Wisconsin turkey hunting is getting better and better, and this year will be no exception. Here's where you can bag a spring tom in 2008! (April 2008)
Kettle Moraine State Forest
"We have two large blocks of forest in the Southeast Region that are nicely wooded and good turkey habitat," Ryan said. "These are the northern and southern units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. There's lots of hunting pressure because there's lots of turkeys. Even though the hunting pressure is high, hunters seem to be able to spread out and they take home lots of birds."
Calling expert and manufacturer David Hale of Knight and Hale Game Calls shot this tom in Marathon County.
Photo by Greg Keefer.
The Eastern turkey is alive and well in Wisconsin and spring gobbler hunting may be better than ever.
"The turkey population is doing well," said Tami Ryan, a wildlife biologist with the DNR's Southeast Region.
"Over the last decade we've had record turkey harvests every year and every spring we have more permits available than we've had previously. Hunting hours have even been extended from noon until 20 minutes after sunset to let more hunters get in on the action."
The expanded opportunities are the result of a growing turkey population that can handle the harvest rates, Ryan said.
And it's only getting better.
"We're doing a lot of turkey management in the state these days and turkeys are very important," Ryan said. "The turkey stamp sales revenue goes into a special account that can only be used for turkey management projects. We also look for additional sources of funding and cooperate with the National Wild Turkey Federation in that. The DNR does timber stand improvement, oak stand regeneration and natural prairie restoration to create better turkey habitat."
In addition to great turkey hunting on state-owned property, more than 2.3 million acres of county forest are also open to the public. These extensive forests are excellent places to call spring gobblers, are sometimes lesser known and can have less hunting pressure.
Here's a look at only a few of the turkey-hunting opportunities you'll have this spring.
Lower Wisconsin State Riverway
"We have more than 40,000 acres of land open to public hunting along the lower Wisconsin River with success rates for spring gobblers traditionally being very good," wildlife supervisor Bill Ishmael said. "The Lower Wisconsin State Waterway spans across turkey zones 3, 4 and 5, though there isn't a lot of the public land in Zone 3."
Habitat is ideal and varied, Ishmael said. There's plenty of wooded habitat on a floodplain and upland forests with plenty of openings in the overhead canopy, white oak patches, native prairie and farm fields that border the public area, all of which hold turkeys at one time or another. Huge tracts of land result in relatively uninterrupted hunting opportunities with many open fields for the turkeys to strut, display and feed.
"I hunt in Sauk County and I generally do very well," Ishmael said.
The riverway includes Iowa, Sauk, Dane, Grant, Richland and Crawford counties with the most productive sections of forest in Iowa, Sauk and Richland counties.
Good areas of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway are the 3,736-acre Avoca Unit off Highway 133 in Iowa County, the 5,697-acre Kickapoo River WA in Crawford County, a half-mile north of Wauzeka on Highway 131, and the 2,345-acre Pine River Public Hunting Grounds in Richland County near Gotham on Highway 14. That's only the start of the list.
For more information, contact the DNR's Southcentral Region office at (608) 275-3266.
Good turkey habitat creates good hunting. The rolling forest and agricultural areas are perfect for spring gobblers. As the hens move into the fields, the longbeards are right behind them, willing to break cover.
Hunters who take advantage of a big tom more intent on showing off for the girls than watching his backside can put a big one in the pot.
The Northern Unit of Kettle Moraine covers nearly 30,000 acres in Washington and Sheboygan counties and the Southern Unit covers almost 20,000 acres in Waukesha and Walworth counties.
According to Ryan, smaller wildlife areas in the southeastern region of the state have many wetlands where hunters wouldn't expect to find turkeys, but the birds readily utilize them. They're not the typical pine forest habitat hunters normally think of when looking for a good spot to hunt, but they can produce well.
A few areas to try are the 8,119-acre Sheyboygan Marsh WA in Sheyboygan County northeast of Elkhart Lake on Highway J, the 5,499-acre Theresa Marsh WA in Dodge and Washington counties 30 miles north of Milwaukee on U.S. 41, and the 4,596-acre Vernon WA in Waukesha County a half mile northeast of Mukwonago on Highway 83.
