MN: Struggles continue for turkey hunters
Madelia, Minn. – Weather-wise, April was a bummer. There was little sun and lots of cold. Some rain and snow, too. Turkey hunters felt the effects.
Through May 2, the end of the spring D turkey season, hunters had killed 6,456 birds. At the same time last year – the fourth consecutive year with a record harvest – hunters had killed 8,946 turkeys.
"We're obviously down quite a bit from last year's record harvest," said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager. "I guess I would expect that … The weather has been lousy."
But Merchant also noted the past two winters have been tough on birds. He hoped some nice weather for turkey hunting might offer some indication of whether the reduced harvest is tied to the weather, or whether the birds suffered winter losses.
"The fact of the matter is that the weather still hasn't gotten nice," he said. "I still think the weather has played a role in it. I just can't tell you how big of a role."
Some people have reported that turkey numbers in their areas appear to be down, Merchant said.
"Variation in the productivity of turkeys is normal and we're going to see ups and downs," he said. "We're just used to seeing nothing but ups, and that can't go on forever."
Indeed, the harvest through the D season this year is lower than at the same time during the previous three seasons. Last year, hunters had killed 8,946 birds; they had killed 7,262 in 2009 and 6,472 in 2008.
Following are reports from conservation officers around the state:
• Hunters in the Brainerd area report poor success, and believe it's because of cold weather and rain.
• Hunters in the Garrison area seem to be generally satisfied with the number of birds they're seeing.
• Turkey hunting has been challenging in the Willmar area.
• Hunting is slow in the Fairmont area.
• Hunters in the Rochester and Zumbrota areas have been having a difficult time.
• Success has been low in the Rushford area, and hunters report seeing or hearing few birds.
• Hunting has been slower than usual in the La Crescent, Wabasha, and Winona areas.
While the weather to this point in the spring probably hasn't been a big deal for birds, including pheasants and turkeys, "for all wildlife it could be an issue if this continues long enough," said Kurt Haroldson, a DNR wildlife researcher in Madelia.
For now, the birds can incubate eggs and keep them warm, but cold, rainy weather a month from now would be problematic.
"If we would have cold weather extend past the hatch period, that would be a bigger problem because the chicks would have a hard time staying warm," Haroldson said. "And cold weather also would influence insect production, which is their food, so it kind of becomes a double whammy."
Haroldson figures there was some pheasant and turkey loss this winter.
"I'm sure we lost more birds than normal," he said. "It would be nice if we had a good spring to recover some of those losses."