History of the MWTHA

Some of our most valued members hold dual memberships in our organization and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Some individual NWTF chapters do great things for Wild Turkeys. Even with limited funds, at least one NWTF chapter contributes to our winter survival program.

A year ago thousands of 25″x21″ posters appeared entitled “Return of the Wild Turkey in Michigan” with a picture of Wild Turkeys on the front and an explanation of restoration and turkeys on the back. The posters are a cooperative effort between the DNR Wildlife Division and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

The posters create an illusion and perpetuate a myth that the National Wild Turkey Federation was somehow responsible for the introduction and the restoration of the Wild Turkeys of Michigan. We found that the DNR used $30,000 of our turkey license money to “buy” these posters that promote the NWTF. The DNR staff person “couldn’t recall” how many they “bought” with our money. The DNR Wildlife Division also creates their own illusion.

This article was gleaned from a series of articles that have appeared in previous issues of Michigan Turkey Tracks. It outlines our experience with the restoration our Wild Turkeys. Perhaps at the conclusion we can publish a book and the DNR will buy $30,000 worth of them from us.

A Little History

The Wild Turkey was extinct from Michigan since 1900. In the 1950’s turkey “experts” decreed that Wild Turkeys would only survive within large continuous blocks of hardwood forests. In the spring of 1954, the DNR purchased 50 turkeys and 400 eggs from the Allegheny Wild Turkey Farm at Julian, Pennsylvania. These were birds and offspring of 3/4 wild hens and 100 percent wild gobblers. They were the very best birds available and that money could buy. They were released at several locations within the Allegan State Forest.

The stocking of Wild Turkeys at Allegan was not the beginning of a statewide initiative or part of a Wild Turkey Management plan. Instead, if successful, it was to be a token flock for the enjoyment of the tourists. The eventual success of our Wild Turkeys was due to a handful of field biologists who individually had the initiative, foresight and dedication to their jobs to bring Wild Turkeys to their areas and not any initiative by DNR management. It wasn’t until 1983 when restoration began in Southern Michigan that DNR management actually showed any interest.

Shortly after the Allegan plant, an initiative by local biologists in the Baldwin area of northern Michigan was made to obtain turkeys from the Allegheny Wild Turkey Farm. The first turkeys were released with fingers crossed for luck. Eventually, there were enough turkeys in the area, so birds from Baldwin were trapped and transplanted to the Mia-Fairview area, then from Mio to the upper peninsula, from Mio to Ontario, and from the U.P. back to the northern Lower Peninsula.

By 1982 turkeys were established enough to provide hunting in the Allegan, Baldwin, and Mio areas, plus a portion of Menominee County in the U.P.

Until the Pere Marquette Chapter was established in 1983 the Michigan Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) consisted of a few people from the Lansing area with an interest in Wild Turkeys, and hunting them. When the turkeys at Mio grew to more than 500 they were found congregated on one farm during the winter. They became a great nuisance for the farmer. Robby Robbins dug into his own pocket, bought and hauled corn to the flock. Robby with a few dedicated local people started the AuSable River Valley Chapter.

By 1985 Area J consisted of a small portion of Charlevoix, Antrim, and Kalkaska counties. The winter count in that Arctic of Michigan was 11 turkeys compared with 47 the previous year. People like Archie Reeves organized, and through a lot of out of pocket money and hard work, they brought turkeys through impossible winters. A decade later Area J expanded to an entire five counties and over 12,000 Wild Turkeys. It was a job well done by the Traverse Bay Chapter-eh?

Six concerned turkey hunters met in Baldwin in 1982 and decided to create the first local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Upon Jay Drilling’s suggestion the Pere Marquette Chapter was born. We were confronted by plunging turkey numbers, rampant poaching, loss of quality hunting and an increasing loss of habitat. The large Baldwin area was split into two units. Permits were increased on falling turkey numbers creating keen competition for those actively gobbling toms. The DNR had no longer required the license fee to be deposited up front and cheating was widespread. Individual concerns and suggestions were ignored. The Wildlife Division had discontinued the winter surveys. Wild Turkeys were in decline statewide. Many of us had witnessed the demise of the once plentiful pheasant and Ruffed Grouse, and there was deep concern over the future of the Wild Turkey and Wild Turkey hunting. What would you have done?