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WI spring turkey harvest drops

From the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

-- Preliminary estimates show Wisconsin hunters registered 40,103 turkeys in the spring turkey season, a 16 percent decrease from the 2010 harvest of 47,722 birds. A total of 210,059 permits were issued for spring.

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.

Until recently, turkeys in Wisconsin experienced weather conditions conducive to population growth, said Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist.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 estimate statewide wild turkey populations but several long, snow-filled and cold winters from 2007 to 2010 and recent wet (2008) or cold (2009, 2011) springs have provided the perfect recipe to nudge turkey numbers downward. 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 total harvest drop.

Other Midwestern states 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 when compared to 2010 levels. Turkey biologists across the region agree a combination of hard winters cool/wet springs have affected turkey behavior and numbers. 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 suggests weather is the likely culprit, Walter said.

Wildlife officials say turkey restoration is one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in Wisconsin. 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 coming 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 Wisconsin's fall hunt. 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, Walter says.

The 2011 Fall Turkey and 2012 Spring Turkey Regulations are included in the 2011 Small Game Regulations pamphlet, available on the Hunting Regulations page online at   http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/hunt/regs/.

It is also available in hard copy at license vendors. More information is available online at http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/hunt/turkey/.

Wisconsins fall wild turkey season runs Sept. 17 through Nov. 17, with an extended season for Zones 1-5 likely, pending final approval by the legislature. The extended season would run from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31 for Zones 1-5 only. Hunters can check the DNR wild turkey webpage for updates.

The deadline for applying for a fall permit through the preference drawing process is August 1.

Applications cost $3 and can be purchased at license sales locations, by  calling (877)945-4263, or through the Online Licensing Center at  https://jc.activeoutdoorsolutions.com/wi_public/goHome.do.

Conservation Patrons License holders are exempt from the $3 application fee.

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