First-season turkey kill third highest on record

St. Paul — The spring turkey season got off to quite a start.

The A season, which was April 15-19, saw 2,958 turkeys killed, according to preliminary DNR numbers. That was the third highest on record for the A season, behind the 3,181 birds killed in 2012 and 3,080 birds killed in 2010.

“It was an awesome week for turkey hunting weather-wise, and I think that does make a difference,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations program manager. “We’re just 10 percent shy of the record.”

Warm spring weather generally just makes it easier for hunters to be patient for their chance to kill a bird. 

It’s no surprise the record year for the A season occurred during an unseasonably warm spring. But the last two springs have seen winter stretched out. In 2013, there were 1,939 birds killed in a particularly miserable A season, while last spring, the A season tally improved to 2,631 birds.

Cold, wet weather, which is what followed the A season this past week, tends to lead hunters to put in less effort.

“They don’t stay out as long,” Merchant said Tuesday. “Ultimately, being out in the woods, the longer they stay, the more opportunity they have to get a bird. … I feel sorry for the B season people. I see snow coming down outside my office window. I don’t think B season will be quite as good.”

Indeed, the B season, which is April 20-24, coincided with much cooler, sometimes wet, sometimes snowy weather, depending on the part of Minnesota’s turkey range. The C season is April 25-29, concluding the three time periods that fell under a lottery to obtain a permit. There was no permit lottery for remaining five time periods, which conclude May 28.

Some youth licenses, which are valid for the entire season, were erroneously printed with the 2014 dates on them (April 16 to May 29). The DNR intends to inform those license holders, via mail, of the error, in hopes of preventing anybody from being out in the woods May 29.

DNR wants hunters’ help

The DNR is also seeking the help of hunters in nine western counties (Cottonwood, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lyon, Meeker, Nobles, Pope, Stearns, and Watonwan) where avian influenza has been confirmed on domestic turkey farms.

Wild turkeys are presumed to be susceptible to the virus, said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. The disease poses a minimal risk to humans, who should still avoid contact with any birds that appear to be sick.

The DNR has asked hunters to report any dead or sick birds to their local wildlife manager, marking down GPS coordinates, if possible.

The DNR has received about 10 reports about dead wild turkeys thus far, but Cornicelli said all tests at this time have come back negative for the disease.

Additionally, the agency is asking hunters in five counties – Kandiyohi, Pope, Meeker, Swift, and Stearns – to allow a sample to be collected from the turkeys they kill.

Starting Monday, April 20, the DNR began asking successful hunters in these counties to call to schedule an appointment at one of the participating wildlife offices. Samples will include a swab of the trachea and, if the bird has not yet been field-dressed, a swab of the cloaca. Successful turkey hunters in these counties must call the following offices to schedule an appointment:

• Sauk Rapids, (320) 223-7840
• New London, (320) 354-2154
• Glenwood, (320) 634-0342
• Carlos Avery (651) 296-5290
• Little Falls, (320) 223-7869

According to the DNR, sampling only takes a few minutes and the hunter will retain the bird. Hunters are asked to keep wild turkeys in their vehicles, and DNR staff will come out to take the samples at the vehicles. Hunters also will be asked to provide their contact information, harvest information, and approximate harvest location.

Cornicelli said the DNR was caught somewhat off-guard by the outbreak, but that the agency responded with a considerable effort, coordinating with other state and federal agencies.

When the virus was first detected in Pope County on March 6, the DNR, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, did an aerial survey of a 700-square-mile area around the infected farm and then followed up by collecting 148 fecal samples from wild waterfowl inside the survey area. All but two samples were negative for the virus, and those two were not for the H5 or H7 strains.

The DNR has expanded its effort as more cases have been discovered in other counties, with about 1,800 samples collected so far.

“We have 900-something results back, but nothing to report,” Cornicelli said.

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