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MADISON – According to preliminary harvest data, Wisconsin wild turkey hunters registered 4,220 birds during the fall 2014 wild turkey season, a slight decrease from 4,633 turkeys registered during the 2013 fall season.
Success rates in 2014 were similar to last year, with 6.8 percent of permits being filled, compared to 7.1 percent in 2013.
“The fall turkey season provides a much different experience for turkey hunters; in particular, those who hunt turkeys with dogs are very passionate about the experience,” said Scott Walter, Department of Natural Resources upland wildlife ecologist. “Turkey harvest totals reflect a number of factors, including turkey population size, weather conditions, and hunter participation and effort.”
Variable weather conditions play a significant role in turkey population dynamics, and the number of turkeys hunters encounter certainly reflects this variable. A severe winter in 2013-14 led to some localized mortality, primarily in the far north. These localized events followed a very poor production year due to wet and cold conditions in 2013. However, turkey populations can increase rapidly during years of favorable weather.
“We were pleasantly surprised with how well turkeys in the north came through last year’s severe winter, and field reports suggest production among northern birds was actually greater last spring than in 2013,” said Krista McGinley, DNR assistant upland wildlife ecologist. “Long-term, variation in spring weather is what nudges turkey populations upward and downward from one year to the next, and hunters can expect that the number of turkeys they see in the field will vary accordingly.”
In 2014, 96,700 permits were made available (not including Fort McCoy) – this number was identical to permits issued in 2013. A preliminary total of 62,450 permits were sold for the 2014 fall turkey season, with 54,243 allotted through the drawing and another 8,207 permits sold over-the-counter after the drawing was complete. It is important to note that harvest and permit issuance numbers are preliminary and may change once data are finalized.
The department initiated the first fall turkey season in 1989 as a result of an increase and expansion of turkeys throughout Wisconsin. Since then, hunters have pursued turkeys during both fall and spring seasons.
“Fall hunters have learned that the key to success is to pattern turkey flocks, and are very good at locating roost sites or feeding locations,” added Walter. “Hunters that pursue turkeys during both the spring and fall seasons are treated to two very distinctive outdoor experiences, and get to enjoy turkeys during very different phases of their annual cycle.”
The 2015 Youth Turkey Hunt, held April 11-12, will signal the start of this year’s spring turkey hunting season – the regular season will begin April 15.
When harvest data for the spring 2015 turkey season is available, biologists will assess spring production levels and set permit levels for the fall season. Hunters can expect plenty of opportunity to pursue turkeys in Zones 1 through 5, while permit levels in Northern Wisconsin (Zones 6 and 7) have been held at relatively lower levels as turkey numbers have begun to increase over the last ten years.
The 2015 spring turkey season permit drawing is complete, and successful applicants should receive postcards within the next two to three weeks. Hunters can also check their permit application status online via the department’s Online Licensing Center, or by contacting the DNR Customer Call Center, open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week at 1-888-WDNRINFO (1-888-936-7463).
More than 100,000 permits were not allotted in the 2015 spring drawing and will be made available for over-the-counter purchase beginning Monday, March 23. For more information, including a list of permit sales dates, search the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for keywords “spring turkey permit.”
The number of permits made available in each of Wisconsin’s seven Turkey Management Zones is recommended by members of a DNR Turkey Advisory Committee. Committee members consider recent trends in harvest, hunter success, and turkey reproduction, as well as hunter densities and turkey abundance reports from the field.
To learn more about Wisconsin’s wild turkeys, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for keyword “turkey.”