2010-04-01 / Outdoors

Strutting their stuff: Spring turkey season about to begin

by Michael Ritchie, DC

FIRST OF MANY Laurie Ritchie of Higgins Lake poses for a photo after bagging her first spring turkey a couple of years ago. The big tom weighed over 20 pounds and sported a 9.5-inch beard. FIRST OF MANY Laurie Ritchie of Higgins Lake poses for a photo after bagging her first spring turkey a couple of years ago. The big tom weighed over 20 pounds and sported a 9.5-inch beard. A few years back, my wife Laurie was getting up way too early for my liking. “Where are you going so early?” I asked as I pulled up the covers one spring morning.

“I’m going out to shoot a turkey!” she said confidently.

“I can’t go with you, I have to work today.” I reminded her.

“That’s ok, I’ll go get him myself!” “ I will not be out-smarted by poultry,” she exclaimed as she walked out the door decked in camouflage.

The two previous days I tried to call a tom in to her for a shot, but they always skirted our decoy just out of range. I wished her good hunting as I watched her bolt out the door.

STRUTTING HIS STUFF A tom turkey displays for a nearby hen during a courting ritual. The display took place near Higgins Lake this early spring. STRUTTING HIS STUFF A tom turkey displays for a nearby hen during a courting ritual. The display took place near Higgins Lake this early spring. If you are planning on bagging a Michigan wild turkey during the upcoming spring season, there are a few things you need to know to make that happen. The three-part season starts April 10 and runs through the end of May. Although the license drawing has already taken place, left-over tags may still be available for certain hunt areas and time periods. Contact your local license dealer for availability. For those who have already drawn their tags but are new to turkey hunting, here are some favorite tips to make your hunt safe and successful from some Roscommon County turkey hunting experts.

To get the low-down on safe hunting practices, I spoke with Richard Kiessel, a Roscommon resident and award winning hunter safety instructor.

“Identify your target and what is beyond,” said Kiessel, “A hunter dressed in camo may be in the line of fire and not easily seen. Make sure you know you are shooting in a safe direction.” He added, “On the same topic, while with hunters orange, especially if you are successful and carrying your trophy over your shoulder. It is also a good idea while calling to sit against a big tree trunk so another hunter fooled by your call doesn’t creep up behind you and shoot in your direction. The tree will protect you from stray pellets.”

Department of Natural Resources and Environment Biologist Mark Boersen says that hunters will have to work a little harder this year to bag their turkey in Roscommon County. “Due to the harsh winters of ‘08-09 the populations of turkeys are down somewhat,” said Boersen, “The increase in predators doesn’t seem to have as great an effect on the numbers as the weather. I saw young chicks in August last year and most of those will not make it into this year’s flock.”

Brian Brown, president of the Beaver Creek Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, offered these tips for bagging a big tom this year. “When calling, try to mimic what you hear the birds doing,” said Brown, “If they are real vocal, increase your calling. If they are quiet, then use clucks and purrs to make them think that there is a hen feeding nearby.” He continues, “One tactic that has worked for me is calling in the hens and having the toms follow them into my setup.”

Conservation Officer Chuck McPherson, who is based in Roscommon County, reminds hunters to be careful to stay within the law this spring.

“Mechanical decoys or electronic calls are not legal during the Michigan turkey hunting season. There are new decoys that run on a track and are pulled along by string. These devices are illegal,” said McPherson, “Be careful not to wear anything red, white or blue in the woods as those colors can be easily mistaken for the colors of a strutting tom’s head.”

McPhereson also reminded both hunters and non-hunters alike that interrupting any legal hunt is a 93- day misdemeanor.

Now, back to that spring day a few years back. The phone rang at the office about 5:30 p.m. and my assistant Chris announced, “It’s Laurie. She says she needs help cleaning the big tom turkey she just shot!”

“Tell her I’ll be right there to help and take photos,” I responded, somewhat surprised.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Just like any type of hunting, turkey hunting takes patience, determination and willingness to be adaptable. “I moved the blind and didn’t call or use the decoy” Laurie said excitedly. “They just walked right by me.”

Her bird was over 20 pounds and had a 9.75-inch beard. Not a bad size for her first tom. Since that first bird she has beaten me every year, collecting quite a number of tail feather mounts for the wall. It’s all good though, as I love the fact that she enjoys getting out hunting with or without me. We both have drawn a license for this year’s first season, and don’t be surprised if my beautiful bird gets her turkey again this year!

Editor’s note: Dr. Michael Ritchie is a Higgins Lake chiropractor.

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