DNR: Strong turkey season on tap for state hunters
Altura, Minn. — Wild turkey hunters should be in for a good year when the first of six spring seasons kicks off next Wednesday.
Again this year, hunters had to apply for a license to hunt one of the first two seasons – A runs April 12-18, B runs April 19-25 – and licenses for the remaining four seasons are available on an over-the-counter basis. Hunters with an archery license may hunt during any season, and anyone who didn’t kill a bird during his or her selected time period may hunt in the same period area during the F season (May 17-31).
“It’s been a very mild winter, so I expect that adult survival was very good,” said Rick Horton, district biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Bird numbers ought to be really good this year. There have been a lot of reports of breeding activity already, so I expect the early seasons will be pretty active.”
Last spring, hunters in Minnesota killed 12,313 turkeys. That was the highest kill since 2010, and the second-most birds harvested on record.
There haven’t been changes to the regulations structure from last year, said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager.
“People seemed to like it. We had quite a few positive comments about unsuccessful folks being able to hunt that last time period,” he said. “I heard a few complaints from hunters in very popular spots – Whitewater, in particular – who said it was really crowded during the C season.
“If I were going to hunt turkeys, I wouldn’t go to the Whitewater during the C season,” Merchant added. “But we let people make that choice.”
There was a lot of early pressure at the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, according to Don Nelson, the unit’s manager.
“I think it’s going to take us a couple of years for things to get sorted out,” said Nelson, who noted that last year after the C season, “we saw little pressure and you pretty much had the place to yourself.”
Allowing archery hunters to hunt during any season until they killed a bird also seemed to result in more hunters afield.
“You see a lot more of those guys on weekends,” Nelson said. “If they get a nice day, they may be out there.”
Nelson said Whitewater was one of the few places in the state where there was more hunter interest than permits available for the first two seasons, and he expects a good season. He did note, however, that he’s been surprised that he hasn’t heard more gobbling this year.
The extended forecast doesn’t show snow for the Whitewater area, and the foliage shouldn’t be an issue during the early seasons, he said.
“Even if bird numbers are down a little bit, there are still plenty of birds on the unit down here,” Nelson said. “I think folks are going to have a pretty good year.”
On the opposite end of the state’s turkey range, Rob Baden, DNR area wildlife manager in Detroit Lakes, has similar expectations. He said birds in his area are starting to gobble and strut.
“Overall, the turkey population looks good,” Baden said. “We’re definitely still expanding, and birds are moving into all parts of Norman County and expanding north into Mahnomen County. I’m looking forward to a pretty darn good season again this year.”
Horton echoed Baden’s sentiment.
“We’re still seeing turkeys expanding into habitat that we never thought they would be able to occupy,” he said. “They are moving farther north than we ever thought they could.”
Horton hopes hunters who aren’t successful during their initial season will consider hunting the final season.
“That last season can be pretty good because by then, most of the hens are sitting on their nests,” he said. “If a tom is out and about and hears what he thinks is a hen, he’s going to come running.”