Spring turkey kill up 11 percent
Madison — Spring turkey hunters killed 45,496 birds this year, according to preliminary information compiled by the DNR. Upland wildlife ecologist Mark Witecha said that is an 11 percent increase from the spring 2015 harvest and the highest harvest in the last six years.
A mild winter and stable weather throughout most of the spring turkey season were major factors in that success.
“We have had fairly good nesting and brood rearing conditions the last couple of years,” Witecha said. “We had a fairly mild winter this last winter as well compared to the winter of 2013-14. We are seeing some of the benefits of that.”
Time Period A had the largest harvest at 11,115. The harvest then decreased each time period, with 9,408 in Period B, 7,583 in time Period C, 6,304 in Period D, 5,193 in Period E and 3,103 in Period F. A total of 196 turkeys were killed during learn-to-hunt events and 2,594 were killed during the youth hunt.
The overall hunter success rate was 21 percent. Period A had the highest success rate at 28 percent. The success rate decreased to 23 percent in Period B and 19 percent in Period C. The success rate during the last three time periods was stable with 16 percent in periods D and E and 15 percent in period F.
Witecha said one reason for the leveling off of success is the probability that some gobblers are naturally more responsive to calls and they are killed at a higher rate in early periods.
The early time periods also correspond to peak breeding. In later periods breeding activity is diminished. The remaining toms are still active and strutting, but at a lesser intensity.
Zone 1 had the highest kill at 13,862, followed by Zone 2 at 11,083, Zone 3 at 10,348. Zone 4 at 6,698, Zone 5 at 2,071, Zone 6 at 813 and Zone 7 at 510. Fort McCoy had 111 birds registered.
Adult gobblers were the bulk of the harvest with 37,750 registered. That comprised 83 percent of the total. Jakes were next with a harvest of 7,339 and 406 bearded hens were registered. One kill was recorded as unknown.
An interesting anomaly in the kill statistic shows that zones 1 and 3 had the highest harvest through the first three time periods. Zone 1 was tops in the fourth season, but Zone 2 came in second. For the final two time periods Zone 2 had the highest kill total in the state.
Witecha attributed that to the number of hunters in Zone 2 that includes southeast Wisconsin. Leftover tags were available for Zone 2 during the last two time periods, but they sold out quickly.
Zones 1 and 3 had many leftover tags and those available for the last two time periods were readily available. In the days before the last time period Zone 1 still had more than 10,000 tags available.
Witecha theorized that hunters in zones 1 and 3 were able to get their fill of hunting in the earlier time periods due to the availability of tags, but hunters in Zone 2 may have been more motivated during the late time periods because no extra tags were available for the earlier time periods.
“Turkey populations in zones 1 and 3 may overall be higher than Zone 2, especially given the amount of urban areas within Zone 2,” Witecha said. “But because it is so heavily populated, the hunting pressure within Zone 2 is far higher.”
A question at the spring rules hearing this year asked if hunters with an unfilled tag from periods A through D (first through fourth seasons) should be able to use them in time periods E and F. It passed statewide by a very small margin. That could have resulted in even higher hunting pressure in some parts of the state, particularly in Zone 2.
Witecha said that proposal is dead for now.
“Originally that was proposed by the Conservation Congress’s turkey and upland game committee,” he said. “The proposal then went to the Conservation Congress at their annual convention for approval. The proposal was voted down by the Conservation Congress.”
It is not likely the proposal will be brought forward again at the spring rules hearing, but the state legislature has the ability to consider it.
Wisconsin’s spring turkey kill peaked from 2007-09 when more than 50,000 were shot each year.
“We saw three years of uninterrupted growth in the turkey population as they were reintroduced and expanded into unoccupied territory,” Witecha said. “I believe we overshot the land’s carrying capacity. We had three years of high harvest and then the population kind of regulated itself and came back down to the stable level that we have seen in the past six or seven years.”
In the future, Witecha believes hunters will see only minor fluctuation in the turkey population based on nesting and brood rearing conditions. He said there are now turkeys in all 72 counties. Those in the far north are more vulnerable to population fluctuation from extreme weather.
Turkeys are thriving in parts of the state that were once not thought of as ideal habitat.
“Turkeys are very much an edge species,” Witecha said. “For the longest time that fact eluded biologists. Early on in turkey biology and research there was a misconception that they needed large tracts of uncut timber of mature forests. We know very well now that they thrive in an agriculture and forested matrix.”
In 2015, the DNR website was able to provide real-time up-to-date harvest numbers for deer on a daily basis. The program worked, but had some glitches during the gun season due to the number of registrations.
Witecha said he was not aware of plans to expand that type of reporting to the turkey harvest. He said the online and phone- in registration process for turkeys was working well and, for the most part, the use of plain paper tags this year created minimal problems for hunters.
“If we continue to have fairly good nesting and brood rearing conditions like we had the last two seasons, we should see a great fall hunt,” Witecha said.
Permits for the fall season are now available. That season runs from Sept. 17 to Nov. 18. The deadline for applying for a permit is Aug. 1.