At 11,720 turkeys, spring season tally is third best

St. Paul — For the second year in a row, Minnesota hunters killed the third most spring turkeys on record. Turkey hunters killed 11,720 turkeys this spring, according to preliminary numbers provided by the Minnesota DNR.

That’s just 273 more birds than were killed during the 2014 spring season, when 11,447 were killed, a tally that now drops to fourth all-time. 

Only the spring kills in 2010, when 14,467 were harvested, and 2009, when 12,210 were killed, were better spring seasons.

“It wasn’t the best spring, weather-wise,” said Steve Merchant, DNR populations and regulations program manager. 

This year’s A period had good hunting weather and saw 2,958 birds killed, the third-most for that time period. But the weather quickly turned cold and wet before wavering for much of the rest of the spring hunting season.

“It started out well,” Merchant said. “(The harvest) would have been better if the weather would have been better. I’m happy with it. I think turkey numbers have come back quite a bit. I know some of those (hunting) periods, turkey weather was not the best.”

Rick Horton, regional wildlife biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation, said that function of good weather equaling more hunter effort and the cold winter and spring two years ago, which could impact recruitment, makes it difficult to know just how well the population is doing.

“It’s hard to tease out what exactly is going on when you have these two things that impact harvest,” Horton said. “We had good weather throughout much of the hunting season, but you kind of wonder how many birds were out there available for them.”

For example, Horton said roughly the same number of birds could be killed in two different scenarios, one where there are a lot of birds and the hunting conditions lead to birds being killed in a day of effort on average. In the other scenario, you could have the same number of hunters but fewer birds and more effort needed to kill a bird, but die-hard hunters could make up the difference if they are willing to put in the time.

Still, Horton said, it’s clear the state’s turkey population is in good shape.

Merchant said there was some mortality of birds during those two winters, as suggested by reports that came into DNR area wildlife managers near the northern edge of the turkey range.

“But I don’t think we had a lot of widespread mortality,” Merchant said. “I’m sure we had some impact on the population; it just wasn’t significant.”

Merchant said it’s been a while since adult turkeys have had the warm and drier spring it takes to get off a good hatch of birds and really boost numbers.

Horton said turkey hunters in Wisconsin, a state he also covers as a regional biologist, have complained about a lack of gobbling this spring, suggesting maybe there are fewer 2-year-old birds around. But he hasn’t heard those complaints in Minnesota.

“Certainly nobody is complaining here,” said Horton, based in Grand Rapids, Minn. “It was a great year to be a turkey hunter.”

Horton is hopeful that more hunting opportunities for adult hunters may be on the horizon in Minnesota, such as allowing adult hunters to hunt in more than one time period, if they are not successful in their first season.

Merchant said this summer the DNR will form a committee that will look at that change and others, as well as a survey that will gauge hunter support for tweaks to the state’s turkey laws.

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