The Wild Side: Talking turkey
I have been thinking turkey so much lately; I thought today I would talk turkey.
We are currently in the last turkey hunting period of the 2013 spring turkey season. There are six one- week periods during which hunters have the opportunity to bag a bird. This year, we had 3,600 tags available across the entire season in Zone 7, which is the area north of U.S. Hwy. 8 between Wisconsin State Hwys. 13 on the west and 101 on the east. It contains Vilas, Iron and parts of Ashland, Price, Oneida, Florence and Forest counties.
This is the highest permit availability in the short history of our northern Wisconsin turkey seasons. Across the entire state, there were more than 234,000 permits available.
In the late 1880s, the turkey was gone from Wisconsin. The activities of man had wiped them out. It took several reintroduction efforts before a resident population was finally re-established in the 1980s. Today, we have turkeys across the entire state, far further north than they had historically resided. We manage our turkey permits to protect our populations, but also to allow for maximum enjoyment by the hunting public while doing so.
When I was growing up in Wisconsin, I do not recall anyone talking about turkey hunting. This is probably because those were the years when birds were still being brought up from Missouri to be released in southwest Wisconsin. I didn’t start hunting turkeys until working in Kansas in the spring of 1999, when a co-worker agreed to take me out after my first bird. Everything about the experience was different from the other kinds of hunting I had done; it was really enjoyable, though. I harvested my first-and largest-tom during that hunt, and I became an obligate turkey hunter. When I returned to Wisconsin, I found that turkey hunting was a mainstream sport, was hugely popular and broadly supported by the sporting community.
I was more successful as a turkey hunter before I moved up north. Now, I would be lying if I said I had shot a turkey every year. After all, the nationwide success rate averages below 25 percent. However, I have shot more turkeys than I have deer, and did it across three different states. Hunting turkeys in the prairie or even in the forested areas of southern Wisconsin is very different from Northwoods turkey hunting. In agricultural or grassland areas, birds are a bit more visible, a bit more predictable. Up here, there is a lot of public land and a lot of forest cover. Birds behave differently up here, requiring a special skill set to successfully scout and harvest them. Also, snow is a confounding factor we have the potential to encounter every April. This year, we had snow on the ground well into half the season. I mentored a novice hunter in the first season, starting in April, and the snow was knee-deep. Unfortunately, the conditions were so difficult to contend with that I wasn’t able to get a bird to approach us.
Spring turkey hunting offers us a chance to get out into the woods and fields after a long winter. Scouting for birds is actually fun for me, because unlike other wildlife species, you can tell male and female tracks and droppings apart. When hunting, we get to match wits with a bird that can be surprisingly difficult to outsmart. We get to talk to a creature that talks back, each of us trying to coax the other to come take a look. If you have never turkey hunted and would like to learn, there are programs available to help. It is too late for this spring, but stay tuned for future learn-to-hunt opportunities and classes where dedicated hunters set aside time to help you learn to become a successful hunter yourself.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.