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(Way Up) North for Turkeys

Posted by Jim Schlender

You get some strange looks sometimes when you say you’re going “Up North” for a turkey hunt, especially when you live in Wisconsin. But a couple weeks ago that’s where I went: to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

My friend Rick White from Hunter’s Specialties drove up from Iowa with his son, Dan. I brought my son, Jacob. And Pat Muffler, an H.S. field-staffer from Marquette who had graciously invited us up to his stomping grounds, would be hunting with his son, Philip. I guess you could call it an impromptu youth hunt. Dan, at 15, already has nearly 20 turkeys to his credit. Philip, 13, had killed a fall gobbler last season, and 12-year–old Jacob would be trying for his first gobbler.

(By the way, Michigan is “youth friendly,” in that non-resident turkey tags are the same price as resident tags, only $15. It’s a neat program and a good way to welcome more youth hunters to the sport.)

It was surreal to listen to gobbling in the same cedar swamps and pine forests where I’m used to hunting ruffed grouse. The turkeys were there, and lots of them. Everyone we met had a story about turkeys in their backyard and invited us to have at them. Not surprisingly, those dumb-acting turkeys that were pecking around rural bird feeders in the dead of winter had morphed into unpredictable, mostly quiet and now henned-up birds.

philip spurs.JPGAt the end of Day One our group was 0-for-6, and by noon on the second day only 13-year-old Philip had filled his tag. He will have a tough time topping his first spring bird: The tom’s spurs measured just a shade under 1 7/8 inches! It was a bird Pat had tried to work a couple other times and the story was always the same. His calling riled up the hens, which led the tom away. This time, he and Philip sat down, shut up and waited on the tom to show up at his mid-morning strut zone. And it worked, perfectly.


jacob tky mi 08.JPGJacob and I hadn’t worked a bird close in two days, so on the last morning we took a lesson from Pat and set up on a field edge at a farm owned by one of Pat’s friends several miles north of Escanaba. We had good insider information telling us that turkeys had been traveling the narrow corridor with some consistency. It was another no-gobbling morning, but before I had time to be disappointed, a whole mob of hens showed up not long after flydown, trailed by a lone longbeard. I resisted the temptation to call, “just for effect,” and let them work their way toward us. Finally, Jacob was able to drop the hammer on his first tom.

I have lots more to share about hunting the U.P., but I’m goint to save it for one of the Spring 2009 issues. In the meantime, check this page again soon for more photos of youth hunters from the 2008 season.


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