In the last chapter, we were in 1984. Lets back up a bit to 11/14/83, the day when Bruce Wiley and I had an opportunity to meet with DNR director Ron Skoog in Lansing. We discussed the turkey program with him. We offered suggestions for a better quality hunt and outlined our problems with the Wildlife Division. One of the issues high on our agenda was the practice of killing turkeys over bait.
Much to his credit, John Hart, who was a professor at Michigan State University and an active member of the Michigan Wild Turkey Federation, had approached the Natural Resources Commission to urge them to prohibit hunting Wild Turkeys over bait. No action was taken. During several meetings with the DNR Wildlife Division we were told that there was baiting of deer, bear, and turkeys and that they were not about to open “Pandora’s Box.”
There were specific reasons why we wanted baiting stopped. In 1983 turkeys were just starting to get a foothold. If a landowner could not hunt a turkey over bait then there was no incentive to try to hold a flock artificially together. Turkey hunting was still in its infancy and it was our goal to promote hunting ethics into our sport and to promote the skill of calling up a turkey. We also wanted to eliminate the incentive to bait to allow for spring distribution of the birds and to allow for new flocks to form. We also did not want the wild birds to become domesticated from the practice of baiting.
Director Skoog had held a similar position in Alaska and remarked that nothing was shot over bait there. As a result of our 11/14/83 meeting a Director’s Order was issued which prohibited hunting Wild Turkeys over bait. Looking back, with all of the baiting issues we now have in Michigan we took an exceptionally good look at our crystal ball.
The loss of quality one on one spring gobbler hunting was one of the major reasons the Pere Marquette Chapter was formed. Let me share my notes.
Spring turkey hunting began in 1968 and by 1983 the trap and transfer program by the DNR had allowed spring hunting seasons in five areas of the state. The Baldwin Unit (Area K) had expanded to include portions of9 counties. Because of the vast amount of public land area K was and still is the most sought after hunting area in the state. By 1983 it appeared that Wild Turkey numbers were on a downward slide. There were 4,800 permits issued in Area K, spread over 6 hunting periods.
For the 1984 spring hunt, the Wildlife Division split Area K into 3 sections with about the same number of permits being issued. Turkey flocks were somewhat isolated from each other. Turkey numbers were falling. Creating smaller areas concentrated hunters. It seemed that every time a gobbler gobbled there were 5 hunters all trying to kill the same gobbler. Ill will reigned supreme as hunters attempted to sneak between a caller and a bird. Illegal hunting methods abounded.
Spring hunt 1985. To their credit, the Wildlife Division pieced the Baldwin Unit (K) back as one unit upon our insistence. Permits were reduced from 4800 in 1984 to 3300 in 1985. After the winter census only found 1205 turkeys remaining, the permits were further reduced to 2550 total, or 850 for each of 3 ten days hunting periods.
Our preliminary finds were: There was far less hunting pressure than in recent years, especially during the weekdays. Almost everyone interviewed had experienced a quality hunt, having had the chance to work a gobbler without being busted. With less hunting pressure the toms were actually gobbling in the last hunting period. It appeared that hunters in the last period had almost as good a chance as those in the first period, something not possible for many years. I also noted that the weather was excellent during the whole season, possibly the best ever. It was noted that Wild Turkey numbers were falling throughout the entire state.
The Pere Marquette Chapter assisted 1300 Wild Turkeys through the winter of ’84-’85 throughout the Baldwin Unit. Turkeys in other areas were also assisted. Tom Tighe and Art Cocklin did a fantastic job bringing 200 birds through the winter that we thought that we would lose. The snow did not arrive until late December and then we had several feet of deep fluffy stuff. To the best of our knowledge, we never lost a bird that was receiving supplemental food. After two winters of working with the birds, we have come to the conclusion that our population problem is no longer winter starvation (they are being fed), but due to other problems.