2017-04-13 / Outdoors

Hunters anticipate promising spring turkey season, big toms

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff


TURKEY HUNTERS like the ones pictured here in 2016 are looking forward to the upcoming spring turkey season. Season dates in Leelanau County are as follows: April 17-23, April 24-30 and May 1-31. Photo: Daryl Couturier TURKEY HUNTERS like the ones pictured here in 2016 are looking forward to the upcoming spring turkey season. Season dates in Leelanau County are as follows: April 17-23, April 24-30 and May 1-31. Photo: Daryl Couturier To Maple City sportsman Matt Tarsa, it’s a symphony of sorts.

“I love getting out there and just listening to everything wake up,” Tarsa said. “I’ve had deer within inches of me, just walking through. You’re cubbied in. Deer aren’t used to people being in the woods yet, and I’ve even had coyotes and bobcats trot by. To me, it’s about that sunrise, that morning. Usually, you can’t hear traffic until right after daylight.

“Then you hear those gobbles.”

Tarsa and other turkey hunters look forward to that sound all winter—and that’s especially the case this year.

That’s because 2017 figures to offer one of the more promising spring turkey seasons in recent memory.

The peninsula’s turkey population has made it through two straight winters with flying colors, and hunters have been spotting big flocks.

“It’s been such a weird year,” Tarsa said when asked about the season, which starts Monday. “Everybody’s waiting to see what’s really going on with them, but there’s a lot of bigger toms than I’ve ever seen before. I’m going to say that in the years that I’ve hunted Leelanau County, this is the best and biggest flock I’ve seen.

“I haven’t been all over, but I’ve seen some tremendous groups—30-40 in a group—and they’ve wintered well from what I’ve seen.”

Three other hunters had similar things to say last week.

Daryl Couturier of Centerville Township, for one, said “everyone he’s talked to” is seeing lots of birds.

“This year, some flocks stayed right out in soybean and corn fields,” Couturier said. “That’s rare. Usually, they’d go up to a farmyard or some place closer to a human.”

The light winters and relative lack of snow have given gobblers more access to food, which means more time to tack on mass and grow big beards.

To Pat Patterson of Elmwood Township, that means last year’s trophy turkeys are even bigger.

“This should be one of the best years so far for big toms,” Patterson said. “I’m seeing groups of toms. Before, you might see one big one.”

What constitutes as a trophy turkey?

The consensus among county hunters seems to be any mature tom with a beard measuring 10 inches, although answers vary slightly by the hunter.

To Couturier, it’s “any mature tom.” To Tarsa, it’s “any mature tom you can shoot with a bow and arrow.” To Patterson, it’s a tom with “1-inch spurs and a 10-inch beard,” and Mark Steimel of Fur-Fish-Game Taxidermy agrees.

“A 9-incher ain’t bad, but a trophy is a 10-, 11-inch beard,” Steimel said.

A “scoring calculator” on the National Wild Turkey Federation website considers weight, beard length and spur lengths. The top score among 280 Michigan entries in the website’s “turkey records database,” is 151.25.

The database, for one reason or another, contains zero entries from Leelanau County. That could change this year, but first-year license holders would be unwise to expect immediate success, especially as time progresses.

Gobblers are gullible early in the season but, like deer, they catch on to human activity in a hurry. Their eyesight presents another challenge.

“If they could smell you, you could probably never get one,” Steimel said.

Experienced hunters usually roost them the night before and have a good idea where gobblers will go, but tactics depend on the hunter and situation.

Patterson said he likes the challenge of luring a big tom away from hens.

“You can really get a gobbler mad if he thinks there’s another big turkey in his territory,” Patterson said.

No matter the call or decoy, one must always remember to remain in tune with the turkeys.

At least that’s how Couturier sees it.

“You’ve got to be a turkey to hunt a turkey,” he said.

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