Gov. Tim Walz and Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen will take up shotguns next month to target wild turkeys for the first time in their lives.
The mentored hunt in Dakota County will put a new spin on celebratory hunting “openers’’ hosted by the governor’s office. There’s never been a governor’s wild turkey opener in Minnesota and neither Walz nor Strommen is experienced at hunting the birds.
“It’s going to be a little different than the classic opener,’’ said James Burnham, the state’s hunting and fishing recruitment coordinator.
Walz pledged in January to inaugurate some sort of governor’s opener for wild turkey hunting, a sport that attracts 50,000 to 60,000 license buyers per year. He’ll make good on his promise April 27, when eight other novices and 10 mentors take up the challenge of attracting gobblers within close range.
It won’t be a community gala like the governor’s openers for fishing, deer hunting and pheasant hunting. Rather, it’s structured to spotlight turkey hunting and emphasize statewide efforts to reverse a projected national decline in hunting and fishing.
“We want to keep hunting relevant,’’ said Tom Glines, a regional director of development for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). “We hope to get some turkeys in the process.’’
The event will coincide with NWTF’s annual mentored spring turkey hunt in Minnesota. In the past, the yearly program has drawn as many as 150 youths and adults.
“It’s going to be our turn to shine,’’ said Ralph “Turkey Whisperer” Warzecha, NWTF’s “Save the Hunt’’ coordinator. “I think it’s a great idea.’’
Warzecha, the past winner of NWTF’s national mentor of the year award, said mentored hunts are excellent groundwork for expanding interest in the outdoors. Warzecha, Glines and Burnham all said first-time turkey hunters quite often get the bug to continue.
“Anyone can pick this up,’’ said Burnham, a lifelong bird watcher who started turkey hunting six years ago and has advanced to the point of making his own turkey calls out of the birds’ wing bones. “It’s by far my favorite thing to do in the woods. It’s a blast.’’
Walz, Strommen and their eight invited hunting guests will be in the hands of the Dakota Strutters chapter of NWTF. The hunter-mentor pairs will take their places before dawn on various pieces of public and private land. At lunch time, they’ll meet at a farmstead to eat and swap hunting stories.
The official opening date for turkey hunting in Minnesota is April 17, but those early-season licenses are limited in number and distributed via lottery — an obstacle to converting the event next year to a more traditional, statewide governor’s opener.
And if Walz harvests a tom or jake this year, he won’t be eligible to participate again as a mentored hunter.
“The intention is for this governor’s hunt to continue on into the future,’’ Burnham said. “We’re not entirely sure what that will look like, however.’’