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MADISON – Turkey hunters ran into poor hunting conditions during the first half of the spring turkey hunting season, resulting in a preliminary registration total of 37,804 turkeys, which according to Department of Natural Resources officials is an 11 percent decrease from the spring 2012 turkey season.
Unseasonably cold weather persisted into May throughout the state, with deep snow in the north and rain, snow, and wind throughout the early season in the south.
“It really was an amazing contrast, weather-wise, from 2012’s hunt,” said Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. “Last year, we were snow-free statewide by opening day, with winter flocks broken up and hens initiating nests. This year, spring didn’t arrive until mid-season, and hunters had to deal with some challenging conditions, especially in the northern zones where many hunters had to don snowshoes to get in the woods after a turkey.”
According to Walter, the poor weather likely reduced hunter effort and made harvesting a bird more challenging because gobblers were still tied to winter flocks of hens.
“Hunters simply won’t spend as much time in the woods in inclement weather. The persistent winter weather therefore presented a double obstacle for hunters, and is the major reason we saw a drop in harvest and success,” said Walter.
Zone 1 again produced the highest overall turkey harvest at 11,054 birds, followed by zones 3 and 2, where hunters registered 9,468 and 8,955 turkeys, respectively. The highest hunter success was in zone 2 with a preliminary success rate of 21 percent, followed by zones 1 and 3 at 18 percent, and zone 5 at 17 percent. Success rates were between 12 percent and 15 percent for zones 4, 6, and 7. Overall, the statewide success rate was 18 percent, compared with 21 percent last year.
Though harvest was down, the number of permits issued for this year’s hunt increased by 5 percent, from 201,984 to 211,307.
“The increase in permits is likely due to hunters purchasing more leftover permits for the later time periods to take advantage of better hunting weather,” said Walter. “Harvest during the first two time periods was down 34 percent statewide compared to 2012, yet we actually harvested more total birds during the last four time periods this year. It’s clear that hunters who were able to do so took advantage of over-the-counter permits to enjoy a later-season hunt with good weather conditions and turkeys that were finally engaged in normal breeding behavior.”
Telephone, online registration working well
This season was the second spring turkey hunt in which hunters could register turkeys through phone-line or online registration systems, first introduced with the fall 2011 turkey hunt and in place for all future spring and fall turkey seasons. No in-person registration will be available.
“Hunters seem to have transitioned to the new systems well,” said Krista McGinley, DNR assistant upland wildlife ecologist. “The majority of hunters have expressed satisfaction with the new systems, frequently citing their convenience. Quite a few hunters stated that they were able to register their turkey via cellphone right in the field.”
2013 fall season
Although the recent severe winter may have proven challenging for turkeys, biologists note there is reason for optimism regarding this fall’s hunt.
”We had a great hatch last year,” Walter said. “There was a large cohort of jakes headed into this spring’s hunt. With poor weather limiting hunter success this spring, hunters should see additional opportunity both this fall and next spring as these jakes mature into adult gobblers.”
However, the prolonged winter may have resulted in localized mortality, especially in the north.
“That’s something that’s very difficult to detect,” Walter added. “We know prolonged severe winter weather can reduce survival in northern turkey populations, especially where agricultural foods are not available. At this point, we haven’t heard solid evidence for any unusual mortality associated with the hard winter, but there are definitely folks who’ve been speculating about such an impact.”
A successful nesting and brood-rearing season propels turkey numbers upward. Generally speaking, dry conditions during June keep newly-hatched chicks from getting chilled and suffering from exposure, leading to good production in all upland game bird species, according to Walter.
“Things have been wet so far this year during the nesting season. However, most turkey nests hatch around the first of June in Wisconsin. Dry weather over the next month will help those chicks survive the critical first few weeks,” said Walter.
The fall 2013 wild turkey season will run from Sept. 14 through Nov. 21, with an extended season only in Turkey Management Zones 1 through 5, from Dec. 2 through Dec. 31. The deadline for applying for a fall permit through the lottery process is Aug. 1. Applications cost $3 and can be purchased through the Online Licensing Center, at license sales locations, or by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4263).
The 2013 Fall Turkey and 2014 Spring Turkey regulations are included in the 2013 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, visit wi.dnr.gov, search keyword “turkey.”