MN: Another strong turkey season likely
St. Paul – When the spring turkey season begins next week, hunters will be gunning for a sixth consecutive record harvest. The kill has increased every year since 2006; hunters last spring killed 13,467 birds.
This year, there are new permit areas in the northwest and north-central parts of the state, and, like last year, permits for the final two seasons – G and H – will be available on an over-the-counter basis to anyone who wants to hunt.
The first season kicks off next Wednesday, April 13, and runs for five days. The next five time periods also last for five days. The final two time periods last for seven days.
"It should be pretty good," said Bill Penning, DNR farmland wildlife program leader. "In general, the turkeys came through the winter pretty good in most areas.
"I did not hear any really negative reports from anyplace, unlike with pheasants, where it was definitely not a good winter for them," he said.
Wild turkeys have been expanding their range through the state for more than 30 years. The state's first turkey season was in 1978, when just more than 400 hunters killed 94 birds. The annual harvest generally has been on the rise since then.
So, too, has the number of permit areas open to hunting.
This year, there are three new permit areas – 154, which is on the north side of Lake Mille Lacs; and 256 and 265, which are as far north as Marshall County.
Turkeys were released in the northwest beginning in 2006. Officials weren't certain then how the birds would do that far north, but "the managers think they are doing pretty good up there – well enough to open the season," Penning said.
As the agency usually does, the number of permits in the new areas is limited – five per season.
Hunters in the northwest will find limited turkey distribution – they'll be along the beach ridges and along larger rivers in areas with wooded corridors.
"In those areas, I think we're probably going to have some pretty decent turkey populations," Penning said.
The largest number of permits continues to be in permit areas in the southeastern part of the state. In Permit Area 349, which covers most of Houston County and the eastern edge of Fillmore County, there are 400 permits available each season.
"In a lot of areas of the state, particularly the southeast, turkey populations are basically at carrying capacity," Penning said.
In those areas, populations of turkeys likely will rise and fall some depending primarily on the weather. In the southeast, for example, the past couple of springs have been cold and wet, and the winter has been tougher than usual.
"The turkey population is probably down a little bit," Penning said. "But I don't think it's due to overharvest – I think it's due to weather conditions."
Regulation changes that were in place last spring – and that remain in place this spring – seem to have been well received by hunters, Penning said. Those changes allow anyone to buy a permit for the last two time periods, and allow youths 17 and younger to buy an over-the-counter permit for any time period they choose.
Penning said it's unclear exactly how much of last year's harvest was a result of the new regulations. He did note, though, that the spring harvest was on the rise even before those regs went into place.
"I would say harvest was probably up a little bit because of that factor," he said.
Surplus licenses remain for the B, C, D, E, and F seasons. While hundreds remain for the late seasons, few remain for the earlier ones.
For a list of surplus permits, log on to http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/turkey/index.html.