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Minnesota should see another good turkey hunting season

Shotgun and bowhunting for the magnificent wild turkey is currently underway in Minnesota. Adult male birds are called "Toms" and are the most prized quarry. Hunters can also take younger male birds, called "Jakes." Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal

Anyone who has heard the sound a big Meleagris gallopavo makes in the early hours of a spring morning knows a great time of the year has arrived for hunters.

Minnesota's wild turkey hunting season began Wednesday and the liberalized licensing system, initiated for the first time last spring, is expected to have a heavy impact on a burgeoning population of birds because of 2017's early spring.

A sport considered by many to be more exciting than deer hunting, spring turkey hunting is broken up into seven time periods. Only hunters who were picked for permits by the state can hunt the first two periods, which run from April 12 to April 18 and from April 19 to April 25. Hunters who go out over the next three periods can purchase a license over the counter. Shotgun hunters have to designate the permit area they will hunt but bowhunters can set up anywhere. The final time frame, Season F, is open to all licensed hunters who have not bagged a turkey during an earlier time period. Season F runs from May 17 to May 31.

Fergus Falls Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager Don Schultz admits hunters in the woods for the first two seasons have a better chance to catch the wily ground birds off their guard, but he pointed out it is not the reason the state is clinging to a permit quota in the state's 12 permit areas.

"It doesn't really have to do with the number of turkeys," Schultz said. "It has more to do with the number of hunters."

Turkey hunting has its dangers so turkey hunters need room. More than one well-camouflaged hunter calling turkeys had drawn fire from another hunter who was not able to tell an artificial call and the real thing. The DNR believes breaking up any concentration of hunting pressure helps relieve the danger.

Schultz hunts turkeys in northern Wadena County. He said wild turkeys can be found in every part of the state. While many associate the strongest wild turkey numbers with the dense, hilly woodlands of southeastern Minnesota, these days large flocks are being found on the prairies as well. Schultz said Otter Tail County has superb nesting and foraging habitat.

"More amazing to me is that there are turkeys in the Paul Bunyan Forest," Schultz said. The state forest is northeast of Park Rapids and is a northern jungle of coniferous and deciduous trees.

Park Rapids DNR wildlife manager Erik Thorson confirmed the observation. Part of his job in the spring is to record the drumming by ruffed grouse over well-established routes as a way of establishing their numbers.

"We almost have more gobbles than drums," Thorson said.

Turkeys grow in size to three feet with wing spans of four feet. They can weigh 10-25 pounds.

Listening to a flock of turkeys a hunter can expect to hear a variety of sounds including gobbles, purrs, yelps and putts. How well they imitate those calls with their own array of artificial sounds can make all the difference.

A wild turkey has amazing hearing and eyesight so hunters must conceal themselves with great care as they call. Many hunters like to use turkey decoys in addition to their calls to bring the birds in close. Once a bird is within range, a heavy round of ammunition and a head shot is needed to kill it.

There are factors outside a hunter's control. Rough weather can kill a hunter's chances. Many turkey hunters who were selected for turkey permits last year had to trade them in because of unfavorable weather conditions.

Calling for the adult males, called "toms", and the juvenile males, called "jakes", in the early morning hours is generally the best tactic.

Henning area conservation officer Tricia Plautz suggests scouting an area the night before a hunt to find where the birds are roosting.

Plautz likes the state's generosity when it comes to younger hunters. For kids 12 and younger, the tags are free if they are accompanied by an adult, Plautz said.

The Henning area is well-stocked with turkeys, according to Plautz, who has been seeing birds in groups this spring. Plautz sees a good season ahead and said hunters should find it fairly easy to line up spots to hunt if they work with landowners.

"I think it shouldn't be too tough to find places to hunt," Plautz said, adding that some landowners find the big birds to be destructive as they forage for food.

Minnesota hunters are allowed one turkey at the present time. Schultz knows of other states that allow hunters to take two birds and while Minnesota may someday adopt a two-bird limit, one has been sufficient to keep most hunters happy.

More than 12,000 turkeys were harvested in Minnesota last spring making 2016 one of the best harvest years on record.