MADISON - Wisconsin wild turkey hunters registered a total of 7,054 birds during the fall 2012 wild turkey season, an increase of 28 percent from the 5,523 registered during the 2011 season. Success rates also increased, from 10.1 percent in 2011 to 12.9 percent during the 2012 season.
"The jump in harvest reflects favorable weather conditions over the past year," said Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. "Right on the heels of a very mild winter, we experienced an early and relatively dry spring and early summer in 2012. This allowed hens to enter the nesting season in good condition and likely promoted high poult survival during the critical brood-rearing period."
Variable weather conditions play a significant role in turkey population dynamics, and turkey populations can increase rapidly during years of favorable weather, according to Walter. DNR summer game bird brood surveys last year revealed the third-highest observation rate for turkey broods since 1987.
Also up in 2012 were permit numbers. Not including Fort McCoy, the total number of permits available statewide for the fall 2012 season was 96,700, a 1,000-permit increase compared to 2011. A total of 54,500 permits were sold for the 2012 fall turkey season; 37,721 via the drawing and another 16,779 permits sold over-the-counter after the drawing had been completed.
The number of permits available to hunters in each of the state's seven turkey management zones is recommended by members of the wild turkey management committee, who consider recent trends in harvest, hunter success, and turkey reproduction, as well as hunter densities and field reports of turkey abundance.
DNR first initiated a fall turkey season in 1989 with the increase and expansion of turkeys throughout the state. Since then, hunters have been able to pursue turkeys in the fall and the spring.
"Hunting turkeys in the fall is quite different than taking part in the spring hunt, where hunters use the breeding behavior of gobblers to call one into range," said Walter. "Fall hunters learn that the key to success is to pattern turkey flocks, and are adept at locating roost sites or feeding locations in order to get close to turkeys.
"Hunters that pursue turkeys during both the spring and fall seasons are really treated to two very distinctive outdoor experiences, and get to enjoy turkeys during very different phases of their annual cycle," added Walter.
The spring 2013 turkey season begins with the youth turkey hunt, April 6 and 7. The regular season begins April 10.
"I would definitely say that the success hunters had last fall also suggests this spring's hunt will provide plenty of outstanding opportunities for those who get out there," said Walter.
Once harvest data for the spring 2013 season is available and biologists can assess spring production levels, permit levels for the 2013 fall season will be set.
"We won't announce final fall 2013 permit levels until this summer, but hunters can expect plenty of opportunity to pursue turkeys in zones 1 through 5," stated Walter.
Fall permit levels in northern zones 6 and 7 have been held at relatively lower levels, as turkey numbers have begun to build in these areas only in the last decade.
"There is less of an agricultural food base in these two zones and they are subject to more severe winter weather," said Walter. "Lower permit levels thus afford turkeys in these areas some added protection."
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist, 608-267-7861; Krista McGinley, DNR assistant upland wildlife ecologist, 608-261-8458