DNR set to talk turkey season tweak

St. Paul — The Minnesota DNR wants to hear from turkey hunters on how it might attempt to increase hunting opportunities and hunter satisfaction during the spring turkey season.

It will hold four regional turkey-hunting meetings in late September and early October.

“We’re asking citizens to help review, evaluate, and make recommendations on how DNR can improve the spring turkey season,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations program manager.

Minnesota’s spring turkey season started in 1978 with about 400 hunters who killed 94 turkeys, according to the DNR. There are now about 47,000 hunters who killed 11,734 birds this past spring. A record 13,500 turkeys were killed in 2010 by about 46,500 hunters.

“I think Minnesota has traditionally been conservative on how we hunt turkeys,” Merchant said. “We have actively limited opportunities for the sake of growing the turkey population.”

But seeing as the number of turkey hunters has plateaued in Minnesota, despite increasing youth opportunities, it’s a good time to look at liberalizing the spring turkey season, which currently allows hunters only one turkey and to hunt in only one season, though recently youth hunters were allowed to hunt in more than one season.

The DNR doesn’t appear to be considering expanding the bag limit. A University of Minnesota survey of turkey hunters during the 2014 season showed that while Minnesota turkey hunters did have an appetite for expanded opportunities, a majority opposed expanding the bag to two birds. Only 22.9 percent were in favor of an extra bird.

Tom Glines, senior regional director based in Minnesota for the National Wild Turkey Federation, said the group’s state board would meet Sept. 13 to pass a resolution on what it would like to see happen during the state’s process.

“We’ll have a candid conversation on Sunday,” Glines said. “We all want to be on the same page. A lot of our members will be attending the four different meetings.”

There is a limited amount of space at each meeting, with each limited to 36 participants. The meetings take place on Tuesday, Sept. 29 in St. Paul; Wednesday, Sept. 30 in New Ulm; Tuesday, Oct. 6 in Winona; and Thursday, Oct. 8 in Alexandria. The meetings will run from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and registration will be open until Sept. 25 at www.mndnr.gov/turkey or by calling 651-259-5204.

“We do expect some changes to come down the pipeline with lengths of seasons and some restructuring of seasons,” Glines said, noting that he didn’t think the overall length of the season should change, more the individual hunting periods inside the season should be tweaked.

There are at least a couple of different ways that DNR could go about expanding opportunities for turkey hunters.

“Maybe we need fewer times periods, which would give people more time,” Merchant said.

Another option would be to give hunters that were unsuccessful in the earlier hunting periods the opportunity to hunt in a later period.

“Somewhere around 25 to 30 percent of hunters kill a turkey,” Glines said. “They just want more time to kill a turkey. People want more time. Say there’s snow on the weekend you draw for, or it rains all weekend, it would be nice to have another crack at it.”

Is there any concern that expanding opportunities could have a negative effect on the turkey populations?

“You could hunt this population extremely hard and not have an effect, since you are not harvesting hens,” Merchant said. “The concern is maintaining a quality hunting experience. We are not worried about hunting the birds too hard. I don’t see that happening.”

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