Wisconsin's Spring Turkey Outlook

Wisconsin's Spring Turkey Outlook

Our state's turkey kill slipped slightly last year, but with more permits available this spring, it could be a record-breaker! (April 2006)

When Wisconsin's 2005 spring turkey season ended, hunters had registered 46,159 gobblers. It was a good year -- in fact, the second-best turkey kill since hunting began in 1983 -- but it was also the first year since 1983 that a new harvest record was not set during a spring hunt.

The 3 percent drop equaled 1,318 birds, and it was only enough to drop the Wisconsin spring success rate from 25 to 24 percent, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Most hunters didn't even notice because it was an excellent hunt with fine spring weather.

To receive a permit to hunt wild turkeys in Wisconsin, you must apply way ahead of time. The application deadline for the spring 2006 season was Dec. 10, 2005, so start planning ahead for 2007 if you didn't apply for a 2006 permit. Applications cost $3 and are available at any DNR Service Center or licensing agent, or by applying online at www.dnr.wi.gov. Successful applicants are notified via mail by early February. Each spring, turkey season consists of six time periods that run for five days each. The periods start in April and end in May of each year. Our state also has spring turkey hunting opportunities for the disabled. Contact any DNR Service Center for details.

There's good news in the form of more hunting opportunities for turkey hunters in our state's far northern region. For the spring 2006 season, the DNR opened zones 44, 45 and 46 to turkey hunting. Units 44 and 45 will have 1,200 permits available for each, and 150 permits will be issued for Zone 46. The opening of these three zones means the entire state is now open to spring turkey hunting. For 2006, a total of 200,673 turkey permits were available statewide.

Wisconsin's turkey population will continue to do well so long as winters remain mild. In the southwest, populations have remained stable for several years. In the remainder of the state, recruitment has outpaced mortality and led to a steady growth in the big bird's populations.


During a typical spring turkey hunt, the success percentages are higher during the first period and drop off with each of the six hunting periods. The DNR issues an equal number of kill permits for each period to spread the hunting pressure out and ensure a quality hunt for all.

Last year, the overall spring success rate was 24 percent statewide. Hunting Period A had a 37 percent success rate. It dropped to 29 percent for Period B, while periods C and D saw 22 and 21 percent success rates, respectively. Periods E and F had the lowest hunter success rates at 18 and 16 percent.

For the 2006 spring turkey hunt, the DNR issued 6,847 more permits than for the 2005 hunt. Of course, that means most of our turkey hunting zones have the same or more permits for this year's spring hunt. Let's look at how well individual zones ranked last year.

The Southwest

Badgerland's most stable turkey population is located in zones 1 to 15 in the southwest part of the state. The success rate in this 15-zone region was 22 percent in 2005, or 2 percent below the statewide success rate. Drawing a second permit is common here. In fact, nearly 17,000 second permits were issued for the 2005 hunt in zones 1 to 15.

Last year, Zone 3's turkey hunters had a success rate of 20 percent and killed 2,009 birds, which puts this zone in third place overall in Wisconsin. Zone 7 hunters harvested 1,698 gobblers for a 25 percent success rate, which puts that zone in sixth place. Permits levels in the 15-zone Southwest Region are identical to last year's, and we can expect a similar turkey kill in 2006 for this region.

Our state's southwest corner contains excellent turkey habitat, but unfortunately it's mostly private land where it's often difficult to get permission to hunt without pre-season preparations. Much of the terrain here is rugged, and steep hills and deep valleys make hunting difficult. Even so, this is a great turkey hunting experience awaiting those who do the work and hunt in Wisconsin's Southwest Region.

The Southeast

For our purposes here, we're including turkey hunting zones 16, 17, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29 in the Southeast Region. This region includes the Milwaukee and Madison metropolitan areas. Last year, these seven zones combined had a hunter success rate of 24 percent, and 4,752 big birds were killed during the spring hunt.

For the 2006 season, permit levels are the same or slightly higher than in 2005. Once again Zone 17 had the highest turkey kill with hunters registering 1,342 gobblers for a success rate of 26 percent in 2005. The poorest success rate was in Zone 29 where only 14 percent of the tags were filled.

