a senior in high school when I saw this odd-looking bird walking in a fallow field behind our house. I don't know how but I knew it was a wild turkey. I had never seen one before and had only a vague understanding that they were birds that residents of southern states hunted with gusto. That was about 20 years ago.
Roughly five years later, I was in the woods hunting turkeys for the first time. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but after hearing a symphony of spring sounds punctuated by the gobbling of multiple roosted longbeards, it was over. I was hooked for life.
Jump Into The Action
Michigan's turkey hunting tradition may not be the oldest in the land, but it was one of the finest conservation success stories you'll find.
Today, with an annual harvest of roughly 30,000 birds, Michigan has firmly established itself as one of the top turkey-hunting states in the country. And there's still time to get in on the action this season.
Michigan's spring turkey season is broken into several hunt periods with license options available for hunting private land only or hunting both public and private lands. The state is broken into multiple management units as well. To hunt, you need to choose an area, a hunt period and a license type.
There are three turkey license types: general license hunts, which generally require you to apply during the January 1- February 1 application period; Unit ZZ, a multi-county license for private land only, and Hunt 0234.
Hunt 0234 permits are valid from May 2 through May 31. They can be used anywhere in the state where turkey hunting is allowed, except for private lands in Unit ZZ (southern Michigan). There is no license quota and you can buy a tag through over-the-counter through the end of the season. All of which means if you're hankering for one more great spring turkey hunt this year, Michigan should be your destination.
Best Turkey Hunting Options
Growing up, northern Michigan held the only open turkey hunting seasons in the state. It wasn't until the early 1990s that southern Michigan seasons began to offer realistic odds for drawing a license. Later, the 0234 hunt option made getting a tag a sure thing and served to kick start Michigan's meteoric rise in turkey hunting popularity.
Today, southern Michigan holds a vibrant turkey population, which gives hunters an array of destination options â€“ including the Upper Peninsula. Here's a look at a few of the best to get you started.
We'll start in the far north. The Upper Peninsula holds a surprising number of wild turkeys and Unit M covers all of the U.P.
The "Garden Peninsula" region of Menominee County holds the most birds and more traditional farmland-style habitat in which to hunt them. There is ample public land but there are plenty of private holdings as well.
If you're looking to hunt turkeys that may have never heard a call before and you want to do so in a wilderness-like habitat of conifers and mixed hardwoods, the central U.P. has huntable numbers of turkeys as well. You'll have thousands and thousands of acres of public land to explore with a good road system throughout comprised of county-maintained gravel roads and closed Forest Service roads that allow easy walk-in access.
PIGEON RIVER COUNTRY STATE FOREST
Heading south into the northern Lower Peninsula, you'll run into the Pigeon River Country State Forest.
With a total of more than 100,000 acres, the Pigeon River Country exemplifies pure Michigan. Wild turkey numbers tend to go up and down based on winter conditions, but you'll have minimal trouble finding gobblers to work. If you need even more room to roam, the nearby Gaylord State Forest is another sizeable chunk of land that has plenty of turkeys to chase.
These are big timber birds and you'll need to hunt them accordingly. Roosting birds the night before you hunt is important. I like to park at a main trailhead (and there is no shortage of excellent and well-marked trails throughout this area) and spend the last 90 minutes of daylight slipping along and using a locator call to mark birds that have either flown up for the night or are very near their roosting locations. I'll then pinpoint those locations on a handheld GPS or with a mapping option on a smartphone. The following morning, you're in the game.
Finding established strut zones is also important because these turkeys are less likely to be visiting fields and similar open-space strutting areas.
THE BALDWIN AREA
If there is a "Turkey Central" in Michigan, it could be argued that it starts in Baldwin.
This small town in the northeast Lower Peninsula has held good populations of wild turkeys since Michigan's first spring season was held.
Surrounded by the Huron-Manistee National Forests, you'll have more than a million acres of public land to hunt. You won't find a gobbler roosted in every tree, but you won't have much trouble finding birds willing to gobble either.
Again, this is heavily timbered country and you'll need to adjust your tactics accordingly. In years when there are good numbers of two-year-old gobblers available, you can have some incredible gobbling response. Years when the two-year-old population is lower requires a little more patience and woodsmanship to fool the veteran, long-spurred bosses roaming the woods here.
ALLEGAN STATE GAME AREA
We're now in southern Michigan, at the place where it all began. In 1954, the Allegan State Game Area received a stocking of wild birds from Pennsylvania. This was the first time wild turkeys â€“ born and raised in the wild â€“ were ever trapped and transferred into Michigan. While other reintroduction methods and attempts were made prior, this step and process was the first to truly start to rebuild Michigan's wild turkey population.
Today, the Allegan State Game Area and the private lands that surround it are top-notch turkey producers. Tags for hunting the public lands in southern Michigan, where Allegan is located, are available only through a license lottery. Hunt 0234 tags are not valid there. That said, you might be able to secure permission to hunt on private land with a courteous request.
If you do, hold on to your hat because you'll likely be hunting some of the finest turkey habitat in the state.
EXTEND YOUR MICHIGAN ADVENTURE
Michigan's Hunt 0234 turkey season falls in the month of May. While diehard deer hunters will likely disagree, it's hard to find a month more special than May. The spring weather has finally leveled off and you'll be greeted with cool mornings and evenings, and very comfortable midday temperatures. While the turkey hunting in May can be spectacular, if you ignore the fishing, well, that just might be one of the Bible's unwritten sins.
Fishing: May offers outstanding opportunities for trout fishing in Michigan's rivers and streamsâ€“ and there are more of them than you can count.
From native brook trout in the Upper Peninsula to browns and rainbows in the northern part of Lower Michigan, the state's trout fishing options are diverse and easily accessible. And for bass fans, Michigan offers some of the finest smallmouth fishing anywhere! With a nonresident license costing only $68 for a season pass ($30 for 72 hours or $10 for 24 hours); this might be the best trout bargain in the country.
Camping: Finding a place to camp during your turkey hunt should be painless. Throughout Michigan, you'll find countless campgrounds â€“ both state-owned campgrounds and many privately owned. Michigan boasts more than 100 state parks, many of which have modern camping facilities. In addition, hundreds of facilities offer a wide variety of camping options from rustic tent sites and fully modernized campgrounds with RV hook-ups to lodges, yurts and tepee rentals in national forests, state forests and state recreation areas.
Wildlife Viewing: While you're camping, you'll have plenty of wildlife watching options available as well. If you're hunting the Pigeon River Country, keep your eyes open for elk. Michigan has a healthy elk population in that region and viewing options aren't terribly hard to come by.
In the Upper Peninsula, you may spot a moose. In the northern Lower, black bear sightings are not uncommon. And in southern Michigan, keep an eye on the sky and you'll likely spot a passing flock of sandhill cranes as they migrate to their summer grounds.