Spring turkey hunting options abound in Minnesota, Wisconsin, nearby states
Minnesota is watching as hunters and the harvest increase, even as other states see fewer turkeys.
DULUTH — Hunters across the U.S. are heading afield for wild turkeys this month in what has become a modern-day phenomenon, a spring hunting season that has reached most every state and farther north than anyone expected.
Minnesota hunters started Wednesday, Wisconsin’s begin April 20 and hunters in both states will have chances to bag a tom turkey through May.
While wild turkey numbers nationally have decreased somewhat from modern-day highs a decade ago, they are still high in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and no major changes have been made in permit availability or hunting regulations in either state. In fact Wisconsin’s 2021 spring harvest appears to have been the highest of any state.
If you haven’t already purchased a license, don’t despair. Minnesota’s system allows you to pick from any of five weeklong sessions (they run Wednesday through Tuesday) and a sixth, two-week season at the end of May. You can hunt anywhere in the state, with the total number of licenses unlimited, and hunters can buy the license anytime up to the day before you want to hunt.
Wisconsin limits the number of licenses based on estimated turkey abundance in certain regions. As of midweek, there were still plenty of licenses available for later in May in southern Wisconsin zones. Or consider a road trip to another state where licenses are still available.
Last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sold 58,084 spring turkey hunting permits, with 12,070 toms harvested. Both were the second-highest ever, trailing only 2020 when 63,194 licenses were sold and 13,996 turkeys registered during the height of the pandemic, with many people home from school and work and looking for a way to get out of the house. (That compares to the state's first turkey season 44 years ago, when 420 hunters registered 94 turkeys.)
The overall hunter success rate in 2021 was 20.8%. Take out youth and archery hunters and the adult firearms success rate was 25.8%. The first three seven-day hunting sessions in Minnesota are by far the most popular and most successful, with 41% of all birds taken during session A and 75% of the season total taken in A, B and C.
The large jump in hunters and increase in turkeys killed over the past two seasons isn’t overly concerning to DNR wildlife staff, said Leslie McInenly, the DNR’s manager for wildlife populations and regulations.
“There has been a pretty big jump in harvest, and that’s in part due to the pandemic surge (in people getting outdoors) and maybe also the fact we don’t have a lottery for most of the permit areas any more,’’ McInenly noted. “It’s something we’re watching fairly closely. But so far, we haven’t seen anything that would indicate any major downward trend in the turkey population like some other states have seen.”
McInenly said the DNR is watching for a potential impact of deep snow on wild turkeys in the northern part of Minnesota this year and also the highly pathogenic avian influenza that is wreaking havoc on domestic poultry in the state. (The disease is not known to spread among wild turkeys, as it sometimes does among wild waterfowl.)
Because harvest has increased during the first seven-day season — from 34% of the season total before the lottery to 41% in 2021 — McInenly noted that the DNR may query hunters on the possibility of returning to a limited lottery for early seasons to spread out hunting pressure. But that likely wouldn’t happen until 2024 or later, if at all.
Some hunters who purchase a turkey license in 2022 will be randomly selected to participate in a survey this year that will ask hunters about turkey abundance as the DNR tries to come up with a formula to estimate population levels and trends.
In Wisconsin, turkey hunters registered 37,179 birds during the 2021 spring turkey hunting season, a 17% decrease from the 44,982 birds registered in the spring 2020 season. Hunters had a 16.9% success rate in 2021.
Wild turkeys in both states began to recover a half-century ago, starting from the south and slowly moving north, thanks in large part to trap-and-transport efforts by the states and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Turkeys also began to move north on their own and have now colonized every county in both states, surprising wildlife biologists by how far north they can live and how much snow and cold they can withstand.
A note on bird flu
There is no evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through eating contaminated poultry. Thorough cooking of poultry meat will destroy the virus. Epidemiological evidence suggests infection in humans occurs rarely and only after very close contact with infected animals. To be extra cautious, wear rubber gloves when field-dressing birds.
What you need to know to go turkey hunting
Season dates: Five seven-day sessions (A-E) and one 14-day session (F) from April 13-May 31.
2021 spring harvest: 12,070 harvested (21% success rate).
