Most hunters in Michigan are deer hunters first and foremost. We may small game hunt in late winter and fish in the summer, but deer are the top prize. When the season starts, we join an army of 700,000 strong, and even non-hunters recognize us for our achievements.
For me, turkey hunting is rapidly becoming a very close second. While often overlooked as lesser game, the turkey can offer every bit as much excitement as any other species.
For starters, you can interact with the bird in a way that you cannot with deer. Sure, we all use our buck grunts and rattling antlers during November, but by and large you kill deer because you figure out where they travel and get there first. You kill turkeys by tricking them into walking over to you. This can only be done by calling. With deer, calling is a sideshow, but with turkeys it is the main event.
Second, the way you locate turkeys is a thrill of its own: You know a tom is near when you hear their thunderous gobble echo through the forest. The otherworldly sound (which always comes when you have just about given up) is enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck. No other sound in midwestern hunting has the effect of letting you know “it’s on.”
Third, turkey is the only animal you are able to hunt during two separate seasons in Michigan. First you try your luck to seduce a tom during the spring season, right when the weather is starting to improve. Then you enjoy summer, and soon enough the fall turkey season arrives to cue the beginning of the fall hunting marathon. If you fell short in the spring, you have the chance for redemption in the fall.
Finally, the best thing about hunting turkeys is the mirage of simplicity. Your mission seems easy: Go to the woods, listen for a turkey, and get it to come to you by scratching a wood dowel on a chalkboard. But this simple task can end up being a complex operation. Turkeys go silent—not just quiet—when you least expect it. Some days you will swear there is not a turkey to be found in the entire state when just the evening before you couldn’t take a step without hearing a gobble or yelp. Other days, just when you think you have done everything right and a bird is yours for the taking, he suddenly turns around and casually struts away!
Listen, I’m not saying we should crown the turkey as our favorite game animal just yet. But during the spring and early fall, they are the most sought-after game. They trick you, make a fool out of you, and frustrate you until you finally turn the tables. Your prize? The delicious meat, magnificent fan, and pride in having captured the king of spring, the eastern turkey.