State turkey hunters establish new record

Madelia, Minn. ’Äî During the state’Äôs first turkey season in
1978, hunters bagged 94 birds. Thirty years later, they have shot
more than 100 times that many.

For the first time in the state’Äôs history, hunters this spring
took more than 10,000 turkeys and shattered the harvest record set
last year. This year’Äôs total was 10,994 turkeys, compared with
9,412 last year. The final turkey season wrapped up on May 29.

The recovery of wild turkeys in the state generally is
considered a wildlife success story, and the birds appear to be
continuing their northward march. Even so, Eric Dunton, DNR’Äàwild
turkey research biologist in Madelia, was surprised by the
increased harvest.

’ÄúI’Äôm pretty happy with the way it went,’Äù he said.
’ÄúBefore the season started I would have guessed that harvest
would be up, but 1,500 (more turkeys) is a pretty good jump.’Äù

Still, the increase makes some sense: There were 4,016 more
permits available this year than last year, and there were seven
new permit areas ’Äì mostly on the northern fringe of turkey range
’Äì available for hunters.

’ÄúWe had more areas and more hunters, so some of it can be
attributed to that,’Äù Dunton said.

On the flip side, the spring was generally cold and wet during
much of the season, which ran April 16 through May 29. The snow in
some areas was on the ground later in the year than usual, too, but
there seemed to be periods during every season when hunters took
advantage of breaks in the weather.

’ÄúThere were at least one or two days in every season that
afforded some good turkey-hunting opportunities,’Äù Dunton
said.

Throughout the season, he spoke with area wildlife managers,
National Wild Turkey Federation officials, and other hunters to see
what was happening on the ground.

’ÄúMost of the comments were positive, and the only negative
comments were related to the weather ’Äì the cold, snow, and
rain,’Äù Dunton said. ’ÄúThe farther north you went, the weather
was cooler and more extreme.

’ÄúMost of the people I talked to, even if they didn’Äôt harvest
a turkey, they at least had the opportunity to view turkeys while
they were in the field.’Äù

Dunton believes coming turkey seasons will be similarly
successful as turkeys gain a foothold in more parts of the
state.

’ÄúAll indications are that we still have a growing population
in the state of Minnesota throughout the north and northwest
region,’Äù he said. ’ÄúWe were still actually putting birds up in
that part of the state through this winter.’Äù

But the potential opening of new permit areas next year and the
number of permits available for hunters depend at least in part on
what’Äôs happening right now, because turkey populations are a main
component the DNR looks at when it’Äôs setting seasons and permit
levels. The peak hatch period for turkeys is between the end of May
and early June, but it’Äôs too early to tell what role cold and wet
weather will play in nesting success.

The DNR doesn’Äôt have a specific method for determining nesting
success, and instead uses the August roadside surveys as an
indication. That survey is targeted at pheasants, but ’Äúif
pheasants had a good hatch, then, more than likely, turkeys did,
too,’Äù Dunton said.

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