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MADISON — Wisconsin wild turkey hunters registered a total of 4,633 birds during the fall 2013 wild turkey season, a decrease of 34 percent from the 7,054 turkeys registered during the 2012 season. Success rates also decreased, from 12.9 percent in 2012 to 7.1 percent during the 2013 season.
“The late spring and wet June last year translated into poor overall reproductive success for turkeys, so with fewer young birds out there we expected to see a bit of a drop in harvest during the fall season,” said Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. “However, the magnitude of the decline from the 2012 harvest was somewhat surprising. We’ll be looking at the results of our fall hunter survey to see if hunter participation rates or effort may have played roles in the drop in harvest.”
Variable weather conditions play a significant role in turkey population dynamics, and turkey populations can increase rapidly during years of favorable weather, according to Walter. The past two years provide nice examples of how variable annual production can be, with near-record levels of poult production in the very early, dry spring of 2012 followed by very poor production during the cold, wet spring of 2013. “Long-term, this variation in spring weather is what nudges turkey populations upward and downward between years, and hunters can expect that the number of turkeys they see in the field will vary accordingly.”
Permit availability remained unchanged in 2013; not including Fort McCoy, the total number of permits available statewide for the fall 2013 season was 96,700, identical to 2012. A total of 64,983 permits were sold for the 2013 fall turkey season; 55,711 were allotted via the drawing, and another 9,272 permits were sold over-the-counter after the drawing had been completed.
The number of permits available to hunters in each of the state’s seven Turkey Management Zones is recommended by members of the Wild Turkey Advisory Committee. The committee monitors recent trends in harvest, hunter success, and turkey reproduction, as well as hunter densities and field reports of turkey abundance.
DNR first initiated a fall turkey season in 1989 with the increase and expansion of turkeys throughout the state. Since then, hunters have been able to pursue turkeys in the fall and the spring.
“Hunting turkeys in the fall is quite different from taking part in the spring hunt, where hunters use the breeding behavior of gobblers to call one into range,” said Walter. “Fall hunters learn that the key to success is to pattern turkey flocks, and are adept at locating roost sites or feeding locations in order to get close to turkeys.
“Hunters that pursue turkeys during both the spring and fall seasons are really treated to two very distinctive outdoor experiences, and get to enjoy turkeys during very different phases of their annual cycle,” added Walter.
The spring 2014 turkey season begins with the Youth Turkey Hunt, April 12 and 13. The regular season begins April 16.
“Although the poor production in 2013 certainly doesn’t help boost our state’s turkey population, we had a huge cohort of birds hatch in 2012,” said Walter. “Males from this group are now adult gobblers, so hunters should still expect to hear plenty of gobbling activity in the woods this spring. As well, we had lots of reports of late-hatched broods in 2013 that were probably overlooked by fall hunters as the birds were noticeably smaller than normal; these birds will help lessen the population impact of the poor spring conditions last year.”
Once harvest data for the spring 2014 season is available and biologists can assess spring production levels, permit levels for the 2014 fall season will be set, with the announcement made later this summer. Hunters can expect plenty of opportunity to pursue turkeys in Zones 1 through 5. However, fall permit levels in northern Zones 6 and 7 have been held at relatively lower levels, as turkey numbers have begun to build in these areas only in the last decade. There is less of an agricultural food base in these two zones, and they are subject to more severe winter weather; lower permit levels thus afford turkeys in these areas some added protection.
The drawing for the 2014 spring season has been completed, and successful applicants should have already received their postcard notification. Hunters can also check on the status of their permit application online through the DNR’s Online Licensing Center or by calling the DNR Customer Call Center from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m., seven days a week, at 1-888-WDNRINFO (1-888-936-7463).
A total of just more than 100,000 permits were not allotted in the 2014 spring drawing and will be made available for over-the-counter purchase in mid-March. For more details, including a list of sales dates, visit dnr.wi.gov and search for “spring turkey permit.”
To learn more about Wisconsin’s wild turkeys, go to dnr.wi.gov and search keyword “turkey.”