BARAGA - Three generations of Putalas have shared in several turkey hunting seasons together, and this fall, the youngest will have his first go at it.
"I just passed hunter's safety last summer," 11-year-old Jake Putala said. "It's my favorite type of hunting."
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reminding hunters the Aug. 1 deadline to apply for a fall turkey license is approaching. Applications are available at any authorized license agent or at DNR Operations Service Centers. Hunters can apply online at michigan.gov/huntdrawings. The application fee is $4 and hunters will be selected by drawing.
According to the DNR, a total of 50,050 licences are available through a lottery for the eight wild turkey management units open to hunting during the Sept. 15- Nov. 14 season. Fall turkey hunting Unit M encompasses the entire Upper Peninsula.
"We are in the second year of a three-year period of stabilized regulations that were developed by working with turkey hunting groups," Al Stewart, the DNR's upland game bird specialist, said in a press release. "Regulations are similar to last year with one change occurring to quotas in the Upper Peninsula. The Unit M quota was reduced from 4,000 to 1,500 licenses."
Bill Scullon, wildlife biologist at Baraga Operations Service Center, said the DNR has a turkey work group composed of turkey stakeholder groups and citizens from across the U.P., which meets each year to discuss U.P. turkey management issues.
"They have supported the move to a U.P.-wide fall and spring hunt format and have been instrumental in the formulation of harvest quotas and allocations," Scullon said. "We have reduced the number of fall hunt licenses significantly in part due to concern that turkey populations in the core U.P. turkey range (Menominee, Dickenson, Delta, east Iron, south Marquette and west Alger counties) may be experiencing a decline."
However, Scullon said population levels in the core area are above population goals and warrant a fall hunt to control numbers.
Fall hunts are for either sex and are intended as a management tool to control populations.
"We are taking a conservative approach in reducing fall hunt numbers," he said.
Jake's grandfather, Arnie Putala, of Baraga, said he's been an avid turkey hunter since the early 1980s, hunting with his sons and grandson out of his brother's camp in Menominee. He's also a committee member of Keweenaw Bay Cutters, which is the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"What we're trying to do is get a bigger flock in the northwestern end of the Upper Peninsula," he said. "A lot of us don't hunt up here for that reason."
Ways the non-profit organization tries to increase the size of the flock, he said, is by supplying supplemental feeding during the winter months.
"We give corn to our members who have individual flocks in different areas," he said. "It's something in addition to the normal food supply when the snow gets deep."
They also plant trees, shrubs and different types of seeds to enhance their feeding program throughout the year, he said.
Scullon said the uncertainty surrounding the population numbers comes from the clubs themselves.
"They have long-standing turkey feeding programs and the population counts are based on their information they provide to us," he said. "These programs have also suffered in the recent economic crisis and public participation and the group's ability to support past feeding program levels are proving to be unsustainable in some cases given the rise in prices for feed."
Turkeys in the U.P. are far north of their ancestral range, south of downstate Clare and require feed during the winter to sustain them, Scullon said. Surviving without assistance when snow depths exceed 12 inches is extremely difficult, he said.
"As uncertainty surrounds the status of several feeding programs we anticipate impacts on turkey abundances and have discussed this with the work group and are looking at strategies to address it," he said. "Reduction of fall harvest quotas instead of elimination of the fall hunt entirely is part of that."
Results of the drawing will be posted online at michigan.gov/huntingdrawings. If any licenses remain after the drawing, applicants not selected may purchase one leftover license at any license agent or online for a one-week period beginning at 10 a.m. Aug. 22.
Licenses remaining as of 10 a.m. Aug. 29, will be available for purchase over the counter, the press release stated. The licenses will be sold until the quotas are met.
Hunter success and satisfaction continues to remain very high in the U.P., Scullon said, well above that of surrounding states.
"Maintaining a sufficient U.P. turkey flock that supports current hunter satisfaction levels, while ensuring hunter and viewing opportunities is important not only to the DNR but also is shared by the turkey work group participants and many U.P. citizens," he said.