WI: Turkey tag numbers the same as last fall
Madison – The DNR Turkey Committee has decided to issue the same number of permits this fall as last fall.
That means 95,700 permits will be available for the 2011 fall turkey season, which runs from Sept. 17-Nov. 17 in all seven turkey zones. If approved in the Legislature, there also will be an extended season in zones 1-5 from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31.
Some turkey hunters thought the number of fall permits might be reduced this fall because of a 16-percent decline in the spring turkey harvest.
But Scott Walter, DNR upland ecologist, attributes the lower harvest to poor weather conditions, both for hunters this spring and for turkey reproduction in previous years.
"We haven't had good weather for turkey reproduction the last few years," Walter said. "We have had wet Junes and lots of persistent snow on the ground earlier."
Walter talked to the state Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in mid-July to explain the rationale, and said the group agreed with the decision, but believed some hunters may wonder why the permit level isn't being reduced.
"We are entering a new era of turkey management. After two decades of continued growth, where turkey populations increased and expanded across the state, they are now statewide. In areas where they are well established, they are at carrying capacity and are leveling off," he said.
Walter used the analogy of buying a kid a better Christmas gift each year – it's hard to continue being satisfied. Now turkey hunters must accept the fact that turkeys are stable and populations can go up and down due to weather conditions.
The issue now is winter and nesting weather, Walter said – not whether the turkey harvest itself is responsible for a reduction in turkey numbers.
The DNR Turkey Committee believes reducing the numbers of permits issued this fall would not benefit turkeys or hunters in the long run.
"It is easy to just focus on the harvest numbers for one year, but people have to realize we have tons of great turkey habitat and all it takes is some good weather for reproduction to bounce back," Walter said.
He also said other Midwest states experienced a drop in harvest this spring.
Rick Horton, NWTF regional biologist for Wisconsin and Minnesota, agrees with the permit issuance decision.
"It isn't an easy decision to decide on fall permits, but we did a lot of analysis of the harvest with tag number changes and we couldn't impact much without drastic reductions in tags that are not biologically warranted," Horton said.
"The number of hens being taken during the fall season is relatively low. Most of the hens harvested in the fall are in Zone 2, where there isn't that big of a risk of winter weather impacting the population," he said.
Horton said there's no doubt some turkeys die every winter, but this spring the windy, cold weather had an impact on bird activity. They were not seen and heard as much and were still in some winter flocks, making them less vulnerable to hunters.
In addition, the late spring didn't encourage hunters to stay in the woods all day.
"We live in the northern fringe of the turkey range, but they have great habitat, and if populations do dip from time to time, they will recover pretty quickly," Horton said.
Both Walter and Horton believe this year may not be a stellar year for reproduction.
Walter said that combined weather data show that across southwestern, central, and northern Wisconsin, it was wetter than normal, with some areas 300 percent above normal. This could also have an impact on production, but with the late spring, nesting reproduction could have been delayed slightly, and brood surveys should indicate the level of success.
Walter said the turkey committee will meet this fall to set the final permit numbers for next spring. He expects the committee to examine the mathematical process that goes into setting permit levels in light of the now statewide population of turkeys.
"I think reproduction will be average to slightly below average this year because of the cool, wet weather that does not bode well for the young birds," Horton said. "Birds are adaptable, but it's the long, extended rainy days in a row that have an impact, and when it's cooler there are not as many insects out for the poults."
He notes that he saw a hen with nine poults near Park Falls recently, a good omen in northern Wisconsin.
Hunters must send in their application by Aug. 1 for fall turkey permits.
Starting this fall, turkey hunters will be able to register their birds by telephone or on-line. No in-person registration stations will be available. All turkeys must be registered by telephone by calling the DNR's Harvest Registration System at (888) 486-8947 (HUNT WIS), or on-line via the DNR website. The phone-in system will accept either touch-tone entry or voice commands.
Hunters will be asked to record a harvest registration confirmation number on their hunting permit at the end of the call or on-line session. Hunters will still have until 5 p.m. on the day after harvest to register their birds.