Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Jury is still out on ’06 state turkey kill

By Dean
Bortz
Editor

Madison — It will be a couple of weeks before hunters know
whether or not they contributed to yet another record turkey kill,
but if a new benchmark is not set, hunters can point to difficult
weather conditions and a lack of 2-year-old birds.

Early reports from several registration stations indicate that
at least some hunters had a tough go of it. If numbers are slightly
down in the traditional turkey hunting areas, there is a chance
that the kill in three new northern zones could still help the
state set a new harvest record.

Last year, hunters set a record with 46,159 turkeys.

A quick check of several registration stations in southern
Wisconsin showed that numbers were down a bit from last year.

Southern stations

Jodi Myer, of the Rockton Bar in Zone 3 in Vernon County said
her numbers were down 28 birds from last year. There would have
been an even greater difference had it not been for the
“over-the-counter” tag buyers, who showed up in force during the
fifth and sixth seasons.

“We had a lot of participation in fifth and sixth periods,” Myer
said. “They caught us up because we were way behind for a while.
The birds were coming in easier during the fifth and sixth periods.
Most of those hunters bought the extra tags. I like that idea a lot
better – the people who wanted to hunt were able to hunt. We had a
lot of guys who bought two tags for the sixth period.”

Myer registered 250 this year. Hunters brought in 178 adult
birds, 64 jakes, and eight bearded hens. The biggest bird weighed
26.13 pounds. She said hunters dealt with a lot of wind, rain, and
cold weather. Rockton saw two hard frosts during the sixth
period.

Myer’s father, Dean Hamilton, shot a six-bearded turkey on
opening morning of the sixth season. The beards measured 91/2
inches, 83/8 (two beards), 8, 73/4, and 5 inches. The bird weighed
22 pounds, 3 ounces and had 13/8-inch spurs. Hamilton hunted that
turkey every day of the season – either on his own, or he took out
friends and family members. He bought a sixth-period tag to get one
more crack at the bird.

Myer and other registration station attendants said hunters did
not find many 2-year-old birds, probably because of an extremely
poor hatch in 2004. Wally Banfi, of Wilderness Fish and Game in
Sauk City, said hunters were either shooting jakes, or 3- or
4-year-old birds.

“The kill is down in our area.,” Banfi said. “There are a couple
theories – we think two years ago we had a bad hatch. A lot of
jakes were shot, and the adult birds were call-shy and decoy-shy.
Plus, the weather was not great. That combination made it tough
around here.

“Some of the best birds were shot by guys who did no calling and
did not use a decoy,” he said. “They knew where the birds were
roosting and got between them and where they wanted to go. We heard
a lot of complaints in the fourth and fifth seasons. There was no
gobbling at all. It was hard to locate a bird.”

Myer seconded that.

“People had a tough time calling in the older birds,” she
said.

Wilderness Fish and Game registered 263 birds this year, which
is down from last year when hunters brought in more than 300 birds.
The biggest bird was a 29-pounder, shot during the first period by
Randal Mack.

Numbers at the Jumping Jupiter General Store in Dodgeville also
were down a bit, according to store co-owner Doyle Wallace.

“The third period was the best, when we registered 50 birds. The
birds were not very active, not very callable,” he said.

However, Wallace said bird numbers appeared to be good. Hunters
were seeing birds despite the wind and rain.

“The guys were pretty sure they were going to get their turkeys.
A lot of them waited until the last day to shoot a jake. There are
a lot of birds out there, but some guys said they didn’t see many,
and had trouble getting responses,” Wallace said.

The biggest bird at Jumping Jupiter weighed 281/2 pounds.

Numbers were up slightly from last year at the Holiday Shopping
Center in Montello. Tony Alexander said the store tallied 362
turkeys, up from 355 the year before.

“It was hard hunting for most people – they had to work for
their birds. Everyone said numbers are down, but they registered
birds. There was very little gobbling,” he said.

Even if southern Wisconsin kill numbers match or slightly exceed
last year’s numbers, the DNR likely will see a drop in hunter
success because more tags were issued this year than last. This
year, the DNR issued 200,673 tags, compared to 193,316 tags last
year.

Northern stations

This is the first year that hunters were able to chase turkeys
in far northern Wisconsin, with the opening of zones 44, 45, and
46. Overall, most stations had positive reports for their inaugural
hunt.

In Price County, Becky Schwark, of Ball’s Amoco in Phillips,
hunted the fourth period. She heard birds, but did not shoot one.
Then, last week, she had to stop her car to allow six gobblers to
cross a road. Schwark registered 62 birds at the Phillips station
and said most hunters reported seeing or hearing birds.

In Hayward, station registrar Dennis Meyer, of Shooting Star
Archery, didn’t shoot a bird, but his wife, Claudia, got a bird – a
24-pounder with a 101/4-inch beard. Dennis Meyer called it in for
her.

Shooting Star registered 40 birds, all from zones 44 and 46.

“A lot of people didn’t even realize there was a season up here.
We saw a lot of first-time hunters who weren’t willing to travel in
previous years to southern Wisconsin. They’re hooked now. Half a
dozen were women who had never turkey hunted – they enjoyed the
heck out of it,” Dennis Meyer said.

“From the people I talked to, everyone saw a lot of birds in
this area. We saw 20 the first day, others saw seven to 10. There
is a pretty good-sized flock in the Hayward area. We’re hoping they
run a fall season soon.”

The biggest bird Meyer registered was a 27-pounder.

At the Wild Eagle Corner Store in Eagle River, Randy Harris
registered 22 birds from central Vilas County, 21 of which were
shot during the first three periods.

“Once fishing started, no one hunted up here,” Harris said.
“Most of the guys who hunted up here were locals who knew where the
birds were.”

At Sportsmen’s Headquarters in Minong, Barry Zeien said the
harvest was pretty weak; he registered 13 birds.

“There were quite a few hunters, but there was a lot of looking,
and not much hunting. The last couple of seasons were a little
weak, but Zone 46 did OK in the sixth period,” Zeien said. “It’s
nice that they could hunt locally, but it would also be nice if
there were more birds. The DNR or NWTF has to plant more birds.
There are little pockets of birds, then vast areas with no birds.
Or you see flocks of hens, but no toms. No one up this way would
complain about having too many turkeys.

“Down south, you can work the same birds for a week; here they
move around a lot and are scattered. To hunt three or four days to
hear a gobble, that’s kind of frustrating, too,” he said. “The DNR
made more than $400,000 on the sale of extra tags, I would think
they could trap and move some turkeys.”

Al Wirt, of Kurt’s Island Sport Shop in Minocqua, registered 31
birds. Wirt said the birds were spread out, especially in the later
seasons.

“But, if you found a bird that was gobbling, it was extremely
killable. Guys who scouted had high success. You just don’t see a
ton of birds like you do down south,” he said.

Several northern shop owners said that road hunting seemed to be
a popular “technique” in the new zones.

One shop owner suspected that as many as one-third of the
registered birds were shot from vehicles. Northern Wisconsin game
wardens said they focused their efforts on fishermen once the
fishing season opened.

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