You can pick any seven-day session: You must declare a zone where you are most likely to hunt, but you don’t actually have to hunt there. The DNR just wants to know where you are likely to hunt to measure hunting pressure. All firearms turkey hunters can hunt again in session F if they have an unused tag from one of the earlier hunt periods.
Bag limit: One bird (male or bearded hen) per hunter per season.
License cost: $26 for resident adult; $96 for nonresident adult.
More info: dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/turkey/index.html.
Season dates: Youth hunt is April 16-17, then six seven-day sessions from April 20-May 31.
As of midweek, plenty of tags were still available for zones 1 and 3, for sessions E and F in late May. All other permits are spoken for.
2021 harvest: 37,366 (17% success rate).
Bag limit: One bearded or male turkey per harvest authorization. If available, you can purchase additional authorizations.
License cost: Resident: spring turkey license $15; turkey stamp $5.25; spring turkey harvest authorization $10. Nonresident: spring turkey license $60; turkey stamp $5.25; spring turkey harvest authorization $15.
More info: dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/hunt/turkey.
Season dates: Residents only, April 9-May 15.
Estimated population: Unavailable.
Spring 2021 harvest: 2,268.
Bag limit: One bearded or male wild turkey per license.
License cost: Residents $31.
North Dakota does not allow nonresident turkey hunting (although some tribal lands are open to nonresidents.) The state’s spring turkey lottery was held in February. As of April 13, 642 permits for residents were still available on a first-come, first-served basis.
More info: gf.nd.gov/hunting/turkey.
Season dates: Season 1, April 11-14; Season 2, April 15-19; Season 3, April 20-26; Season 4 April 27-May 15.
2021 harvest: 11,679.
Bag limit: One bearded or male bird per valid license and transportation tag.
License cost: Nonresident tag $119, plus nonresident hunting license and habitat stamp, which is $144, for a total of $263. Only a few permits remained for a few zones. Nonresidents are limited to one tag. The 2023 season permit lottery will be held in January.
More info: iowadnr.gov, 515-725-8200.
Season dates: April 18-May 8.
2021 harvest: 34,595.
Bag limit: Two male turkeys or turkeys with a visible beard may be taken during the season provided that only one turkey may be taken during the first week from April 18-24. If a hunter does not harvest a turkey during the first week, they may harvest two turkeys during the second or third week from April 25-May 8, but may not take both turkeys on the same day.
License cost: Nonresident $224.
More info: mdc.mo.gov, 573-751-4115.
Season dates: April 15-May 31.
2020 harvest: 2,979.
Bag limit: Up to five in spring.
License cost: Nonresident: conservation license $10, base license, $15 and turkey $115 (unless nonresident purchases an upland game bird license, then it is $57.50), upland game bird license $110.
More info: fwp.mt.gov, 406-444-2535.
Season dates: Archery: March 25-May 31; youth shotgun: April 9-May 31; shotgun: April 16-May 31.
2021 harvest: 20,782.
Bag limit: One male or bearded female turkey per permit; max of three permits per person. There is no lottery or limit on licenses sold.
License cost: Nonresident: $128; youth resident and youth nonresident: $8; Nebraska Habitat Stamp: $25; (stamp is required for all hunters except youth residents).
More info: outdoornebraska.gov.
Season dates: Archery is April 2-May 31; general season April 9-May 31.
2021 harvest: Unavailable.
Bag limit: One male wild turkey.
License cost: Nonresident $100.
Note: Licenses for some areas are limited. Call or go online for information on what non-resident licenses are available. Plan ahead: Black Hills licenses are available by application only through the Game, Fish, and Parks License Office in Fort Pierre. There is no application deadline. Applications may be submitted online or via mail through the end of the season, but please allow a minimum of seven to 10 days for delivery of your license.
More info: gfp.sd.gov , 605-223-7660.
Season dates: Hunt areas 1, 2, 4 and 5: April 20-May 31; Hunt Area 3: April 1-May 31.
2021 harvest: Unavailable.
Bag limit: One male or bearded female wild turkey per license. Must be tagged.
License cost: Nonresident: $74; conservation stamp: $21.50.
More info: wgfd.wyo.gov , 307-777-4600.
John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .