Minnesota's 2010 Spring Turkey Forecast

Minnesota's 2010 Spring Turkey Forecast

Minnesota's spring turkey season could produce yet another record harvest, thanks to more permits, more opportunities and an increasing turkey population! (April 2010)

Minnesota hunters tallied a record number of turkeys in 2009, killing 12,210 birds, or 11 percent more than 2008's total.

Photo by Travis Faulkner.

There are all sorts of famous quotes and often-repeated clichés about the word "opportunity," none of which are directly related to turkey hunting. You could check the quote books and Web sites, but a quirky saying pairing opportunity with turkey hunting just doesn't exist.

That is, until now.

"Our hope for the spring 2010 turkey-hunting season is that anybody who truly wants to turkey hunt in the spring will have the opportunity to do so," said Eric Dunton, wildlife research biologist with the Minnesota DNR's Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Group.

The quote probably won't make it into any books or Web sites featuring highly inspirational quotes. Still, it is solid gold for Minnesota's turkey hunters and the thousands of people who would like to try it this year.

What makes it a golden statement is that it represents a significant turning point in Minnesota's three-decades-old spring turkey-hunting season. It means that adjustments have been made to allow every hunter the opportunity to spring turkey hunt this year.

There is still a lottery system in place and the first six periods will be limited in number by permit area, but the final two periods of the spring season will be over the counter. "We're getting rid of the second-choice option that's existed for the last few years and opening the last two time periods for over-the-counter sale," Dunton said.

For the last few years, this has only been an option for bowhunters, but now it's open to shotgun hunters too. "This streamlines the process for hunters and we're looking to introduce more people to turkey hunting. Since we have a very strong turkey population, we can be a little more liberal in our harvest strategies."

Still, it is not like Dunton and the turkey-hunting decision-makers in St. Paul are opening the doors for just anybody. "We've been conservative with turkey management in the state, and we've increased permits based on the population as it grows and our estimates are that it will continue to grow at a similar pace for awhile," he said.

The spring of 2010 will be the 33rd spring turkey-hunting season in state history, and the success of turkey hunting in Minnesota has been well documented. In the early 1970s, turkeys were reintroduced into Minnesota. The first hunt took place in 1978, and 94 birds were harvested. Compare that with the spring 2009 season, when 12,210 turkeys were taken.

Back then, turkeys were only found in the southeastern corner of the state. Today, turkeys are found throughout the state with the exception of northeastern Minnesota. There is a well-established population in the southern third of the state that is very healthy, as well as a still-increasing population throughout the rest of the range.

Probably an even more significant change for 2010 is the fact that youth hunters will no longer be part of the lottery application system. "This means that any youths (age 17 and under) can go turkey hunting by purchasing their licenses over the counter for any season, any time period," Dunton said.

Youths will still only be able to hunt in one of the eight periods of the 2010 season, but they won't have to apply ahead of time. It means more flexibility in planning and more opportunity across the board for getting kids in the field in pursuit of turkeys. "Instead of the permit area dictating how many kids can hunt, the only limitation is how many youths are interested in turkey hunting," said Mike Kurre, the MDNR's mentor program coordinator.

"We are very proud, excited and thrilled that there won't be one kid in 2010 who won't get to go turkey hunting," said Tom Glines, senior regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation. The NWTF has lobbied hard for this adjustment over the years. "Around 6,000 youths applied in the lottery last year, and only 3,500 were drawn, meaning we're leaving about half the kids home," he added.

The elimination of youth hunters from the lottery should actually be every selfish turkey hunter's dream come true. Why? Those 6,000 youths who were part of the lottery last year will not be part of it anymore. Translation: That makes 6,000 more permits available for adults applying in 2009. "Removing kids from the lottery frees up more permits for the general lottery non-youth hunters, giving a chance for more people to get out in the woods and turkey hunt," Dunton said.

SPRING 2009 BREAKDOWN

For the third straight year, Minnesota turkey hunters have set another harvest record. The 2009 harvest was 12,210, an 11 percent increase more than the record set in 2008 of 10,994. Hunters had an average success rate of 34 percent, tying the previous highest success rate. In both 2008 and 2003, hunters had a success rate of 34 percent.

Of the eight seasons available to hunters, the first two periods typically feature the highest success rates. As a result, those first two seasons also have the highest demand for permits.

Minnesota has 76 permit areas and eight periods with a quota system. Preference is determined by the number of years a hunter's applications have been unsuccessful since last receiving a permit.

Hunter success rates always vary across the state from permit area to permit area. In 2009, the lowest success rate was 15 percent in permit area 423 of western Minnesota. The highest success rate was 64 percent in northwestern Minnesota's permit area 266.

