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Categorized | Outdoors

Wild turkeys make history

By Katie Keen 

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The comeback of the wild turkey is one of the country’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories. While more than 7 million wild turkeys can be found in the United States today, there was a time when the sighting of one of these birds in this country was rare.

Wild turkeys now can be found in parts of every county in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, plus areas of the Upper Peninsula. The expansion of the species in Michigan did not happen overnight, but rather, has unfolded over the last half-century.

Wild turkeys had been common in Michigan prior to the arrival of settlers. In fact, before settlement, it is estimated that more than 94,000 wild turkeys roamed the state. As habitat changed and turkey hunting went unregulated, turkeys disappeared, and conservationists set out to re-establish the species.

Many attempts to release turkeys into the wild were made in various locations.

By 1937, a national coalition of conservationists – virtually all of them hunters, backed by the sporting arms and ammunition industries – persuaded Congress to direct the receipts from an excise tax on those items into a special fund.

The proceeds from this fund would then be distributed to the states for wildlife restoration. Because of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (also known as the Pittman- Robertson Act of 1937), conserving wild turkeys and other wildlife gained nationwide support and habitat management began.

 Since the 1980s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, working with many partners, has completed numerous releases of trapped wild birds and has improved wild turkey habitat.

With the help of these efforts, the wild turkey population has expanded to historic levels, and with that expansion, there are more areas open to spring hunting now than at any time in Michigan history.

Over 4.5 million acres of DNR-managed public land are open to hunting. Millions of additional private-land acres are leased or enrolled in programs to allow hunting by all. Visit michigan.gov/hunting to find out where.

Managing the species

Managing wild turkeys in Michigan involves the complex interactions of turkey populations, their habitat and their relationship to people. Hunting plays an important role in this by regulating turkey numbers.

“The goal of the spring wild turkey hunting season is to maximize hunter opportunity while maintaining a satisfactory hunting experience,” said Al Stewart, DNR upland gamebird specialist.

“Limited to bearded turkeys only, this conservative harvest approach has allowed the continued growth and expansion of the wild turkey population in Michigan.

“Wild turkey hunting in the fall enables the DNR to stabilize or reduce wild turkey numbers in certain areas of the state to meet local goals based on biological, social and economic considerations.”

License quotas are developed for this hunt to take a desired number of turkeys to meet management goals. To help reach these goals, hunters are encouraged to take female turkeys during the fall season.

Mirroring the success measured on a national scale, the return of wild turkeys to Michigan has been aided greatly by deliberate species and habitat management.

The efforts of many have contributed to this achievement, a true recovery story that continues to unfold across the woodlands and open spaces of the Great Lakes State.

Learn more about wild turkeys and turkey hunting at michigan.gov/turkey. ###


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