By Tim Eisele Correspondent
Black River Falls, Wis. — Hunters will be able to apply for an
increased number of turkey permits next spring, if the DNR Turkey
Management Committee stands by its proposal for 203,796 tags next
That’s a preliminary number; the committee will meet in December
to review the spring and fall harvest figures, and reports of
reproduction success, before setting the final number of permits to
Proposed permit numbers for most zones will be the same as this
past spring, with numbers increasing only in zones 24, 25, 37, 38,
39, 42, 43, 44, and 46. The only zone where permits will be reduced
is Zone 45 in northern Wisconsin where hunters are concerned about
the potential of shooting too many birds. Permits there will be
reduced from 1,200 in 2006 to 900 next spring.
Preliminary numbers indicate the 2006 spring harvest was at
least 44,800 birds, although it could increase by as much as 1,000
when registrations are finalized. That could still be slightly
fewer than in 2005, when 46,183 birds were registered, and in 2004,
with the all-time record of 47,477 birds.
“Overall this spring was a good turkey season, despite our
concern that we wouldn’t have the two-year-old gobblers available
because of the wet spring and lower reproduction during the 2004
nesting season, and the sub-standard reproduction in 2003,” said
Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife database manager.
Early spring registrations showed a 22-percent statewide success
rate, varying from highs of 33 percent in zones 33 and 34 to a low
of 15 percent in Zone 14. Heavy rains the fifth period led to a
16-percent success rate, compared to the first period success rate
of 32 percent.
The preliminary totals show that 71.8 percent of the harvest was
adult toms, or gobblers, with a high of 80.8 percent adult toms in
Zone 34. The harvest included 32,165 toms, 12,082 jakes, and 467
DNR officials said they will be watching whether or not the sale
of the leftover permits during the last three hunting periods shows
results in higher success rates than normal. Theoretically, these
hunters went out of their way to buy permits, so rather than
receiving a free permit and not using it, which happened in the
past, these hunters may have been more determined to hunt, which
could result in higher harvests during the late periods.
Of the 40,250 permits left over after the initial distribution
this winter, 39,916 were sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
The permits were sold by e-mail, phone, and through license
outlets, although the first morning of sale was marred by a
computer error that resulted in long lines and frustrated hunters
at some outlets.
A total of 28,680 people bought one leftover tag, 4,438 bought
two permits, 588 bought three tags, and 95 bought four tags. One
hunter bought 14 tags.
There were 12,071 hunters who missed the December application
deadline and then bought tags over the counter (10,945 residents
and 1,126 nonresidents).
In all, the DNR took in an extra $742,203 in revenue through the
sale of permits, licenses, and stamps that would not have been sold
under the previous system where permits were distributed
automatically, for free.
Fall permits finalized
The committee finalized the number of permits for this fall’s
turkey season. Members changed the preliminary number for two
zones, increasing Zone 38 from 2,000 permits last fall to 2,300
permits this fall, and Zone 44 from its preliminary 300 permit
level to 400 permits.
That means 90,600 tags will be available this fall, compared to
85,400 last fall (10,591 birds, for a 12-percent success rate).
The fall application deadline is Aug. 1. The DNR plans to sell
any leftover permits, similar to the spring permit sale. The
deadline to apply for spring permits is Dec. 11.
The committee – composed of DNR biologists and conservation
wardens, the Conservation Congress delegates and National Wild
Turkey Federation volunteers – looks at recent harvest figures,
success rates, permit demand, reported hunter interference, and
brood survival when setting permit levels.
The committee grappled with an idea that it has discussed for
several years – that of combining turkey-hunting zones.
Jim Holzwart, DNR wildlife manager at Berlin, said the idea
began when several hunters had permission to hunt adjoining pieces
of land but the highway separating the land was the boundary for
This idea grew among hunters, so wildlife managers examined
zones that had similar habitat and harvest levels.
Some states have large turkey-hunting zones. Wisconsin has small
zones because turkeys were not found throughout the state when
first reintroduced 30 years ago. At that time, zones were
established as the population expanded.
The committee studied several proposals and eventually
recommended to the DNR Rules Committee that it put a question on
the 2007 spring hearing that will ask the public for its opinion on
leaving the zones the same, or combining the current 46 small zones
into six large zones.
The advantages of six large zones include:
- Fewer zones gives hunters more options and more choices of
locations to hunt within larger zones;
- The boundaries between zones will be the same as are currently
used (some lines would be removed to enlarge and connect the
- Existing data can be used for the DNR by combining data from
the old zones within the new larger zones;
- Regulations would be less complex;
- This would simplify DNR issuance of tags.
The disadvantages of having larger zones include:
- Some of the zones that are combined may not be similar in terms
of numbers of first-choice applicants, interference rates,
- The DNR could lose the ability to address specific local
- Bigger zones could include diverse habitat types and dissimilar
There is no guarantee the idea will be endorsed by DNR leaders,
but if it is and if the Natural Resources Board approves putting it
on the spring hearing, it could go out for public vote next April
and, if approved, could be implemented in 2008.
Matt Lechmaier, graduate student at the UW-Madison Department of
Wildlife Ecology, and Scott Lutz, associate professor of Wildlife
Ecology, reported on the past two years of Lechmaier’s work to
research turkey abundance, based on land cover and survival of male
One findings is that the ideal habitat with the highest bird
numbers includes a generally forested landscape that is 33 percent
to 50 percent “open” – fields, prairies, etc.
Lechmaier has live-trapped about 150 gobblers the past two
winters and has fitted them with radio transmitters, allowing him
to track their use of habitat, their home range during the spring,
and their death if the radio transmitter gives off a special
Lechmaier is still looking at data he has accumulated and will
embark on his third field season of trapping and monitoring birds