The northern permit areas continued to post the highest success rates for hunters most likely because turkeys are less "educated" to hunter activity, more centrally located and younger on average. Dunton said the turkey population in the north is expanding, while those in southeastern Minnesota are stable.

Credit for the rapid and highly successful expansion of Minnesota's turkey range goes to both the MDNR and National Wild Turkey Federation, not to mention turkey hunters who have supported those organizations.

Glines said the turkey population is doing extremely well and NWTF is continuing to work to expand the range.

Weather conditions are always the biggest factor in determining the success rate of a specific season. The first season occurs in

early April and the eighth season ends around Memorial Day, meaning the season can have a broad range of weather conditions. Blizzards, torrential rain, severe thunderstorms, excessive wind, chilling cold and heat have occurred throughout the years during each one of the seasons.

APPROACHES FOR 2010

To be certain, one cannot predict the exact turkey behavior from one season to the next, but the general rule of thumb remains consistent from year to year. When the A season opens on April 14, chances are good that turkeys will be in their pre-mating behaviors. "The biggest advantage hunters have during this first season is first crack at those young birds," said Dan Perez, a turkey hunting expert. Perez spends much of his spring scouting property for white­tails and turkeys as part of his duties with Whitetail Properties.

Big toms can still be grouped together in seasons A and B, though they are beginning to scuffle with each other a bit more and separate out. They will respond to calling very often and are very interested in hens. Decoying in these early seasons is usually very effective.

As the period progresses in seasons C, D and E, it really depends on the weather and hunting pressure in the area being hunted. This is usually the peak of the mating season, and big toms are with groups of hens working them and trying to convince them to make a love connection. Calling with hen calls and gobbling can be effective, but don't use a gobbler call when other hunters are nearby. Using a jake decoy near a hen can be effective for big toms because they aren't going to tolerate a young suitor in their harem.

Once seasons F, G and H roll around, it can be hit or miss with gobbler activity. If there's been a late spring, the peak mating period might still be going, while an early spring could mean that most hens have been mated and are beginning to nest. "This is a good time to roam around because those wily toms are still searching for females and can be more willing to travel to find one," Perez said.

Changing foliage and cropland conditions impact turkey behavior and hunter accessibility as well. In the early season, a hunter can maneuver through the woods fairly easy and utilize the many openings in the woods that attract birds. By the time season E rolls around in most years, the woods are too green to effectively hunt except for pine stands and large openings with low cover.

GROWING THE SPORT

As the turkey population has continued to grow and expand, so has the number of turkey hunters. Back in 1978, the number of applicants for a permit was over 10,000, but with success rates extremely low, that number fell to a record low 5,662 in 1985. It has picked up considerably since then, and last year more than 57,000 hunters applied for a turkey license.

To keep turkey hunting as a growing sport with growing opportunities and relatively high success rates, turkey hunters need to introduce new hunters to the sport, he said.

For that purpose, NWTF and the MDNR have worked hard to promote a turkey-hunting mentor program. Now in its eighth year, the mentoring program pairs a youth who has never hunted before with a seasoned turkey hunter. An adult family member also accompanies the youth to learn how to do it with the hopes of repeating the experience in future hunting seasons.

"Last year, 348 kids took advantage of this opportunity and 142 of them bagged turkeys -- a better average than hunters around the state, which shows how hard those turkey-hunting mentors work for those kids," Kurre said.

The hunt is a great opportunity for the youth and adult because the mentor provides guidance in addition to securing land with turkeys on it. "We're always looking for additional mentors, as well as additional landowners willing to share their land," Kurre added.

Glines believes that the adjusted regulations will only create more opportunities for youths to hunt. "We are very proud to have the over-the-counter youth turkey tags and are excited that there won't be one kid who won't get to go turkey hunting this spring," he said.

A mentor himself, Glines enjoys the added time these regulations give him to spend time in the field. "Out of the 40-day turkey season, I like being in the woods 30 days or so, taking somebody somewhere or just tagging along with somebody else," he said. Another way Glines is hoping to expand turkey-hunting opportunities is by making it possible for hunters to purchase two tags in the spring. "Is there a possibility of having that in the future? You never know, we're always looking for the next challenge," he said.

While that possibility is a distant one, nobody could have ever imagined Minnesota would be such a phenomenal turkey-hunting state when the season began 30 years ago. "I wish we had the full state habitat that Wisconsin has, but there are more areas that could be further developed for turkeys, such as the streamside corridors of southwestern Minnesota," Glines said.

Who knows? Those mentored youth hunters today might just be filling two tags later on in life.

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