Minnesota's turkey hunters fan out

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2012 - 10:12 AM

Big changes greet state gobbler fanatics as the DNR trots out more liberal season regulations.


New rules will allow more hunters to seek wild turkeys — the male variety, like these two toms — across wider areas of Minnesota this spring.

Photo: , National Wild Turkey Federation

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Thirty-four years ago this spring, about 400 hunters went afield for Minnesota's first modern-era wild turkey hunt.

They were confined to a small area in the southeast where the fledgling turkey population -- reintroduced there only a few years earlier -- had grown large enough to allow a limited hunting season.

Oh, how times have changed.

Beginning Wednesday, about 45,000 hunters will roam three-quarters of the state to hunt gobblers under the most liberal hunting season ever -- a testament to one of the most remarkable wildlife success stories in state history.

Wild turkeys -- native to Minnesota but wiped out by settlers -- now can be found, and hunted, in three-quarters of the state, thanks to decades of trap-and-transplant efforts by the Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

As the turkey population expanded, the DNR has gradually relaxed its conservative management. This season, the DNR collapsed the 81 separate turkey hunting zones to only 12, which will allow hunters the freedom to roam far and wide instead of being confined to relatively small areas.

"It's probably the largest single change we've ever made," said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager. "It gives them a much bigger area to hunt."

One new permit area stretches from western Minnesota to the Twin Cities, Merchant noted. "You've got lots and lots of options," he said.

And hunters will be able to buy licenses over the counter for the past four of the state's eight turkey seasons -- meaning anyone who wants to hunt turkeys can.

Until last year, thousands of hunters who didn't get drawn in a lottery for a license had to sit out the season.

Change in thinking

The state's turkey management changes reflect a shift in philosophy by the DNR.

Because spring hunters are killing only male, or tom, turkeys, it's unlikely they can damage a local population, even if hunter concentrations increase in some areas. Additionally, the DNR previously limited the number of licenses in each of the 81 permit areas to reduce hunter "interference" or crowding.

"We used to manage what we, the DNR, thought people would tolerate," Merchant said. "But we learned from hunters that hunter interference wasn't that big of a deal to them; they wanted to hunt turkeys. We decided to let people make the decision on what's too crowded.

"We don't regulate the number of people who we let go pheasant hunting on the Lac qui Parle wildlife area. We let the people decide, and if it's too crowded, they'll go somewhere else. It's the same now with turkeys,'' Merchant said, adding that Minnesota this spring still will have eight separate turkey seasons to distribute hunting pressure.

The changes this year continue a trend toward relaxing regulations and providing more hunting opportunity. For years, spring hunting ended at noon, and later, at 5 p.m.

In 2007, hours were extended to sunset.

"We managed turkeys conservatively because that was necessary at the time," Merchant said. "You start conservatively, and as you learn things, you become less conservative.

"What's really driving the population is not hunter harvest, it's habitat and weather."

No more changes?

This year's season revisions prompt a question: Will the DNR eventually do away with zones entirely, and perhaps even eliminate the lottery license system, allowing all turkey hunters to buy licenses over the counter?

"I don't see that happening anytime soon," Merchant said.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 44 2nd Qtr 3:14
Houston 42
Golden State 5:00 PM
Philadelphia 5:00 PM
Portland 5:00 PM
Charlotte 5:00 PM
Oklahoma City 5:30 PM
LA Lakers
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Los Angeles 0 1st Prd 7:37
Winnipeg 1
Tampa Bay 4:00 PM
Columbus 4:00 PM
Toronto 6:00 PM
Anaheim 7:00 PM
St. Louis 8:30 PM
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 44 2nd Half 11:18
California 45
South Florida 38 2nd Half 10:40
Houston 55
Marquette 29 2nd Half
Providence 40
Michigan State 11 1st Half 10:44
Wisconsin 10
Siena 3:30 PM
Pittsburgh 5:30 PM
Wake Forest
Oregon 6:00 PM
Purdue 6:30 PM
Ohio State
Arizona State 7:30 PM
Washington St 8:30 PM
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 30 2nd Half 6:00
Drexel 44
Illinois State 42 2nd Half 10:40
Bradley 39
Southern Ill 38 2nd Half 13:15
Loyola-Chicago 37
Northern Iowa 40 2nd Half 9:00
Wichita State 52
Minnesota 56 2nd Half 8:05
(17) Iowa 63
(15) North Carolina 44 2nd Half 13:27
(16) Duke 49
Alabama 39 2nd Half 10:30
Auburn 58
(9) Florida State 38 2nd Half 18:40
Miami-Florida 24
Arkansas 18 2nd Half 17:36
Missouri 26
Georgia 37 2nd Half 11:09
Florida 30
Dayton 65 2nd Half 8:00
Saint Louis 55
Drake 35 2nd Half 11:47
Missouri State 63
Colorado 11 1st Half 8:34
(10) Arizona State 11
(19) Stanford 18 1st Half 8:58
Oregon 16
Marquette 15 1st Half 11:05
DePaul 23
Southern Miss 19 1st Half 9:23
Texas-El Paso 19
Vanderbilt 4:00 PM
(6) Tennessee
(2) South Carolina 4:00 PM
(13) Kentucky
Utah 4:00 PM
Ohio State 4:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question