ESCANABA - I'm one of those guys who used to feel the compulsion to wear a black arm band at the beginning of April each year, to mourn the passing of yet another hunting season. I live for the fall, or at least I used to.
One of the best things that could ever happen to a hunter like me is the spring turkey hunt in Michigan.
The DNR set a mission for turkey management in the U.P. Their goal for the wild turkey is to maximize hunter opportunity while maintaining a satisfactory hunting experience. Limited to bearded turkeys only, the spring season is a conservative harvest approach and has allowed the continued growth and expansion of the wild turkey population in Michigan.
Jillian Jamison | Daily Press
Avid hunter and outdoorsman Tim Kobasic displays the huge tom he took down April 24 after a three-hour wait.
We've been able to hunt the wild turkey here in the U.P. for nearly a dozen years now. The establishment of a wild turkey population as well as the continued maintenance of the overall rafter (flock) here, took the cooperation of many wildlife organizations. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and affiliate chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation have taken a lead role through the years. Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County has also continued its support.
There are two seasons of turkey hunting, the most exciting of which is now underway during the mating season. It is not far removed from the "rut" that deer experience each November. In the fall, a turkey hunter will most often stalk the bird and have a choice between the male (tom or jake) or female (hen).
I can remember preparing for the first spring my boys and I were going to hunt turkey. We watched videos, listened to calling techniques and practiced different sounds that were supposed to have meaning to the birds. We even made a box call from directions found in an issue of Field & Stream. It turned out so good that it is still in use today and was key to my successful hunt this season.
They have since liberalized the season in the U.P. All the former hunt units are consolidated into one and the three hunt periods are also consolidated into one. This has afforded more hunters the opportunity to participate, myself included. The only problem beyond that is shooting a bird.
Both of my sons have done well turkey hunting. They have perfected the mouth (reed) calling which can be controlled hands free. The type and volume of calling used is all but automatic and leaves both hands free so a hunter can remain still while luring in a bird.
I, on the other hand, have to rely on manual calling via slate and striker or the old box call. I also have a button box call which is similar to the box except it has a much softer sound.
We've also used decoys but to date had not seen much success with them. I've had instances where approaching turkeys would angle around the set of decoys, or stop outside of shooting range, which is very frustrating. One year I couldn't get the birds to come near the decoys but they seemed very appealing to a coyote that was also enjoying a hunt!
I'm a "yes but" kind of parent. I feel an obligation to try and motivate my kids to continue to strive to do better. Although both the boys had done well, I felt an obligation to not only congratulate them on their trophies, but also point out how they may have done a little better. My coaching paid off as they've both taken mature birds of good size.
Jacob did so well one year that he had already called in a pair, taking one as Tony and I were just settling into the woods.
Tony took honors last year, knocking down a good-sized turkey with well-pronounced spurs and full 9-inch beard that made it worth mounting. It was good amends for his hunt the previous year when I had called in five jakes that he could have hit with the barrel of his gun but instead missed with his shot.
This year it was the old man's turn. Having never nailed a long beard, I've had to settle for lesser birds, never more than a jake. I promised myself to be patient and wait, one of the hardest parts of turkey hunting. I would restrict my calling and allow the decoys to keep the interest of a suitor. I would also incorporate the new strutting tom decoy given to me by my daughter last Christmas. This year was to be a textbook hunt and it paid off.
Last Friday it took the whole afternoon to reach my goal. The winds were strong and although I found a lot of tracks and droppings, I had not heard any response to calling. I set up the decoys and found a well-concealed spot to intercept. I patiently waited for three hours and eventually issued one set of yelps from the box call. Within 20 minutes four mature toms emerged from the woods and came straight toward the decoys. I took the biggest of the four with one clean shot. My turkey sported an eight-and-a-half inch beard with half-to-three-quarter inch spurs. I'm guessing it weighed 18-20 pounds.
My first thought was to phone my boys to let them know I scored. Upon hearing the news, both responded with a hearty congratulations and personal comment meant to keep me excited for next year.
Jake: "Great Dad! Can you really consider a bird with less than 1-inch spurs to be a mature tom?"
Tony: "Awesome Dad! Too bad it only had an eight-and-a-half inch beard. Then it might have been worth having mounted."
The lessons here:
1. Remain grateful for having the expanded opportunity to hunt.
2. Be thankful for the bounty available to hunt.
3. Regarding my sons, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.