The year is 1982. Wild Turkeys were found in just several areas of northern Michigan. We were confronted by plunging turkey numbers, rampant poaching, an increasing loss of habitat and a loss of quality hunting. The DNR no longer funded winter surveys. The DNR had no longer required the license fee to be deposited up front and cheating was widespread. Individual concerns and suggestions were ignored. Wild Turkeys were in decline statewide. Spring hunting permits were increased on a falling population creating keen competition for those few actively gobbling toms. As individuals we had witnessed the demise of the once plentiful pheasant and Ruffed Grouse. There was deep concern over the future of the Wild Turkey and Wild Turkey hunting. In 1983 the Pere Marquette chapter was born as the first local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Soon, after other local chapters were formed, that later became the founders of the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association.
At the same time, the DNR had discontinued the mandatory checking in of harvested turkeys. Hunting hours were increased by four hours. There was little trap and transfer of turkeys. At the same time, the DNR was painting a rosy picture for the public, the birds were decreasing not only in west central Michigan but throughout the state. To put it all in a nutshell the whole turkey program was not only in limbo; it was a disaster. When the Pere Marquette chapter was first formed we only knew that our turkey numbers were down and quality hunting was almost non-existent. During many meetings, priorities were formed and problems were categorized.
It was imperative that the decline is stopped. We decided to generate as much publicity as we could on the birds and on what actions we were taking. We had to make the Wild Turkey something very special among wildlife species. A great deal of interest was received from the news and television media.
At the time we were having severe winters. It was decided to embark on an ambitious winter feeding program. This would allow us to survey and get a good handle on actual turkey numbers. We would establish a uniform method of feeding during severe winters. Hopefully we could increase the turkey numbers. Gary Truxton and I traveled to Lansing to approach the state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) for monetary assistance with our pilot winter feeding program. We were refused. We dug deeper into our individual pockets. This was the handwriting on the wall that would lead to the creation of MWTHA years later.
During the winter of 1983, Pere Marquette chapter members funded a winter feeding program. Throughout the news media, we offered to reimburse anyone feeding Wild Turkeys $1.00 for each turkey within our 3000 square mile area. This allowed for an actual count, to establish a uniform method of winter survival, and to better protect the turkey flocks from poaching. 1114 turkeys were located during the winter of 1983-84. $630 was paid as reimbursement for feed.
In June 1983 assistant wildlife chief, David Arnold was a guest at a well attended Pere Marquette chapter meeting. We discussed the many turkey problems we had. This turned out to be another lesson in futility. Another trip was taken to the NWTF state chapter meeting at East Lansing during September 1983, to talk with DNR biologists Wayne Bronner and John Urbain regarding the 1984 spring hunting season. This turned out to be another lesson in futility.
We appeared before the Natural Resources Commission during February 1984 to discuss the lack of turkey management, quality hunting, and the declining turkey population. It was a far different situation than it is now and the commissioners took a genuine interest in what we were saying and gave ample time for discussion. As a result, changes were being made.
In June 1984 we met with DNR Wildlife Chief, Charles Guenther and two staff members in Lansing for a two-hour meeting on all of the turkey issues.
During October 1984, we traveled to Lansing for another appearance before the Natural Resources Commission. Among the issues covered was a need fur reduction of permits, the 4:00PM closing, return Area K as one unit, harvest figures and an imperative need for Wild Turkey management.
During 1984 we started an Adopt-A-Turkey program to obtain funds for our winter survival program. We sent out 1000 letters to the prior year’s turkey hunters as a pilot. We received excellent coverage from not only the area news media but the major newspapers throughout the state. We learned a valuable lesson about our turkey hunters. Only 50 of them responded. The program did prove successful, though. Most of the contributors were from southern Michigan, with the majority being school children who adopted a turkey as a class project. I noted – If we lose our Wild Turkey resource the hunters will get what they deserve!
Stay tuned. We just got started. Next up is eliminating the practice of blowing away gobblers over bait.