Turkey hunters testing their skills

urkey season in the area is well under way but how much luck hunters might enjoy within the next several weeks remains to be seen.

The first season in this area started April 23. The second season started April 30 and goes to May 6. Hunters for those seasons get their permits via a lottery process.

“There’s a guaranteed hunt May 7 to May 31,” said Pete Kailing, Mecosta and Newaygo counties wildlife biologist for the Department of Natural Resources, noting that for the season, hunters can purchase a license between Jan. 1 and May 1. “After May 1, you have to had applied in order to buy one.”

Jim Maturen of Reed City, president of the Pere Marquette chapter of the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters association, said his son has been hunting the first season.

“I have the next season, which starts on Monday,” Maturen said. “I have a granddaughter whose season starts on Monday. I have another granddaughter thinking about (the third season). I usually end up with a couple of guys calling me to go hunting with them.”

Maturen said his hunting ventures take him to Lake, Mecosta, Osceola and Wexford counties.

“Our turkey population, from what I’m finding, is really down,” he said. “My son, we hunted Monday and Tuesday. We had a chance to work a bird. He hooked up with a hen and went in the other direction. There’s just not the turkeys there were. In the recent past, you can stand upon a hill early in the morning and you’d hear a turkey gobbling in every direction. If you stand up on that same hill today, you’re lucky if you hear one turkey.

“There’s probably some hot spots here and there. But overall, we’re finding a while lot less birds than what there used to be.”

A fun aspect of hunting remains the calling part.

“The other day, we heard a gobbler so we got set up and started calling,” Maturen said. “He gets closer and closer. Pretty soon, a hen walks up and they take off. He was gobbling up a storm for a while. It’s not so much killing that turkey as it is calling that sucker in.”

Bob Myers of Baldwin said he saw two jakes on his property on Wednesday.

“I’ll tell you what I think is going on,” Myers said, “with the early warm weather, they got a lot of turkeys that were nesting early.”

For that reason, Myers speculates gobblers will be moving around more to look for mates.

Bill Downey of Lake County will be hunting toward the later stages of the turkey season.

“I was going to Alpena,” he said. “But I thought I’d stay this year.”

Downey will be hunting on public land and isn’t quite sure what the turkey hunting prospects will be.

“It depends on who you talk to,” he said. “I’ve seen quite a bit of turkeys. But I’ve talked to guys that haven’t seen anything.”

DNR conservation officer for Mecosta County Brian Lebel called turkey hunting activity in Mecosta and surrounding counties as “moderate.”

The first two seasons are application and luck of the draw while the third season has more open access for hunters.

“A lot of it is weather dependent and pressure dependent,” Lebel said. “Driving around, from my own observations, I’ve seen more (turkeys) this year than last year.”

Kailing said Mecosta County and southern Newaygo County has a healthy turkey population.

“We had a mild winter,” he said. “So the birds came through the winter in good shape. Flocks have dispersed because of our early spring. You’ll see young groups of toms still together chasing hens.

“In Newaygo County, birds will be around agricultural areas.”

The success anticipated in each season depends on the weather, Kailing indicated.

“It’s easier to call toms in the early part of the breeding season,” Kailing said. “In May, it gets more difficult to call the toms in because the breeding season starts to wane. It’s a little tougher hunt.

“On the other hand, you have a whole month to get after them as well. It depends on your hunting style too.”

The number of turkey hunters areawide has stayed about the same, Kailing indicated.

“There’s still a good interest,” he said. “I’d like to remind hunters that you can’t hunt over bait. If you have a feeder out there for recreational feeding for deer, and turkeys are concentrating on it, that would be considered baiting.”