MARQUETTE - If you love the thrill of the hunt and enjoy the taste of wild turkey, then the spring turkey season is a perfect opportunity for you to satisfy both passions.
Although there is only a little more than a week left to the season, which ends May 31, chances of bagging a gobbler remain reasonably good.
According to Department of Natural Resources and Environment wildlife biologist Craig Albright, who works out of the agency's Escanaba field office, a February turkey census determined about 14,000 birds were living in the Upper Peninsula.
In a photo shot along U.S. 41 near Escanaba, a male jack turkey puffs out his feathers. (Photo by Sharon Fluette)
"Because of these high numbers, the hunter success rates have been running at about 40 percent," he said.
Those are pretty good numbers since the U.P. is 200 miles north of where turkeys would normally be found, he said.
"The turkeys have taken to the Upper Peninsula and have expanded very well," Albright said. "This is because of ... local residents helping the birds through the harsh winter in the U.P. by supplemental feeding."
"Watching the turkey respond to the call and come looking for the hen was an amazing rush, and to actually harvest the turkey was even more exciting."
- Jeremy Steele, Negaunee
The spring turkey season allows hunters to harvest one bearded turkey.
"A bearded turkey is a bird that has a beard exuding from the chest," Albright said. "The beard is actually a modified feather that comes out of the chest."
This feathered beard can range in size from 1 inch to 1 foot, with very long beards dragging on the ground.
This year, the DNRE has issued 8,000 licenses for the U.P.'s hunting unit M. This unit encompasses the south-central section of the U.P., from Schoolcraft County across to Ontonagon County and down to Menominee County and north to areas of Marquette County.
Of the 8,000 licenses the DNRE made available this spring season in the U.P., just 5,000 have been purchased to date.
"Most hunters love the spring season because this is the time of year when the male turkeys are gobbling," Albright said. "Mainly in the early morning hours, a half hour after sunrise."
For hunters, hearing a wild turkey from a distance away and returning the sound with specially-made calls to draw them in is a thrilling experience. Just ask Jeremy Steele, a hunter from Negaunee who bagged his first turkey recently.
"Watching the turkey respond to the call and come looking for the hen was an amazing rush, and to actually harvest the turkey was even more exciting," he said.
Turkey hunting requires specific equipment, everything from the right firearm to camouflage clothing to bug spray, said Ernie Lindsey, manager of Wilderness Sports in Ishpeming.
Often, the weapon of choice is a 12-gauge shotgun, "with a three inch or three and half inch chamber," he said.
The shotgun is used because of the shot pattern, plus the fact that turkey hunting with rifles is illegal, he said. In addition, some hunters use a bow or crossbow.
Camouflage is also a key necessity in turkey hunting.
"That is the problem with turkeys. They have wonderful eyes and amazing sight, hence the need for camouflage," Lindsey said.
Albright added, "Unlike deer hunting, where you wear blaze orange, turkey hunting in full camouflage is not only allowable but absolutely essential. That includes hunters wearing full covering over their face."
Even special camouflage covering is used on the shotgun to reduce the shine from the barrel, he said.
"The normal range to shoot a turkey is from 30 yards or closer," Lindsey said.
Once a hunter has mastered the arts of calling and disguise, keeping bothersome mosquitoes and ticks at bay is a final challenge.
"One of the biggest things hunters complain about the most is ticks," Lindsey said. "Especially now when the weather is beautiful and the ticks are horrendous."
There is a special mosquito and tick repellent called Permanone made by Repel. This product is sprayed on clothing, not on skin.
"Hunters will usually spray their clothing and put them in a bag and let it sit over night to absorb," Lindsey said.
With close to 3,000 turkey licenses still available and more than a week left to the season, what is stopping you from joining the hunt?
Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.