Southeast Wisconsin is a heavily populated location where cities, suburbs and farms with woodlots are common. Of course, turkeys will live anywhere they can, even near human activity. In fact, it's not uncommon to see the big birds at songbird feeders in the morning and evening.

The Northeast

Wisconsin's lakeshore and Northeast Region has some of our best turkey hunting zones. For example, our top turkey harvest zone -- Zone 22 -- is in this region, and last year hunters killed 4,869 toms for a success rate of 22 percent. Hunters in nearby Zone 34 registered 1,697 birds for a success rate of 38 percent. Zone 33 saw a success rate of 34 percent after turkey hunters brought in 1,284 toms, and Zone 35 had a success rate of 31 percent and a total kill of 554 gobblers.

The Badger State's northeast and lakeshore area has a wide variety of turkey hunting, from farm birds in the south to woods-orientated birds in the north. Of course, year after year the far northern zones like 31 and 32 return the lowest success rate in Wisconsin. Last year, for example, Zone 31 had a 11 percent success rate, while that of Zone 32 was slightly higher at 17 percent. Permit levels here remain the same as in 2005 with 1,200 in each zone. This level has remained the same for several years.

Even with the low success rate, zones 31 and 32 are popular, but it is sometimes difficult to draw a permit every year, since more hunters often apply than there are permits available. Last year was another exception in Zone 31 when fewer than 1,000 hunters applied for the 1,200 tags. Both these hunting zones are heavily wooded and lack agricultural areas, but there are thousands of acres of public land on which to hunt. Another attractive feature is the proximity to the Menominee River and the Michigan border. Timing hunts for both states is possible.

Zone 36 is a transition zone from the forest habitat in zones 31 and 32 to one of Wisconsin's most productive farmland zones in

Zone 35. Permit numbers have increased slightly for 2006 in zones 36 and 35. Last year, hunter success was 31 and 25 percent, respectively. East of Zone 35 is Zone 34, which includes the Door County peninsula.

The Northeast Region includes our state's top two turkey hunting zones. Once again in 2005, zones 22 and 23 were our top turkey kill zones. We mentioned Zone 22 earlier, while Zone 23 turkey hunters killed 2,606 gobblers for a success rate of 22 percent. Zones 22 and 23 also are distinguished because more permits are issued here than in any other zones. Zone 22 has 22,500 permits for 2006 and Zone 23 has 12,000 permits. These two zones cover many square miles, and hunters have a good shot at drawing a second permit for both areas. Another very large turkey hunting zone is 41, located just north of Zone 22. Last year, hunter success was 22 percent, slightly below the state average.

The two remaining lakeshore-area zones are 24 and 30. Last year, Zone 24 hunters had a success rate of 35 percent, and for 2006, the DNR issued 300 more spring permits. Zone 30 also had a 35 percent success rate, and this year has 300 more permits as well. These are obviously two excellent turkey hunting zones.

The Central Zones

Zones 18, 21, 42 and 43 are in central Wisconsin. Last year, Zone 18 hunters tagged 1,505 gobblers for a 20 percent success rate. For 2006, the permit numbers have remained the same, but more permits are usually issued here than are applied for, so a second permit is possible.

Zone 21 is just north of Zone 18, and last year's harvest was 1,876 birds to once again rank this zone fourth in the state. That number reflects a success rate of 24 percent, and permit numbers remain the same for 2006.

Zones 42 and 43 are the last two central zones. Zone 42 has the same number of permits this year. In 2005, 1,090 gobblers were taken, for a success rate of 26 percent. Zone 43 has 600 more tags this year than it did in 2005, when 742 turkeys were killed for a success rate of 31 percent.

The Northwest

Zones 19, 20, 37, 38, 39 and 40 are Wisconsin's northwest turkey hunting zones. Hunters killed 1,699 birds in Zone 19 in 2005 to rank fifth in the state once again. That number represented a success rate of 27 percent, and permit numbers for this year are the same as 2005. Zone 20 had a hunter success rate of 27 percent last year, with 1,269 registered spring turkeys. Zone 20's 2005 kill exceeded its 2004 kill.

Zone 37 had a turkey kill of 1,685 last year, for a success rate of 30 percent. North of Zone 37 is Zone 38, where 744 dead birds represents a success rate of 19 percent for 2005. Zone 39 is the smallest in the region, and the success rate was 16 percent in 2005 after tallying 499 filled turkey tags.

