September 4, 2012
MADISON - The 2012 fall wild turkey and ruffed grouse seasons are set to open, and state wildlife officials say that hunter prospects are good for both seasons. The turkey season will open statewide at the start of shooting hours on Sept. 15, as will the grouse season in Zone A. Grouse hunters interested in pursuing grouse in southeastern Wisconsin should be aware that the grouse season does not open until Oct. 20 in Zone B.
Overall, Wisconsin's statewide wild turkey population remains strong, and wildlife officials have set the number of fall turkey permits available at 96,700, a 1,000-permit increase over the number of permits offered during last year's fall turkey season. Permits were increased by 600 in Zone 2 and by 400 in Zone 7 in order to better accommodate demand by hunters.
After 30 years of sustained population growth and expansion across the state, turkeys are now found statewide, and local populations will likely nudge upward or downward from year to year as weather determines annual levels of survival and reproduction.
The spring 2012 turkey harvest showed a 6 percent increase in Wisconsin, largely due to the unseasonably warm, dry weather that made for comfortable hunting conditions during most of the season. The increased harvest may have also been influenced by the mild conditions during the winter of 2011-12, which likely allowed turkey populations to enter spring in good shape.
Wisconsin also experienced warm and dry conditions during this year's critical June brood-rearing period, which should lead to good production and a better chance for hunters to encounter birds this fall. Biologists closely monitor harvest during the either-sex fall season, as excessive hen harvest can impact turkey populations. Recent hen harvests in Wisconsin have been very low, however, and hunters can enter the woods comfortable with the knowledge that current hen harvest rates do not play a significant role in the dynamics of Wisconsin's turkey flock. As during the 2011 fall season, hunters may use dogs statewide to hunt wild turkey this fall.
Hunters pursuing turkeys in Zones 1-5 during the fall 2012 hunt will again have additional opportunities to do so. During the 2009 and 2010 fall hunts, the season was extended on an experimental basis in these zones, from the day after the traditional 9-day gun deer season through Dec. 31. The proposal to make this extended season permanent was supported by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and the legislature, and was made permanent starting with the 2011 fall season. This year, the extended season will run from Nov. 26 through Dec. 31 in Turkey Management Zones 1-5 ONLY.
Ruffed grouse populations in Wisconsin appear to be entering a downswing, according to this spring's drumming survey results. Ruffed grouse populations are known to boom and bust over an 8-11 year period, and the index that the state uses to track ruffed grouse numbers decreased statewide by 25 percent between 2011 and 2012. This decrease isn't a surprise, as Wisconsin was overdue for the expected downturn, but weather conditions in the spring were excellent for nesting and brood-rearing, and should mean a good year for reproduction. First-year birds may therefore help offset the cyclic downturn in numbers, and hunters can expect good hunting again during the 2012 season.
"A lot of factors may be involved in the grouse cycle, perhaps most importantly the periodic invasion of northern raptors during the winter months," said Scott Walter, WDNR upland wildlife ecologist. "Harvest does not play a role. Research has shown that over 30 percent of a grouse population can be harvested without impacting future numbers, as most of these grouse would not have survived to breed the following spring anyway. Hunters should enjoy their time in the field with friends, and look forward to the next upswing in the cycle."
Hunters are encouraged to explore new areas of good cover in order to enjoy a successful hunt. "In years of relatively lower grouse abundance, there are still birds out there, but they tend to be concentrated in the best cover available. Areas of marginal cover that may have held grouse the past couple of years may not in the near future. Exploring the best cover you can find - dense young aspen stands intermixed with conifers and berry-producing shrubs, for example - will really be the key to success during the next couple of years. You need to get out there and look for them. Walking the same trails you have in recent years may not yield the same results," added Walter.
Turkey hunters are reminded of the blaze orange requirement for ground blinds on DNR lands during any gun deer season (please see page 9 of the 2012 Wisconsin Small Game Hunting Regulations for more information). Ground blinds on DNR lands left unattended during legal hunting hours must also have the owner's name and address or DNR Customer ID Number attached near the door opening. Ground blinds may not be left out overnight and must be removed entirely from the property at the close of hunting hours each day. Please note that these ground blind rules do not apply to ground blinds being used for hunting waterfowl or to blinds built only out of natural vegetation found on the DNR property, except that all waterfowl blinds situated on state-owned property and used in hunting waterfowl must always bear the name of the owner affixed permanently to the blind in lettering one-inch square or larger, even when a person is using the blind.
Grouse and turkey hunters should also note that during any gun or muzzleloader deer season, including the October 6-7 youth deer hunt, antlerless hunts, and CWD hunts (see the 2012 Wisconsin Deer Hunting Regulations for season dates), blaze orange clothing is required. A hat, if worn, must be at least 50 percent blaze orange.
Grouse hunters encouraged to "Be HIP!" if they also plan to pursue woodcock, mourning doves or other migratory game birds
Upland hunters that may harvest woodcock are reminded of the federal requirement to be registered with the Harvest Information Program (HIP) before hunting these and other migratory game birds. Registration is free and is available through all license vendors as well as online; hunters will only need to answer a few short questions. To learn more about HIP, visit and search for "Harvest Information Program." Hunters who pursue both ruffed grouse and woodcock are also reminded that the woodcock season doesn't open until Sept. 22, although the ruffed grouse season in Zone A is open starting Sept. 15.
Though not a requirement for hunting ruffed grouse, federal rules do require that hunters use a plugged shotgun limited to holding 3 shells when hunting migratory game birds such as woodcock. These are both important points to remember even if you may only harvest woodcock opportunistically. Only non-toxic shot may be possessed for hunting game birds and animals, including grouse and wild turkeys, on federal Waterfowl Production Areas, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, and Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges. Hunters are required to use non-toxic shot while hunting snipe and rail, and while hunting mourning dove on DNR-managed land. Hunters are encouraged to use non-toxic shot for mourning dove on private lands as well as for hunting woodcock.
Fall wild turkey and ruffed grouse season dates and reminders
2012 Fall Wild Turkey Season Dates (all zones):
2012 Fall Wild Turkey Extended Season Dates for Zones 1-5 ONLY:
2012 Ruffed Grouse Season Dates:
2012 Woodcock Season
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist: (608) 267-7861 or Krista McGinley, assistant upland wildlife ecologist: (608) 261-8458