I was surprised to see some big changes in the Minnesota spring wild turkey hunt for 2012. First, DNR officials have consolidated zones statewide to create much larger ones. There now are only going to be 12 zones, as opposed to 81 last spring. Second, they are only going to do a lottery for the first four time periods, with the final four (E, F, G and H) available over the counter.
I have had to stop and think about whether the changes are a good idea. I know they were being proposed within the last few months, and the public was invited to give input to the DNR. But, I didn’t offer any feedback because I couldn’t make up my mind if I liked the new concept or not.
Two of my main concerns when it comes to turkey hunting are overall hunting pressure on the birds and hunter interference. I think the previous system was good at addressing both, and it remains to be seen what will happen going forward. Wisconsin did the same consolidation of its zones several years ago without any negative effects in either of the above-mentioned problem areas, so I’m cautiously optimistic.
Yet, I think a big reason for the lack of negative impact in Wisconsin is that the state is better overall for turkey hunting than Minnesota. There is lots more prime habitat and, therefore, more birds. So, even if the management is less than ideal, the strong bird population in Wisconsin can handle a little mismanagement.
I’m not sure the same is true in Minnesota. I don’t think there is as much prime habitat as there is in Wisconsin. That does two things. First, it means there can be pockets of good bird numbers, rather than good numbers spread across all of the habitat. Second, the hunters pick up on that, which can increase the pressure in areas with good bird numbers, leading to potential overharvest of birds in these areas.
I think this is something the DNR should monitor closely. There is nothing tougher when you’re turkey hunting than to show up during your season on land that has been pounded by other hunters. Or, worse yet, coming out to a piece of property and finding other hunters already on it, or on land right next to yours. That happened to me last spring, and I was very frustrated until I moved to the other end of the property and got a bird there.
In recent years, I have switched to hunting later seasons. I like the warmer weather, and the bird patterns tend to be more consistent. It was nice applying for Season E or F, which had fewer applicants and, therefore, a 100 percent chance of getting drawn.
Obviously, hunting those two seasons is a sure thing again this year under the new system. But, I wonder if that will also mean more hunters out in the woods at that time. I like how the old system limited the number of hunters in a given zone during a given five-day season. Now that this restriction has been removed, I have a worry that I’ll end up seeing more hunters than birds in the woods this spring.
But, I’m going to try to withhold judgment until I have gone hunting. After all, I was against the four-point antles restriction for deer hunting that began in 2010. But, I shot a nice eight-point buck this year and my thinking has changed. I now have started dreaming about maybe shooting the biggest buck of my life. The new rule could help make that dream come true.
I think the key to successful hunting this spring will be flexibility and having more than one option in case things don’t pan out on one piece of property. My experience in turkey hunting has showed there are benefits to being flexible, and also benefits to being persistent.
When I encountered other hunters on the property I was on last spring — whom, I found out later, did not have permission to be there that day — I felt disgusted and wanted to leave the woods. But, I stayed and went to the other end of the property, where I had gotten a bird the previous year. I did some calling, and a hen came in followed by a young tom (called a jake). Amazingly, he left the hen and came over to check out the “new girl.” He offered me a perfect 30-yard shot, which I took and, thus, filled my Minnesota tag at about 7 a.m. on the first day of my season.
At the moment, I’m still basking in the glow of my successful deer hunts in November, but I guarantee that I will get fired up about spring turkey hunting as the winter progresses. It won’t be long before I break out my hen calls and start practicing!