Madison — DNR committees responsible for overseeing permits and seasons for turkeys, pheasants and waterfowl met in December to review seasons and discuss habitat and permit status.
The three committees are each chaired by Taylor Finger, DNR game bird ecologist, since each of the three species involves hunting stamps and habitat work.
The DNR Turkey Advisory Committee met Dec. 1 and finalized permits available for the 2023 spring season.
The number of harvest permits available in central and southern Wisconsin will be identical to the 2022 spring season.
The only change will occur in northwest Wisconsin’s Zone 6 where there will be an increase of 600 permits from 5,400 in 2022 to 6,000 this coming spring.
“We had been hearing feedback from staff that the turkey population has been increasing in the north. Based on the spring hunter survey, that was the one zone that showed an interest in increasing permits,” Finger said.
Zone 6 had an 18% success rate last spring. Based on that rate, the increase could result in an another 100 birds tallied.
The permits for this spring will be: 75,646 in Zone 1; 51,036 in Zone 2; 63,018 in Zone 3; 34,968 in Zone 4; 12,000 in Zone 5; 6,000 in Zone 6; and 4,400 in Zone 7.
Last spring the DNR had 245,700 permits available, issued 142,091 in the general random drawing, sold 77,935 leftover tags over-the-counter, and 39,007 birds were registered.
Hunter success statewide was 17.7%, and by zone was: 17% in Zone 1; 18% in Zone 2; 19% in Zone 3; 18% in Zone 4; 14% in Zone 5; 18% in Zone 6; and 12% in Zone 7.
Successful applicants should receive cards in the mail, or may go to their DNR Go Wild account, by early January. Leftover tags will go on sale in March.
There will be no changes in zone boundaries. A Conservation Congress question about splitting Zone 2 into north and south zones failed to pass the Conservation Congress Upland Committee and so was not taken up by the DNR committee.
The DNR will have a question on its spring survey mailed to turkey hunters in 2023 asking hunters if giving preference to landowners should still be used.
Landowner preference was started when the turkey program began in 1983 because birds were released, and were primarily found, on private lands. The thinking was that this would give landowners a chance to hunt first and then they would share hunting opportunities on their land.
“We want to make sure that landowner preference is being used for the purpose it was intended,” Finger said.
Today, turkeys are widely distributed and some feel that preference can create an “us versus them” situation. Any change would require legislation.
The DNR is considering submitting a research project for approval that would look at turkey populations, as some hunters have reported seeing and hearing fewer turkeys, which also has been noticed in other states.
“All of the telemetry studies in Wisconsin were done when turkey numbers were climbing, and now turkey numbers seem to have stabilized across the state. This would see what reproduction and nesting success is with a stable population,” Finger said.
The results would also be useful when the next turkey management plan will be due for updating in 2025.
The DNR used to have a 10-week-old brood survey by employees and landowners to get an idea of reproduction success, but that was disbanded in 2020 when participation was low.
The DNR introduced a new survey method last summer where staff and the public can get a free app on their iPhone and easily report when they see turkeys, pheasants, ruffed grouse, and gray partridge.
The survey runs during August, and even though it was introduced in mid-summer, Finger said he received a good number of turkey observations.
“We need to remind people that although it is a brood survey, we also want observations of lone turkeys to get accurate results,” Finger said.
They then can break the data down by zone, county, and region, as well as statewide.
Fall results are still preliminary since the season in five zones remains open through Jan. 8, 2023. The kill as of Nov. 29 was 3,377 birds. In 2021, the final was 3,623.
The DNR Waterfowl Advisory Committee met Nov. 28 and is looking at setting basic seasons on a five-year time period.
Finger said this will create basic seasons for whenever the state is given a 30- or 45-day season option by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service framework.
“I don’t think this will happen anytime soon, but this is just in case we had to have a 45-day season. What would it look like in the zones?” Finger said.
The 2023 waterfowl season regulations will be exactly the same as 2022. There are some concerns about canvasback and pintail populations, which could result in bag limit changes, though hunting is not considered responsible for population changes that are more likely due to water and nesting habitat conditions.
Clarifications were well received by hunters for the Big Water Zone on Lake Michigan, and allowing open-water hunting 500 feet from shore rather than 1,000 feet from shore on inland lakes during 2022, and. The changes did not result in complaints from landowners.
“This added thousands of acres of hunting for inland open-water lakes,” Finger said.
This also was the second year of the waterfowl learn-to-hunt program for professionals that is to help acquaint DNR employees and other conservation groups.
Finger said about 60% of wildlife professionals coming out of college have no hunting background. The DNR has had a large turnover in its wildlife staff, so this program is a way for employees who meet with the public to understand the importance of the hunting culture to wildlife management.
The pheasant advisory committee met Nov. 30. Finger said the DNR spring survey showed populations up slightly from 2021, while the rural mail carrier survey showed a slight decline.
There has been interest in stocking pheasants further north, but that idea did not pass the Conservation Congress Upland Study Committee and the DNR committee does not support introducing game farm birds into areas where there are good wild pheasant numbers, or where game farm pheasants could interfere with sharp-tailed grouse populations.
“We need to develop a strategic pheasant stocking plan, so that rather than stock where we’ve always stocked, we are putting birds where there is good pheasant habitat,” Finger said.
The DNR also will need a pheasant management plan in the future; the agency does not currently have a pheasant plan.