The author, Retired CO Captain, Jeff Pendergraff is surprised how many people turn to poaching to take a turkey.

After this past winter I was surprised how many turkeys survived, especially in northern Michigan. I was glad to see so many moving around where I live during the mating season of April and May. Several times I had to stop my truck in order to let roaming toms cross the road in front of me while in pursuit of a hen.
I was equally surprised as to how many people felt they have to break the rules in order to get themselves a wild turkey and the lengths they go to in order to do so. Hunting over bait, hunting in the wrong zones, trespassing, hunting from a motor vehicle, hunting before the season opens just to mention a few.
Below are just a few of the reported cases that our Michigan Conservation Officers handled this past spring.
CO Jenni Hanson received information of possible illegal turkey baiting activity prior to the opening day of turkey season in Gogebic County. CO Zach Painter and Corporal Dave Painter worked the complaint and located a blind with several kernels of corn on the ground and decoys in an area that had been scratched up by turkeys. The next morning, the two officers returned to find a subject hunting over a large amount of corn and using an electronic turkey call. Citations were issued for hunting turkey over bait and using an electronic turkey call.
COs Michael Evink and Robert Freeborn responded to a complaint of road hunting for turkeys. The suspect had left the scene earlier in the day; however, the complainant had taken photos of the truck and the license plate. The COs contacted the suspect the following day. He had turkey parts in the bed of his truck, and they were tagged with his girlfriend’s tag. Interviews of those involved were conducted. A report is being submitted and prosecution is being sought for using tag of another and failing to immediately validate and attach kill-tag.
CO Curtis was on ORV patrol on state land near Indian Reserve Road in Alpena County when she observed a subject turkey hunting. CO Curtis checked the turkey hunter who was hunting three days before his hunt period started. A ticket was issued for the subject hunting before the license hunt period.
CO Collins received a complaint of a subject who shot a turkey close to a neighboring residence in Montmorency County. CO Collins found that the hunter was at fault for shooting in a safety zone. When confronted, CO Collins found several other violations with the turkey hunter including not tagging the tom turkey. A ticket was issued for possessing an untagged turkey.
CO Josiah Killingbeck initially received a complaint of a baited turkey blind on state land. CO Killingbeck investigated the complaint and found a total of three blinds expected to be owned by the same owner due to the proximity, the same blind manufacturer, and same bait material used at each blind. CO Killingbeck shared the complaint with CO Publiski and PCO Reed. CO Publiski and PCO Reed patrolled the area the next day to make contact with the owner. The COs located a vehicle and followed boot tracks leading to a turkey hunter hunting over the baited area. The hunter explained that the blinds were his father’s and that his father had shot a turkey the previous evening. The COs followed the turkey hunter back to his residence and contacted the father. The father admitted to putting 50 pounds of sunflower seeds in front of all three blinds, as well as shooting a turkey over bait. The COs explained to the individuals that they would be submitting a report to the prosecutor seeking charges for taking a wild turkey over bait.
CO Jeff Ginn and PCO Andrea Dani were following up on a turkey bait in Newaygo County when they observed a side-by-side parked in the woods near a pop-up blind. The COs waited until the hunter emerged from the blind which happened to be 22 minutes after hunting hours. The hunter was observed leaving the area on the ORV when they made contact. The hunter was found to be transporting a loaded/uncased firearm in the ORV. The hunter was also found to be hunting turkey in the wrong hunt unit at the time of the contact. Upon further investigation, the pop-up blind was positioned less than 20 feet from a large amount of cracked corn, bird seed, and sunflower seeds. The hunter was cited for the violations.
CO Mike Wells, along with PCOs Josh Reed and Andrea Dani, worked a turkey baiting complaint just over the county line into Montcalm County. COs set up on the property on opening day of the first season and located the suspect vehicle backed into the two-track leading into the property. COs decided to walk into the property after waiting for first light and located the suspect sitting in a pop-up blind with a significant amount of shelled corn on the ground and a hen turkey decoy set in the middle of the corn. The suspect admitted to knowing that baiting turkey was illegal. While walking the suspect out of the property to his vehicle, another area that had been baited with corn was found. The suspect was issued a citation for hunting turkeys over bait.
Sgt. Brian Olsen checked a turkey hunter while patrolling Roscommon County. The man was hunting a couple days before his license was valid. A citation was issued for hunting turkey outside the hunter’s valid season.
CO Jeff Panich and PCO Anna Cullen received a complaint of an individual who shot a turkey from a vehicle in Alcona County. The COs responded and met with an eyewitness who was able to obtain a license plate from the suspect vehicle. The COs also located a spent shotgun shell at the scene and determined the vehicle owner was licensed for a different turkey hunting unit. With assistance from CO Joe Deppen, contact was made with the hunter at his residence in Macomb County on the same day. A full confession was obtained. Charges are being sought through the Alcona County Prosecutor’s Office.
CO Todd Thorn and PCO Nathan Beelman received a Report All Poaching (RAP) tip about a possibly illegally taken wild turkey that was killed the day before the season opened. The suspect posted a picture on Facebook the day before the wild turkey season opened and claimed to have shot the turkey that day. CO Thorn and PCO Beelman conducted an interview with the suspect who admitted to shooting the turkey the day before the season started and admitted to not having a license when he shot the turkey. The turkey was seized, and a citation was issued for possessing a wild turkey out of season.
CO Andrea Albert recently testified in a jury trial regarding an investigation from last fall of a turkey hunter who shot a turkey with the aid of bait. During the trial, the hunter stated he put the bait out for deer and not turkeys. He claimed he never intended to attract turkeys with his bait; therefore, it was legal for him to shoot a turkey near the bait. The jury found the subject guilty of taking a turkey with the aid of bait and was sentenced to three days jail, four days community service in lieu of eight days in jail, one year probation, $1,625 in fines and costs, $2,000 reimbursement for the bearded turkey, and revocation of all hunting privileges for the current year and an additional five years.
COs Patrick McManus and Dan Liestenfeltz were contacted by the Leelanau County Central Dispatch regarding an early morning road hunting complaint. The COs contacted the complainant, who was not only able to obtain a license plate number off the suspect’s vehicle, but witnessed a suspect exit their vehicle with a shotgun and shoot a large tom turkey on property owned by the complainant. After contacting the suspect, the COs gained a full confession and seized the turkey, along with the shotgun they used to take it. Charges have been submitted to the Leelanau County Prosecutor’s Office for review.
As you have read some folks will go to no end to kill a turkey, even if it’s illegally done. Myself, I can’t understand why someone would want to poach any type of animal and in many cases show it off like they worked really hard to take it legally.
Keep in mind, poaching a turkey over bait, during the closed season or taking one without a license carries some very stiff penalties. At least five days in jail, loss of hunting for up to four years and restitution of $2,000 for the turkey, not include your fine, lawyer fees and possible loss of your firearm. Plus, the embarrassment. I hope that anyone would feel embarrassed!
If you know of anyone who is poaching please report it to the REPORT ALL POACHING HOTLINE at 1-800-292-7800. You can even text in a complaint.
Author is Jeff Pendergraff, retired Captain from the Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division.