Every year, about 100,000 Michigan hunters venture into the field in the hopes of bagging a gobbler, and about 30,000 of them are successful. And this year, for the first time on record, state wildlife officials say that there is a turkey population in every single county in the Lower Peninsula.
“For the first time in history, wild turkeys can be found in parts of every county in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula plus areas of the Upper Peninsula. The expansion of wild turkeys in Michigan did not happen overnight, but has unfolded over the last half-century,” the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stated.
According to the Traverse City Record-Eagle, the current level of hunter success makes Michigan the seventh best state to hunt in during the spring turkey season.
“We estimate that turkey populations are somewhere around 200,000 birds statewide,” said Ryan Boyer, a regional wildlife biologist working for the National Wild Turkey Foundation.
That is a major comeback from 1905, when the wild turkey was expatriated from every single county in Michigan. Early conservationists attempted to re-establish the population by importing birds from other states, yet few of the attempts had any real success.
For a period of about 25 years, conservationists watched effort after effort fail due to a combination of predators, poachers, and low growth rates. It was not until the early 1950s, when Pennsylvania announced its own successful restoration program, that the move to reintroduce turkeys in Michigan was renewed. Biologists traveled to the Keystone State and brought over the same techniques and land use practices to Michigan, specifically the 40,000-acre Allegan State Game Area. In 1954, the Michigan DNR purchased 50 turkeys and 400 eggs from the Pennsylvania Allegheny Wild Turkey Farm and established the foundation of the wild turkey population that exists today.
“In 1977, a hunter’s chance of drawing a license to hunt was about 25 percent. Today, all individuals are guaranteed an opportunity to buy a spring turkey hunting license. In 1977, hunter success was below 10 percent. Today, hunters experience about 30 percent hunter success regardless of whether they hunt the first hunt period or the last period,” the DNR stated.
Michigan now trails the top turkey hunting states in the US, including Missouri, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, and Mississippi.