Hunting pressure is fairly heavy because of their close proximity to both Madison and Milwaukee.
For more information, contact the DNR's Southeast Region office at (414) 263-8500.
Wood County Forests
Wood County is blessed with numerous county forestlands.
"Habitat across the county is variable and there's afair amount of oak, aspen and red maples," said Wood County forest administrator Frederick Schubert.
Calling toms is the way to go here.
Setting up on the edge of an opening or a field is a great way to find feeding hens, and the breeding males won't be far behind. Jakes will make a showing for callers, but it's the dominant birds that you're looking for, so be patient.
Two-year-old birds are generally taken, but occasionally an older bird will be tempted to venture a little too close to a stationary caller. The older birds know their territory better than you can ever hope to and it's a challenge to find the right combination of roosting area, sign, open fields for strutting and displaying and a source of water. Find the best combination and you'll probably be onto some nice birds.
Some of the forest's 37,552 acres are wet in the spring and access is limited. Turkeys will use these areas, especially if hunters are moving around in the
The Wood County forest is the perfect place to try the Hunting Mirror by In-Sight Hunting Products. The little mirror is only a few inches across and snaps onto your hunting cap to give a 360-degree view of your surroundings without having to turn around to look. The Hunting Mirror is a simple little invention and it's a wonder no one ever thought of it before.
For more information, contact the Wood County forest administrator in Wisconsin Rapids at (715) 421-8549 or the West Central Region in Eau Claire at (715) 839-3700.
Chippewa County Forests
This is another county with plenty of turkey-hunting potential.
The two main hunting areas in Chippewa County are the 33,000-acre Chippewa County Forest in the northern part of the county and the 4,000-acre Tom Lawin WA, consisting of land owned and leased by the state.
According to county forest and park administrator Doyle Richards, more turkeys are being seen on Chippewa County lands than were previously.
"I'd recommend the lands west of State Highway 27 in the county forest for turkey hunting," Richards said. "The forest in this area is located on gently rolling terrain with a mixture of aspen, oak and northern hardwoods. County Highway E and County Highway M provide the main access to this block of the forest."
According to Richards, hunters should do well near the areas being actively farmed around the public property or in the oak timber around Townline Lake. Most of the land in this area is county forest or on the state-owned Chippewa Moraine Ice Age SRA, which can also be hunted."I know there are other areas on the forest that probably have just as many turkeys and they are certainly worth taking a look at and doing some pre-scouting on," Richards said.
"The turkey numbers seem to be increasing, but we don't really know how dense the population is."
County Road M provides access from the east and west through the forest. County E runs from State Highway 64 north to the Rusk County line and provides access from the north and south.
For more information, contact the Chippewa County Forest and Park Administrator at (715) 726-7881 or the West Central Region at (715) 839-3700.
Marathon County Forests
"The Marathon County forest covers 29,767 acres in central Wisconsin, all available for public hunting," said Tom Lovlien, the Marathan County forest administrator. "All of our forest units have turkeys and the most popular units to hunt are the Kronenwetter and Ringle forests."
Bagging a spring gobbler requires plenty of skill and much of being in the right place at the right time. There may not be another creature in the woods that is more wary than an old tom, and anyone who can talk him into shooting range has earned some bragging rights.
Consider practicing your calling before going afield. Gobbler hunters can get plenty of help from the National Wild Turkey Federation's "Spittin' Feathers II" CD, a recorded collection of various clucks and gobbles that allows callers to improve their skills. Match your calling to the real thing.
Improvements are always being made on manufactured calls, said calling expert and manufacturer David Hale of Knight and Hale. The new Hammer Series offers slates, glass and aluminum components that are designed to match specific weather conditions and personal preferences.
According to Lovlien, the Kronenwetter and Ringle forests offer the most diverse habitat and the largest percentage of mast-producing hardwoods. The forests have a nice mix of aspens, oaks, pines and hardwoods.
For more information, contact the Marathon County Forest Administrator in Wausau at (715) 261-1584 or the West Central Region at (715) 839-3700.
