Minnesota's wild turkey hunters shot a record number of birds this spring, surpassing the previous high mark by 19%. Youth hunters added to the success by participating in larger numbers than they did a year ago.

Nate Huck, resident game bird consultant for the Department of Natural Resources in Brainerd, attributed the success to an abundance of gobblers and to this year's mild winter and early spring.

"We had a great harvest," Huck said. "The birds were more dispersed on the landscape early in the season, and that gave people more opportunities."

Tom Glines, national director of development for the National Wild Turkey Federation, said he's ecstatic about the record harvest of 16,660 gobblers in his home state. It easily beat 2020′s previous record kill of 14,000 jakes and toms. This year's six-week-long spring season ended May 31.

"Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois all experienced fantastic harvests this year," Glines said.

According to Wisconsin's preliminary harvest data, hunters there shot 50,435 turkeys during the spring season. It was the state's fourth-highest spring harvest on record and a 22% increase from the state's five-year average.

So abundant are wild turkeys in Wisconsin, the state printed 246,068 authorization tags for the spring season. Hunters applied for or bought 224,068 of them. The 2024 spring season in the Badger State started April 13 with a two-day youth hunt. The youth group registered nearly 4,000 turkeys, a 37% increase from the five-year average.

Overall participation in Minnesota's spring turkey hunt increased 11% over last year. The DNR sold 59,654 licenses for the spring hunt this year, the most since participation in the turkey hunt spiked in 2020 to a record high of 63,297 purchases. This year's license sales included 7,768 youth licenses and 5,684 licenses for kids 12 and under. The 12-and-under category grew by 20% from a year ago.

Wild turkeys were extinct in Minnesota until they were reintroduced 51 years ago in Houston County. They have expanded greatly since, now flocking as far north as Baudette. But Huck said the DNR doesn't have a reliable population estimate. The agency recently launched a citizen-powered wild game bird brood survey to help calculate one.

Huck and Glines gave similar answers when asked what made this year's spring turkey hunt so successful in Minnesota. Primarily, they said, spring nesting conditions were ideal in much of the state in 2022. Birds born in 2022 and 2023 showed up in fields this year in large numbers. Moreover, the non-winter of 2023-24 allowed for the survival of weaker birds that would have succumbed to seasonal food scarcity. Jakes (young male turkeys) accounted for 20% of this year's harvest — two percentage points higher than in 2023, Huck said.

During this year's hunting season, there was more rain than normal, according to DNR's statewide precipitation chart. But Huck said hunters worked around the rain and probably resorted more often to hunting from covered ground blinds to take advantage of turkey abundance.

The geographic midsection of Minnesota was the top harvest area, he said. Hunters choose to hunt in one of five different time periods. If they are unsuccessful during their chosen period, they can try again in the season-ending period May 22-31. Not only was the total harvest a record this year, hunters set statewide harvest records for this year's opening period (April 17-23) and for the second period (April 24-30), Huck said.

Both Huck and Glines are predicting strong nesting success this spring. Unless winter takes an unusual toll on flocks, hunters can expect another good year in 2025, they said.

"I'd like to keep success rates high, because future conservation success revolves around good numbers of hunters," Glines said.