Last spring was not a good one for Minnesota turkey hunters — nor for the turkeys. For the first time in a long time, the turkey harvest dropped as compared to the year before. While that might seem like good news for the turkeys, it was also a tough winter with a wet spring, making for difficult nesting and breeding conditions.
That was then and this is now. Our 2012 spring turkey season is shaping up to be another banner year, and, barring horrific weather, will likely best the 2011 harvest with strong odds of another record harvest.
“Based on the latest wild turkey population survey, the overall health of the turkey population in Minnesota is good,” said Kurt Haroldson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife research scientist with the Farmland Wildlife Population and Research Group in Madelia.
The 2013 season will probably be even better since it can take two years to fully recover from the harsh winter of 2010-11 and the cold, wet spring of 2011. “Those two events likely had a negative effect on poult survival but those sorts of population fluctuations are expected with bad weather,” said Haroldson.
Funny thing about turkey hunting in Minnesota, it is an opportunity that didn’t even exist a few decades ago and was only about half as big as it currently is just a decade ago. Turkey hunting in Minnesota is a well-documented success story that continues to expand, even with a “rougher than we’ve gotten used to” season last year.
The population in southeastern Minnesota appears to be stable with the possibility of some modest decline while the population in the rest of the state appears to be stable to growing modestly. Numerous deer hunters last fall throughout central and northwestern Minnesota reported seeing turkeys in areas they’ve never seen them before and seeing more in spots where they’ve only seen a bird or two in the past.
Last season saw 43,521 turkey hunters harvest 10,055 birds, way down from the record year in 2010 when 13,467 birds were shot. Haroldson said there were fewer hunters in the woods last year, most likely because of the cold, rainy weather that existed throughout April and May. Turkey hunters are a diehard bunch, but it’s gotten easier to get a permit these days, and so fewer hunters feel compelled to hunt if the weather is rough.
“Reduced hunter effort was likely a function of poor weather during the 2011 spring turkey hunting season,” Haroldson pointed out.
Weather conditions in April and May were relatively cool, wet and windy across much of Minnesota, with below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation, reported the Minnesota Climatology Working Group.
The spring was delayed and many field reports showed that the turkey mating season was delayed as well. Some reports showed it two weeks behind while others suggested an even longer adjustment.
“I was seeing birds strutting and fanned out in fields well into June while I normally see that behavior end in mid-May,” said avid turkey hunter Jim Luttrell.
DEALING WITH WEATHER
Weather is often cited as the primary reason why some turkey seasons are better than others. Look at the harvest rates over the years for the various five-day seasons, and the lowest harvests always coincide with stretches of poor weather, either excessive cold and snow or excessive wind and rain.
“The birds are still out there doing what they do for the most part; it’s the impact of the weather on humans that makes the biggest difference,” said Luttrell.
For that reason, hunters who are looking to tag a bird this spring should pay attention to the weather report and then pack accordingly to adjust for the changing conditions. An avid turkey hunter, I know that the birds are going to be out there at all times if I’m willing to be out there with them. I shot my first bird during a brief break in a 10-day stretch of rain that flooded the Whitewater River Valley shortly after I was finished hunting.
Springtime in Minnesota is a meteorologically volatile time. Fronts can come in bringing a mixture of precipitation. Cold snaps can come down from the north and warm fronts can blow in from the southwest. The opening five-day season has seen more than its fair share of blizzard-like conditions over the years but it has also featured highs in the 60s and 70s. So it goes in Minnesota, but it’s better to be out there than inside.
The toms are still out there in pursuit of hens, no matter the conditions. Some argue that weather impacts turkey movements while others suggest that it’s not true, but there’s no doubt that weather has some impact on some birds. Turkeys live in the outdoors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and the one constant in their life is the amount of daylight, otherwise known as photoperiodism. “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hunt. It means that you need to be willing to adjust your approach to fit the area you are hunting and the birds you are after,” Luttrell said.