Turkey hunters: Expect jakes

Madison — When the first of the state’s six spring turkey seasons opens Wednesday, April 15, Wisconsin turkey hunters likely will notice an increase in jakes from previous years in most areas of the state. 

If they do see a difference, they can thank a strong season of nesting and brood success last spring and summer.

That increased production won’t put any more adult gobblers out there this year, but hunters should see more turkeys overall this year – and this year’s jakes will be mature birds next spring, said Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist
“We had a nice year of production in 2014,” Walter said. “Though some parts of the state saw large rainfall events in June, July and August were excellent for brood rearing and survival, and our statewide surveys reported a 22-percent increase in the number of broods seen per observer hour, as well as an increase in brood size.”

Now, that increase in production isn’t spread evenly across the state. Hunters in the far north witnessed a second consecutive late winter, followed by a cool, wet spring. Hunters north of Hwy. 8, and even some a little south of that line, saw young poults from late re-nesting efforts in August.

However, in most of the state – west-central, south, southeast, and northeast – the weather finally cooperated for turkeys and other upland bird species, Walter said.

The first season will run April 15-21. Dates for the remaining seasons are: second, April 22-28; third, April 29 through May 5; fourth, May 6-12; fifth, May 13-19; and sixth, May 20-26. Each time period will begin on a Wednesday and run through the following Tuesday. 

As of April 8, there remained roughly 47,000 leftover tags in four zones (1, 3, 4, and 5) and scattered across the last three seasons. Zone 1 had the most tags available at approximately 21,000 in seasons four, five, and six as of April 8. Zone 5 was on the verge of selling out that day, with just 475 tags left for the sixth season.

In total, 237,768 permits were made available for this spring’s hunt, essentially the same number that were available last spring. More than 134,000 permits were issued in the drawing for this spring. That left just under 104,000 available for over-the-counter purchase. Leftover permits went on sale on a zone-per-day basis March 23, and will be available for purchase until they are sold out or the season ends May 26.

Turkey numbers

Turkey populations rise or fall from one year to the next largely in response to weather conditions during critical nesting and brood-rearing periods. According to Walter, hunters are likely still seeing the benefits of an outstanding year of production in 2012.

Despite severe weather conditions during the winter of 2013-14 and a late spring, many reports noted turkey broods with small chicks late in the brood-observation period – an indication of successful late nesting or re-nesting activity.

Hunters registered 41,815 turkeys during the 2014 spring season. This was a 10-percent increase from the 37,804 birds shot in 2013. Spring hunter success rates in the past few years have ranged from 17 to 22 percent.

State park update

Wisconsin’s state park turkey zones have been eliminated, a move that began with the change in state park hunting rules. This change became effective Sept. 1, 2014. Beginning this spring, hunters are no longer able to apply for spring turkey permits in any of the previously listed state park zones. However, Wisconsin’s state parks will remain open for spring turkey hunting and have been absorbed into the larger turkey zones surrounding the parks. For example, a hunter wishing to hunt Zone 1A (Governor Dodge State Park) may still do so with a Zone 1 permit.

Spring turkey hunting within state parks is permitted during the youth turkey hunt and the first three time periods of the spring season. For more information regarding hunting within state parks, go to the DNR website.

Safe hunting

DNR statistics show that 80 percent of turkey-hunting accidents involve hunters mistaking other hunters for game, or hunters failing to identify their target.

The remaining 20 percent are self-inflicted.

“The two most critical ingredients for a successful spring hunt are a detailed hunting plan in one hand and a firm grip on firearm safety in the other,” said Jon King, DNR conservation warden and hunter education administrator. “Treat every firearm as if it is loaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction, be sure of your target and what’s beyond it, and keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.”

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