Turkey hunters took advantage of comfortable hunting conditions this spring, judging by the preliminary registration total of 42,612 turkeys, a 6 percent increase over the spring 2011 turkey season. A total of 201,984 permits were issued for this year’s hunt, down slightly from the 2011 total of 210,384.
Unseasonably warm weather characterized much of the season, in stark contrast to last year when snow, wind, and rain hindered hunters during the early time periods.
“It really was an amazing contrast, weather-wise, from last year’s hunt,” said Scott Walter upland wildlife ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. “Last year, there was snow on the ground, below-freezing temperatures, and high winds during the first time period. This year, spring was at the other extreme, probably two or three weeks ahead of normal, and the green-up was already quite advanced by the first week of May. Those who hunted later in the season definitely had denser vegetation and more mosquitoes to deal with than they likely expected.”
Zone 1 again produced the highest overall turkey harvest at 12,075 birds, followed by Zones 2 and 3, where hunters registered 10,486 and 10,283 turkeys, respectively. The highest hunter success was in Zone 2 with a preliminary success rate of 26 percent, followed by Zone 3 at 21 percent and Zone 1 at 20 percent. Success rates were between 16 percent and 19 percent for Zones 4 through 7. Overall, the statewide success rate was 21.1 percent, up from 19.1 percent last year.
The very different weather conditions during the 2011 and 2012 seasons may also have influenced how hunter effort was distributed throughout the season. Harvest during the first time period was 29 percent higher in 2012 than in 2011, but tapered off more steeply throughout the season.
“After the first time period, I was expecting a big jump in overall harvest,” Walter noted. “We did end up 6 percent higher than last year, but we actually harvested fewer turkeys during the last two periods than we did in 2011.”
Turkeys spread quickly from the initial 1976 stocking in Vernon County, and today are found statewide in areas with suitable habitat. As the number of both turkeys and turkey hunters increased in the state, so have annual harvests. Turkey populations have now stabilized across the state, and Walter says hunters should expect to see annual harvest levels nudge upward and downward from year to year in response to factors that tend to regulate turkey populations; weather is one such influence.
“Successful reproduction by turkeys is dependent upon suitable conditions during the May nesting and June brood-rearing periods, and turkeys in the northern part of the state can be impacted by severe winter weather,” stated Krista McGinley, assistant DNR upland wildlife ecologist. “Given dry spring weather and mild winters, turkeys can increase quickly in number, but wet springs and harsh winters can slow population growth from one year to the next. Hunters should expect to see this sort of annual variation in turkey numbers and annual harvests now that turkeys have saturated the available habitat.”
“With the weather cooperating as it did, the 2012 spring season was exceptional in the opportunities it created for camaraderie with friends and family,” Walter said.
That was reflected in a 16 percent jump in the number of turkeys registered during the two-day Youth Hunt.
“The legion of folks out there who served as mentors or in other capacities to introduce folks to hunting this spring really deserve credit,” Walter added. “They really cast hunting in its most positive light. Their actions serve not only to introduce people to the outdoors, but also to the experiential, spiritual, and community-building aspects of hunting that are all too often neglected in the public’s eye. The National Wild Turkey Federation and its members perhaps best exemplify this emphasis, through their strong support of hunter education and Learn to Hunt programs around the state.”
Telephone, online registration working well
This season was the first spring turkey hunt in which hunters didn’t have to transport their turkey to a registration station to get it registered due to phone-in and online registration systems, first introduced with the fall 2011 turkey hunt. Hunters seem to have transitioned to the new systems well.
“The majority of hunters have expressed satisfaction with the new systems, frequently citing their convenience; quite a few stated that they were able to register their turkey via cellphone right in the field,” McGinley said.
Hunters are reminded that these remote registration systems will be in place for all future spring and fall turkey seasons. No in-person registration will be available.
2012 fall season
Biologists say the recent mild winter bodes well for turkeys in Wisconsin, as well as prospects for this fall’s season.
“The fact that hunters were frequently harvesting exceptionally heavy gobblers this spring suggests that turkeys came out of the winter in good condition. This is especially important in the northern zones, where harsh winters can lead to mortality, and suggests that turkeys statewide likely entered the spring in good condition for breeding,” McGinley said.
A successful nesting and brood-rearing season will help propel turkey numbers upward. Generally speaking, dry conditions during June keep newly-hatched chicks from getting chilled and suffering from exposure, and lead to good production in all upland game bird species.
“Things were relatively dry during the nesting season. Most turkey nests hatch around the first of June in Wisconsin, and though we’ve had a bit of rain lately, dry weather over the next few weeks will help those chicks survive the critical first few weeks,” said McGinley.
The 2012 Fall Turkey and 2013 Spring Turkey regulations are included in the 2012 Wisconsin Small Game Hunting Regulations pamphlet, available on the Hunting Regulations page of the DNR website and in hard copy at DNR Service Centers and license vendors. For more information search for “turkey” on the DNR website.
The fall 2012 wild turkey season will run from Sept. 15 through Nov. 15, with an extended season in Turkey Management Zones 1-5 only from Nov. 26 through Dec. 31. The deadline for applying for a fall permit through the lottery process is August 1. Applications cost $3 and can be purchased over the internet through the Online Licensing Center, at license sales locations, or by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4263).
State turkey management plan revision underway
DNR staff are currently summarizing results of a survey of public attitudes and opinions regarding turkey management in the state. The goal is to incorporate this information into a revision of Wisconsin’s Wild Turkey Management Plan, a document that will essentially serve as the foundation for turkey management in the state for the next decade. Surveys were administered to attendees at eleven public input sessions held at various locations throughout Wisconsin in late April and early May, and an online version of the survey was available through May 31.
The survey asks for input regarding hunter satisfaction with various components of our current turkey hunting season structure, with respondents able to provide their reactions to a variety of possible alternatives.
“Data are still being analyzed but hunters who attended the sessions expressed very strong support for the six separate spring time periods, largely I think concerned by the threat of interference and competition that would occur if we had a single spring season,” McGinley said.
The full revision process will likely extend well into 2013.
“If all goes well, we’ll work with all of our partners to move forward with the plan, hopeful of taking it to the Natural Resources Board for approval sometime next spring,” Walter said.