June 14, 2011
MADISON - Preliminary estimates show that Wisconsin hunters registered 40,103 turkeys during the 2011 spring turkey season. A total of 210,059 permits were issued for the spring hunt, according to licensing officials.
Zone 1 produced the highest overall turkey harvest at 12,253 birds, followed by Zone 3 with 9,848 turkeys. The best hunter success appears to have been in Zone 2, with a preliminary success rate of 25 percent, followed by Zones 1, 3, 4, and 5, all at 18 percent success. Overall, the statewide success rate was 19 percent and, as in past years, success rates were higher in the earlier time periods.
This registration total shows a 16 percent decrease from the 2010 harvest of 47,722 birds.
"Until very recently, turkeys in Wisconsin experienced weather conditions conducive to population growth," said Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. "There was a long string of mild winters combined with the warm, dry spring weather favorable for breeding. However, weather over the last few years has been challenging for wild turkeys across the state. "
Wisconsin does not attempt to estimate statewide wild turkey populations but several long, snow-filled and cold winters (2007-2010) and recent wet (2008) or cold (2009, 2011) springs have provided the perfect recipe to nudge turkey numbers downward according to wildlife biologists. Snow, wind, and rain during portions of the first three 2011 spring time periods also may have reduced hunter effort and success, further contributing to the drop in total harvest.
National Wild Turkey Federation staff and volunteers have also fielded several questions regarding the impacts of an extended spring and heavy, late snowfalls on the birds, according to NWTF regional biologist Rick Horton.
"While we don't discount the possibility of some local wild turkey winter mortality, we feel that the perception that there were fewer birds was largely because the late spring delayed winter flock dispersal and breeding activity," says Horton.
Other Midwestern states have experienced similar declines in the 2011 spring turkey harvest. Harvests in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and South Dakota were all down between 9 percent and 25 percent as compared to 2010 levels. Turkey biologists across the region agree that a combination of hard winters and, in particular, cool/wet springs have affected turkey behavior and numbers. In addition, poor conditions during the spring hunt may have reduced hunter effort and success in some areas.
"The fact that harvests declined across such a broad region this spring certainly suggests that weather is the likely culprit," said Walter.
Wildlife officials say turkey restoration is one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in Wisconsin. Opportunities for turkey hunting and viewing abound in Wisconsin's mix of woodlands and farmlands. The adaptability of turkeys has been a pleasant surprise, resulting in far more birds and hunting opportunities than thought possible even 15 years ago.
Some hunters have expressed concern that the upcoming fall turkey season may reduce turkey numbers and impact their chance of bagging a turkey next spring. But fall permit numbers are set at conservative levels in consideration of impacts on future hunts, say wildlife managers.
While the fall season allows for the harvest of hens few hens are harvested during the fall hunt in Wisconsin. For example, only 4,191 hens were harvested statewide during the 2010 fall season.
"Harvesting fewer than 5,000 hens in the entire state is highly unlikely to have a negative effect on the population as a whole," says Walter.
The 2011 Fall Turkey and 2012 Spring Turkey Regulations are included in the 2011 Small Game Regulations pamphlet, available on the Hunting Regulations page of the DNR website and in hard copy at license vendors. More information is available on the wild turkey page of the DNR website.
The Fall 2011 Wild Turkey Season will run from Sept. 17 through Nov. 17, with an extended season for Zones 1-5 likely, pending final approval by the legislature. If approved, the extended season would run from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31 for Zones 1-5 only. Hunters should check the DNR wild turkey webpage for updates.
A big change beginning with the fall 2011 turkey season will be the initiation of online and phone-in turkey registration. Turkey hunters should note that in-person registration at traditional registration stations will no longer be available, beginning with the fall 2011 season. Instead, hunters will need to register their birds either online or via the telephone. Details regarding these convenient new turkey registration systems will be available soon.
The deadline for applying for a fall permit through the preference drawing process is August 1. Applications cost $3 and can be purchased over the internet through the Online Licensing Center, at license sales locations, or by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4263). Conservation Patron's License holders are exempt from the $3 application fee.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Walter, Upland Wildlife Ecologist: (608)267-7861 or Rick Horton, NWTF Regional Biologist: (218) 326-8800