Gobbling that echos through the springtime woods signals the arrival of another wild turkey hunting season — and sends hunters’ heatbeats racing. About 45,000 Minnesotans are expected to sneak into bluffs, woodlands and prairies this spring, hoping to bag a tom turkey for the dinner table.
Late spring impacts?
The slow arrival of spring shouldn’t affect hunters’ ability to bag a bird, said Tom Glines of Coon Rapids, senior regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation. The amount of daylight, not temperatures, triggers a turkey’s reproductive activities, Glines said.
“They are strutting and gobbling already,’’ he said. “They’re doing their thing, rain or shine.’’
Turkeys congregate in flocks during winter, then disperse in spring.
“Once the snow goes away, they start breaking up,’’ Glines said.
The late spring shouldn’t have a big influence on that tendency.
Weather is a bigger factor for turkey hunters.
“If it’s cold or rainy, hunters may not sit out in the woods as long,’’ he said.
Has interest peaked?
For 25 consecutive years, the number of spring turkey hunting permits issued by the DNR increased. Then in 2011 and 2012, the numbers surprisingly fell.
“We just don’t know,’’ said Jay Johnson, DNR hunter recruitment and retention program coordinator.
For years, demand for the limited number of spring turkey permits exceeded supply. Then beginning in 2011 the DNR offered an unlimited number of over-the-counter licenses for the last four time periods. But instead of hunter numbers increasing, as expected, they fell.
Johnson and others speculate that perhaps hunters who would have applied for a license in the lottery, received one and went hunting now procrastinate because they can buy one over the counter.
“If you can buy it over the counter, you have good intentions of going, then get busy and end up just never going,’’ said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager.
Or perhaps the decline is a reflection of aging baby boomers dropping out of hunting.
Changes for youths?
Recruiting and retaining young hunters is a challenge, given the many activities that compete for their time. Yet they are the future of hunting. So the DNR allows hunters age 17 and younger to buy an over-the-counter license for any of the eight hunting periods; they don’t have to apply for the lottery. Under a new idea, young hunters would be allowed to hunt during all of the spring seasons, and in any permit area, until they bagged one bird.
“This would allow adults trying to introduce kids to hunting to pick any number of weekends,’’ Johnson said.
The DNR sollicited comments on the idea this spring at public meetings and online.
“We did have majority support for it,’’ Merchant said. The changes, if approved, could occur next year.
Turkeys likely came through the harsh winter OK. In the southeast, Jon Cole, DNR area wildlife supervisor at Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, said reproduction last spring appears to have been good, meaning hunters should hear and see birds this spring.
“I think it’s going to be good from here all the way to the Iowa border,’’ Cole said. “We’ve seen a number of good-sized broods. If we get another year like last year, as far as reproduction, we’ll have them coming out of our ears.’’
Last year, hunters bagged 11,325 birds; the record harvest occurred in 2010 when 13,467 birds were killed.
About 30 percent of Minnesota spring turkey hunters bag a bird. Which means if 45,000 hunters go afield this spring, 31,500 will go home empty-handed. By comparison, about 36 percent of regular firearms hunters shoot a deer each fall. Of course, many hunters simply cherish the hunting experience, whether they bag a bird or not.
“It’s a great time to be out,’’ Cole said. “You hear wood ducks, snipe winnowing, woodcock singing, grouse drumming — it’s tough to beat.’’
Wisconsin’s turkey season opens today, and officials expect lots of happy hunters. Statewide surveys showed the third-highest brood observation rate since 1987. Last spring, hunters killed 42,612 turkeys, a 6 percent increase from 2011. Hunter success rates in Wisconsin averaged 19 to 25 percent recently.