Spring Turkey Hunting

Not too many years ago, the only way a person could see a turkey in the Eastern Upper Peninsula (E.U.P.) was in the freezer section of the local grocery store.

Author, Tom Pink, with his “Mother’s Day” spring turkey in 2014.

Although wild turkeys have been living in the U.P. for decades, due to snow cover they were limited to the south/central U.P., just west of Cloverland Electric’s service area. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued licenses to hunt turkeys in the central U.P. for many years, as well as throughout the Lower Peninsula. But if E.U.P. hunters wanted to hunt turkeys, they had to leave town.

Times have changed.

For the past two winters, I have watched a dozen turkeys helping themselves to my neighbor’s bird feeders within Sault Ste. Marie city limits. A few weeks ago, while eating lunch at work at the International Bridge, I watched 10 turkeys cross the I-75 northbound entrance ramp off Easterday Ave. They must have known the border was closed because they were headed east.

If you’ve chased turkeys from your feeders, or hit the brakes and horn to keep from whacking them with your Ford, you might wonder how someone would find pleasure hunting these “wild” birds. I’m here to testify that the “dumb” birds in the road or backyard are a completely different animal in the woods.

Old timers used to say, “A deer looks at a man sitting still and thinks he’s a stump. A turkey looks at a stump and thinks it’s a man.” I frequently tell friends that if turkeys had the scent capabilities of a deer, they would be impossible to fool into coming within shotgun range. Yes, they are extremely wary in the wild.

But in the springtime, a male turkey – known as a “tom” or “gobbler” – gets a little crazy while looking for female companionship, and that is his Achilles’ heel – or, in the case of the mature male turkey, its Achilles’ spur. As they age, male turkeys sport sharp spurs much like a barnyard rooster, and if you shoot one of the local tough guys, he’s likely to have scars on his legs and body from defending his harem of eligible hens. If a hunter is skilled with a turkey call, he or she can take advantage of that weakness and bring in a love-crazed gobbler from a half-mile away to in-your-face in no time at all.

Sometimes. At other times, a wise old bird will stop out of sight or well out of range, not ready to be fooled by some guy with a shotgun or bow.

All the while Mr. Tom Turkey is headed your way, he will be stopping frequently to shatter the woodland silence with a raucous gobble, letting his girlfriend know he’s interested, while also telling his competitors to back off.

Sometimes. Other times, he’ll sneak in quietly, and just when you think there isn’t a turkey for miles, he’ll issue a gobble that will jolt you off your seat and stop your heart.

To hunt turkeys in the E.U.P. means to tolerate extreme conditions, usually. We still had snow on the ground last year when the season opened. But I’ll take snow over the mosquitoes that come out for turkey hunters in southern Michigan.

I started hunting turkeys more than 25 years ago after being urged to do so by a friend. I resisted, because I wasn’t sure I needed another distraction from spring yard and garden chores, but finally relented. I’ve been hooked ever since. There are few things more exciting than listening to a wild turkey sound off in the woods and trying to trick one into coming home for dinner. Their gobbles sound almost prehistoric. I imagine a pterodactyl coming toward me through the trees.

Now that turkeys are so plentiful in our neck of the woods, one doesn’t need a shotgun to appreciate their sunrise shouting. Next time you’re out for an early morning walk, stop and listen. You may hear the sounds turkeys have been making for eons in their urge to attract more turkeys to your neighborhood. But if you do want to bring one home for dinner, consult the DNR’s turkey hunting guide (michigan.gov/dnr). The cost of a turkey license is roughly the same as what you’ll pay for a grocery store bird, but the thrill is worth many times that amount.

By: Tom Pink