By Larry Polenske
Madison — Fall turkey hunters may be able to use dogs in eight
counties this fall, if a proposal from the Natural Resources Board
is supported by hunters at the spring hearings in April.
The proposal would create a two-year experimental season in
Crawford, Vernon, La Crosse, Richland, Sauk, Wood, Monroe, and
Jackson counties to evaluate support, conflicts, and consequences
of using dogs for fall turkey hunting. If the proposal is approved
and the results of the two-year hunt are positive, there likely
would be a proposal to allow fall turkey hunting with dogs on a
The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation petitioned the Natural
Resources Board to include the proposal on the spring fish and game
rules hearing agenda on behalf of four of their associate members,
the American Wild Turkey Hunting Dog Association, the Wisconsin
Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Wisconsin
Association of Sporting Dogs, and the Wisconsin Association of
Field Trial Clubs. This procedure was done under state statute
227.12 Petition for Rules.
“Fall turkey hunting with dogs is common in other states with
turkey populations,” said George Meyer, WWF executive director. “It
is a safe sport, and the resource can easily accommodate the
A similar proposal has been defeated twice at previous spring
hearings. Oneida resident Jon Freis, of AWTHDF, thinks previous
attempts failed because voters did not fully understand the concept
of using dogs for fall turkey hunting.
Sportsmen in the eight counties in the new proposal supported
fall turkey hunting with dogs when the previous proposals were
voted on. Freis believes an experimental hunt in those counties
would show that fall turkey hunting with dogs is a good idea.
Freis said there is a tradition of using dogs for fall turkey
hunting in other states. He said this type of hunting dates back to
before there was spring hunting for turkeys, and dogs were an
integral part of the fall hunt.
Freis would like hunters who are using dogs for upland birds to
be able to harvest a turkey if they come upon one. However, he said
hunters who focus on turkey hunting with their dog will have to
spend many hours training their dogs.
In the fall hunt, the dog is trained to a flock so the hunter
can call the turkeys back for a close shot. A hunter can do this
alone, but a dog does it better.
“You can run out and scatter a flock,” Freis said. “But that’s
almost impossible to do unless you are 17 years old and a track
Freis said turkeys would rather run than fly. Hunters often
cannot run fast enough to force turkeys to fly – they run away
instead. If the turkeys are not flushed and scattered, they will
stay in groups and will be difficult to call back. A trained dog
will pressure the turkeys so fast that they fly off in many
After the turkeys are scattered, the hunter sets up and tries to
call them back. The dog must be trained to lie still during this
portion of the hunt. Freis said some hunters set up portable blinds
for concealment. A dog that’s brown or gray might not need
camouflage, but he said some hunters put a duffel bag over their
dogs to hide them.
Freis said retrieval is not a primary purpose for a turkey dog,
but if the hunter wounds a turkey and it runs off, the dog usually
will locate it.
DNR upland wildlife ecologist Scott Hull does not see any
problems with using dogs for fall turkey hunting. He has contacted
other states, including Michigan, which allow the use of dogs. None
have reported any problems with overharvest.
“We are hovering around 10,000 to 11,000 birds in the fall
harvest,” Hull said. “The population can sustain more harvest than
we currently have in the fall. As a result of that, we can provide
more opportunities for folks in fall.”
Hull doesn’t believe there will be problems with pheasant or
grouse hunters wingshooting at turkeys flushed by their dogs. A
Michigan biologist told him they had those concerns also, but after
fall turkey hunting with dogs was adopted, it did not appear to be
NWTF regional wildlife biologist Dave Neu, of De Pere, believes
the proposal is good one, and it will have little effect on the
“It’s popular in quite a few other states. It’s really a
non-event,” Neu said. “I don’t think it’s had any effect on the
harvest. It’s just another opportunity for hunters in those
Neu does not believe great numbers of fall turkey hunters will
use dogs, based on what he has seen in other states.
“I think there is just going to be a core group that thinks it’s
fun and will use that method to hunt turkeys in fall,” he said.
“It’s kind of like the dove season was. It became kind of a
non-event once we had it. That’s how I think hunting turkeys with
dogs will go.”
Christine L. Thomas, NRB chair, thinks the eight-county
experiment is worth trying.
“The counties where the experimental season is being proposed
voted in favor of this in the past,” she said. “If those folks want
to have an additional opportunity to use their hunting dogs to go
out and hunt turkeys – great.”