Hopes high for spring turkey hunt
By Dean Bortz Editor
Madison — With a little bit of luck - and perhaps some help from the first year of over-the-counter sales of bonus tags - Wisconsin turkey hunters should set another harvest record this spring.
“I’m expecting a good harvest this spring,” said Andrea Mezzera, DNR assistant upland game ecologist. “It should equal or exceed last spring’s harvest. We did increase the number of tags a little from last year.”
Last year, hunters reported seeing fewer jakes than normal, and adult gobblers made up a larger percentage of the harvest. Hunters should see more jakes this spring.
“We had at least average brood production year last year, so that will help as well,” Mezzera said.
Hatch success and brood survival suffered in 2004 because of an extended run of cold, wet weather that spring and summer.
The way the season is stacking up - with more harvest tags available, the sale of leftover tags for the first time, and at least average brood production - state turkey hunters should end up killing about 48,000 birds this spring, Mezzera suggested.
This year is the first year that Wisconsin has made available more than 200,000 spring turkey tags - the final number is 200,673.
Last year, the DNR had 193,316 tags available.
Hunters registered 46,159 turkeys last spring, for a 24 percent success rate.
“Last year was the first year we didn’t set a harvest record since turkey hunting started in the state,” Mezzera said. “I would attribute that to poor brood success the prior spring and summer, when the birds didn’t fare well in the rainy and cool weather.”
Hunters did set a harvest record in 2004 with 47,477 birds.
“I would imagine we should be in the neighborhood of 48,000 birds this spring,” said Mezzera.
She expects the sale of leftover turkey tags to give this year’s harvest a bit of a boost. In the past, tags not issued through the first drawing went back into the hopper and were issued as free tags to hunters who indicated they would accept a second tag - usually for the fifth or sixth periods. Mezzera said many of those tags went unused.
This year, for the first time, hunters who are interested in a second tag can buy one for $10 ($15 for nonresidents).
“I expect the sale of extra tags to increase the kill a little bit,” Mezzera said. “Usually the first season has the highest harvest and best success rate, and it drops off each time period thereafter, so success rates aren’t as high in fifth and sixth. But we haven’t had hunters using those extra tags as much in the past. With people purchasing tags this year, I expect them to use them and to see an increase in success, but it probably will not be anything significant (in terms of making big gains in the overall success rate).”
The over-the-counter sale of 40,283 tags will begin Saturday, March 25 at 12:01 p.m.
Hunters may buy one tag per day until each zone and time period is sold out. In order to buy a leftover tag, hunters must first buy a spring turkey license and stamp, unless they are a 2006 patron license holder.
The DNR also is suggesting patron license buyers buy their license before March 25 to “expedite buying additional spring turkey permits,” said Diane Brookbank, of the DNR Bureau of Licensing. “Permits cannot be purchased for another individual, with the exception that a parent or guardian can purchase a permit for their minor child,” she said.
A few permits are available in Unit 45 and Mirror Lake State Park in late April. The number of permits in each unit is limited and many are expected to sell out quickly. Hunters interested in “disabled hunt units” (5B, 10B, 11A, 12A, 15B, 25A) must visit a DNR office to buy their permit.
Whole state open
This is the first year the entire state will be open for turkey hunting. Turkeys have spread into northern Wisconsin on their own in some places, and have taken hold in other areas through releases.
There were two releases this winter, with 53 birds turned loose in Iron County and nine in Vilas County north of Eagle River.
Last year birds were released in Bayfield and Douglas counties.
“I have heard they’re doing well. People witnessed some broods this summer, so they’re reproducing,” Mezzera said.