By Dylan Cook
We are, in my opinion, in the “good ole days” of turkey hunting. It may be hard to believe, but not too long ago the wild turkey hunting was unimaginably different. In the late 1970’s, according to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, a hunter had only a 25% chance of even drawing a tag. Adding the 10% success rate those hunters enjoyed left only 400 turkeys harvested a year. Today, through the hard work of our Department of Natural Resources diligent managing of the species, hunters have a 100% chance of drawing a tag. Michigan is now ranked 8th in the United States in number of turkeys harvested per year, tagging over 30,000 birds each year. The rise in bird numbers along with the abundant public land (976,043 acres in the Huron-Manistee National Forest alone) truly makes this area and opportunity special.
For those who have been fortunate enough to have seen and heard a spring tom at daybreak, there is nothing more exciting. One locating owl call is sometimes all it takes for the woods to explode into a cacophony of gobbles- each one seems to trigger another! As shooting light grows nearer, the birds only get louder. The hens fly down from their roosts in the tall red pines with such noise that it is sure to startle the first time hunter: but this is where the fun really begins. Now begins the chess game that is turkey hunting. A hunter needs both patience and skill to lure one of these sharp eyed birds within shotgun range. Using either a mouth (diaphragm) call, slate call, or a scratch box, the hunter must mimic the calls of the hen, usually in tandem with a hen decoy, to deceive the wily tom to come see what is going on. There is a certain magic when a hunter sees their first tom strut in front of them- a truly beautiful sight.
Our area has the good fortune of being near perfect turkey habitat! Turkeys love to roost high in the red pine trees that are abundant throughout the area. The birds also look for one of the many clearings or fields in our area during their mating season. These are key areas to target when in search of a population of turkeys because of the roosting locations as well as the presence of buds, fruits, and nuts. Although the population of wild turkeys is climbing, they are an elusive creature that will often run you around the woods.
It is important to conceal yourself by creating a large enough back cover and wearing full camouflage in order to keep yourself from being spotted. One of the most important things when using any calling mechanism is knowing when or when not to make a call. Different birds react in their own way depending on their circumstance. Older birds will know the difference between a natural call and an imitation, but using the right timing you can intrigue the bird enough to come into your set up.
While in the woods this spring, take a second to enjoy your surroundings and embrace our natural resources that surrounds our northern Michigan city. Regardless of your success rate, having the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors is something we should all cherish.
Dylan Cook – Lifelong Cadillac area resident and avid outdoors-man. Currently a student at Western Michigan University