Permits levels have been increased for 2006 in zones 37 and 40, while levels for zones 19, 20, 38 and 39 remain the same.

Hunters drawing spring hunting permits for the newly opened zones 44, 45 and 46 in the far north don't have any past kill figures to draw on. However, turkeys that have not been hunted are easier to kill than those that have been pressured. Of course, it will take only one hunting season to educate the toms to the hunters' methods. After that, they will be more challenging to hunt.


Gun safety should be the primary concern of every turkey hunter. The most common gun injuries involve someone shooting another hunter who is stalking decoys, or someone shooting another person because they failed to identify their target. Avoid mishaps by never stalking wild turkeys, and make sure of your target and what's beyond before you shoot.

Spring turkey hunters wear full camouflage, set up realistic decoys and use calls that sometimes attract not only turkeys but other hunters to their location. Because of this, hunting safety experts advise the following additional safety measures:

  • Never wear or carry anything colored red, white or blue. Those are the colors of a wild turkey's head, and could tempt someone to shoot in your direction.
  • Never use a gobble call to attract turkeys. Another hunter might stalk and shoot you
  • Never carry or move an uncovered turkey decoy.
  • Never assume that what answers your call is a real turkey.
  • Never stalk or try to sneak up on a turkey.
  • Choose a hunting location from which you can see 40 yards in all directions.

The greatest pleasure in turkey hunting is calling the birds to within shooting range of your shotgun. Not only does calling take practice, but it takes patience, too. It could take minutes -- or hours -- to lure that tom to come close enough for a shot.

Of course, you won't shoot a gobbler if there are none in the area. Scout your hunting zone as close to your permit period as possible, so that you're not hunting a bird that another hunter has already killed, or one that has moved out of the area in search of hens. Alternatively, rely on past knowledge of turkey locations to guide your hunt. If an area was good for one tom, another will move in there when that one was killed.

The early morning hours are the best time for turkey hunting, but don't underestimate the value of hunting later in the day. Often, the noon hour is a good time to get toms fired up and coming to your calling location. Take a lunch and stick it out -- just like you're supposed to do during deer hunting season

It's important to locate birds prior to your hunting period, but there are several factors influencing wild turkeys in spring that may mean they won't be where you found them during pre-season scouting trips. Spring weather is in transition, and with the warming weather, large winter turkey flocks will begin to break up and disperse. Competition between gobblers -- and hens seeking a place to nest -- scatters these birds.

You will get the most up-to-date information on gobbler location in your hunting zone by scouting just prior to the valid hunting period for your permit. If turkey hunting is important to you, plan to get out scouting on those two days when the season is closed. You won't be disturbing other hunters, and any toms you locate will still be there on Wednesday when your five-day hunt begins.

If you happen to draw a permit for one of the later hunting periods, hunt just as intensely as if you drew an early period. It could be very warm during mid-May hunts, and that makes early morning the best time to be out there. Gobblers can shut down by midmorning when the temperature gets hot. Take along insect repellent, too, since mosquitoes and ticks will be active in the warm weather.

During the later hunting periods, you will have to scout while you hunt. This provides you with the most up-to-date information available about gobbler location and activity. Hunting pressure has an effect on turkeys, and they get wiser as the weeks pass.

* * *

Wild turkey hunting is an excellent way to introduce new people to hunting, whether they're kids, women or adult m

en. The turkey is a big-game bird, and the excitement of the hunt equals or surpasses that of any type of hunting. Maybe it's time for you to find out for yourself, like so many other Cheeseheads have.

Our state's spring turkey hunt has grown from a kill of 182 birds in four zones in 1983 to 46,159 turkeys in 55 zones in 2005. The hunter success rate statewide topped out at 30 percent in 1999 and has held steady in recent years around 25 percent.

Once again the outlook for the spring turkey hunt of 2006 is excellent, but every year the outcome of the hunt depends more on the weather than anything else. Happy hunting!

(Editor's note: For more information on wild turkey hunting in Wisconsin, log on to www.dnr.wi.gov and follow the links to the wild turkey hunting page).

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