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Fall turkey hunting is a different proposition

Photo by Brian Hansel Area hunters will have a shot at bagging a big tom turkey in October as the Department of Natural Resources extends its fall hunting season into the four permit areas around Wadena.

Area sportsmen who go after wild turkeys this fall will have to get ready for a much different kind of hunt.

The deadline for fall turkey hunting in the state is July 31 and the state is issuing 9,330 chances for two seasons between October 14 and 25.

There will be 220 permits issued to turkey hunters in the four areas surrounding Wadena. There was no season north of State Highway 10 last year but according to DNR Wildlife Farmland Program Leader Bill Penning, there are 17 new permit areas this fall.

"They are quite different in terms of the hunt itself. In spring turkey hunting you sit and try and call a tom into you," Penning said. "In fall turkey hunting you go out and try to find a flock and you bust up the flock and then you sit down and make an assembly call and try to call them back to you. In the fall you are taking primarily juveniles and hens. In the spring it is males only."

The DNR is careful with their fall season because taking hens can have an actual population effect. Since one male tom can breed with many hens they are surplus birds.

"You can never shoot them all out and one tom can breed with many female birds," Penning said. "In the fall you have got the hen with her brood and then several of those hens with broods will come together and that attracts the males and they all kind of hang out together. You can get big flocks sometimes even a couple of hundred birds. In the spring they all disperse."

The DNR believes there are approximately 70,000 wild turkeys in the central and southern portion of the Minnesota and turkey hunting, along with predator hunting and black powder deer hunting are some of the new driving forces in the retail market. Guns, shells, calls and clothing are all marketed specifically for turkey hunters.

Minnesota is still in the growth and expansion phase. The permit system is needed now because is more demand than supply. That could change in the years to come.

Minnesota harvests 10-12,000 turkeys a year but Wisconsin, with a lot of trees and rolling farmland harvests five times that many.

The mid-central area of the Minnesota is also good turkey habitat. The birds need trees for roosting and northern birds are very dependent on cropland residue. The farther you go north of Wadena the smaller the turkey population grows. The boreal forests of northern Minnesota hold no attraction to turkeys because of the scarcity of farm land.

When the Department of Natural Resources and the Wild Turkey Federation began transplanting wild birds from southern Minnesota into the area back in the 90s, they picked spots about 10 miles apart to release them. The idea was that the birds would fill in gaps. In the years that have passed the strategy has worked out well. Central Minnesota is ideally suited to for raising wild turkeys. They like crop residue and need trees for roosting.

The larger birds can take care of themselves fairly well. Coyotes, fox and in some cases, bobcat, have taken turkeys. Coons and skunks are a menace to nests.

Penning does not always see the need for a permit season in Minnesota.

"Our long term goal is to just have over-the-counter sales," Penning said. "You would just go and buy your permit and hunt. We are going to be phasing that in and experimenting with it in some areas. In some areas we can probably support that type of hunting right now and in other areas the population is still growing."

The "Trap and Transport" transplanting program has been suspended in Minnesota. Birds have been introduced into all areas of the state when DNR experts believe are suitable habitat. Those birds will be monitored and may even be supplemented.

"At some point we are going to hit carrying capacity. We are going to hit the maximum number of birds that we can sustain in the state and that will determine the number of birds we are going able to harvest each year. We will see how that compares for hunting.