Vernon County Forest
The Vernon County Forest is another of Wisconsin's turkey hotspots. The prospects for locating a gobbler in the various tracts of the forest's 880 acres are excellent.
According to Vernon County forest administrator Adam Zirbel, the largest section is the 707-acre Duck Egg tract in the west-central part of the county. Oak dominates the scene and the turkeys love it. The rugged terrain consists of steep slopes and thick timber. Most of the woods are at least a mile from designated parking spaces.
Access the area via County Highway Y to Irish Ridge Road, and then follow Irish Ridge for about a mile to reach the first access point. The second point is on Upper Newton Road a couple miles from the intersection of Upper Newton Road and County Highway O.
A less productive section is the Kooyumjian-Lost Creek compartment in the eastern part of the county. The area consists primarily of young oak, pine and walnut trees, but the birds spend most of their time in small pockets of mature timber.
Access is off Pine Avenue, a mile and a half south of the intersection of Pine Avenue and State Highway 82.
The remainders of Vernon County Forest lands are closed to hunting from April 15 through Oct. 15.
For more information about Kickapoo, contact the property manager at (608) 625-2966. For DNR properties, call (608) 637-3938. For information on the tax lands, call the foresters at (608) 637-3784.
Contact the Vernon County Land and Water Conservation Department at (608) 637-5476 or the West Central Region at (715) 839-3700.
Langlade County Forest
Hunting the Langlade County Forest is worth the drive for Green Bay-area hunters looking for a spring gobbler.
Langlade County is in the middle of turkey-hunting zone No. 41 where nearly 1,000 birds were taken last spring. About a quarter of the hunters who went afield bagged a tom.
The mixed hardwood forest offers excellent turkey potential.
Hunters find that any breaks in the timber are great spots for strutting and bugging corridors. There's not one place that is better than another. Look for large trees along the wooded openings to locate roosting spots. Droppings under branches that overlook relatively clear sections are a dead giveaway to their preferred overnight haunts. Also, check for stools and scratches a short distance back in the woods to find where the birds are spending the rest of their time.
The county forest covers 127,109 acres with several roads providing access to huge tracts of land. Streams and lakes add to the beauty and make it seem much farther from urban areas than it really is.
For more information, call Langlade County forest administrator Steve Jackson at (715) 627-6300 or the DNR's Northern Region office in Rhinelander at (715) 365-8900.
Thunder Lake WA
"Wild turkeys are a very recent addition to Oneida County in northern Wisconsin," wildlife biologist Ron Eckstein said. "In the last three or four years, they've really increased in numbers throughout the county, but the population is still lower than areas south of us and much lower than the southern Wisconsin populations."
At this point, knowing the right property owners is the way to see birds. There's plenty of public land in Oneida County like the Thunder Lake WA, but so far, turkeys seem more interested in private landholdings where the owners have improved white-tailed deer habitat that also benefits turkeys.
"There isn't any place on public lands that have consistent turkey habitats right now, since the birds are gravitating to the private lands," Eckstein said. "Our turkey population is increasing, but we have a ways to go."
Getting a gobbler here will take some skill.
Decoys like the Pretty Boy and Pretty Girl are effective because after calling to get a tom's attention, the decoys do all the work, Hale said. The male decoy's big white head coupled with a real fantail along with a submissive hen sitting on the ground does the trick.
Hale said hunters who prefer not to use decoys can mimic a fight between longbeards by using "aggressive purring" calls -- also known as fighting purrs. In the tom's springtime world, everything ends up in a brawl.
There is a chance of bagging a turkey on Thunder Lake's 3,000 acres, but it may be hit-and-miss.
Thunder Lake lies two miles north of Three Lakes with access from Highway 45.
For more information, call the Northern Region office at (715) 365-8900.
Visit the Wisconsin DNR's Web site at www.dnr.wi.gov
To reach Knight & Hale, visit their Web site at www.knightandhale.com.
You may contact In-Sight Hunting Products at (814) 453-3024.
To contact the National Wild Turkey Federation's Turkey Shop, call (800) 843-6983.
For information on lodging, contact the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at (800) 432-8747.