Lottery winner!

February 4, 2011

Faith Outdoors

I hit the daily double in the lottery this week. The wild turkey lottery, that is.

The results are in and I got drawn for a permit in both Minnesota and Wisconsin (to see if you got picked in either state, visit the Minnesota and Wisconsin DNR websites) . In fact, my two five-day seasons overlap. My Minnesota season is May 3-7 and my Wisconsin season is May 4-8.

That means I will be in the woods for a good portion of that week. One important step after getting the lottery results is calling landowners to secure permission to hunt. I called the landowner of my favorite property in Wisconsin earlier this week and got permission. Did the same thing for my top Minnesota property yesterday.

So, looks like I’m all set. I was pretty sure I’d get picked because the later seasons in May aren’t as popular, which means fewer applicants for those time periods and, thus, higher odds for getting drawn in the lottery.

The downside, of course, is hunting can be tougher in May. Birds have been hunted for weeks, so they’re warier. Yet, the right techniques can pay off handsomely. I have lots of experience with both calling and hunting birds, so I have enough tricks up my sleeve to lure a gobbler in.

Still, even the best hunters strike out, as I did last year in Wisconsin. After getting a bird on the first morning of my Minnesota hunt, I was optimistic about getting one in Wisconsin. But, poor weather and gobblers well past peak interest in breeding combined to shut me out. The latter was caused by the early snow melt that resulted in the toms getting fired up to breed much earlier than usual. They can only keep up the energy for so long before they start to fizzle.

Last year, they fizzled out in early May, right about the time the hens were finished laying eggs and sitting on their nests. Usually, this brings about renewed interest from toms, who notice the disappearance of hens and start seeking them aggressively. But, instead of doing that, they got lazy. They would gobble to a call, but wouldn’t come in. I tried chasing them a few times, but then they would quit gobbling altogether and just walk away.

I highly doubt we’ll have that problem this year. It should take a while for all this snow to melt. If anything, we may have a late spring. That shouldn’t be a problem. I have hunted during late springs before and done fine.

The thing I’m most worried about is how the turkeys are faring in this tough winter, with all of the snow and cold we’ve had. The experts say as long as the birds can find food, they’ll do just fine. The landowner in Wisconsin I talked to said the turkeys are now following the manure spreaders out in the fields. Cows don’t digest all of the corn they eat, so some whole kernels end up in their manure. Turkeys know this, and look for corn after the manure spreader has gone through. Sounds gross, but it helps them survive.

That’s part of the reason why turkeys have thrived so much this far north. They are opportunists that can feed on just about anything that’s edible, except, of course, meat. I’m confident most — if not all — of the birds will get through the winter. That should mean plenty of gobblers to chase  this spring.

As much as the deer herd can vary from year to year and the hunting can go up and down, turkey hunting has been pretty consistent in recent years. In fact, the DNRs in both Minnesota and Wisconsin continue to offer more and more permits, which seems to be keeping up with the demand. In other words, almost all turkey hunters can get a permit if they are flexible on when and where they hunt.

That brings me to one last point, which is very important. For those who applied in the lottery for the two states, but did not get picked, there’s still hope. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin offer surplus licenses, which are for zones and times in which there were more licenses available than applicants. By checking out the websites, you can find out what zones and time periods have permits left over, plus when they go on sale.

I’ve done this a few times, and gotten permits. Here’s the interesting thing: in Wisconsin, you can buy additional permits, one per day, until they sell out. Last year, I ended up with three permits, though I didn’t fill any of them. In all honesty, I don’t think I have ever filled a surplus permit, but I know others who have. So, they are worth going after if you want to hunt.

I highly recommend it. A friend of mine who is an expert turkey hunter applies for late-season tags in both Minnesota and Wisconsin and gets them every year. And, most of the time, he gets his bird. What he has told me is that he likes to get out in the woods as often as he can so he can learn as much as he can about turkeys.

That’s good advice, which I have taken from him. And, when it comes to turkeys and turkey hunting, there is always more to learn. The main reason is simply that they are so unpredictable. In fact, I often say they are as hard to predict as a knuckleball. Just when you think they’re going to do one thing, they do another. You have to be able to adapt to whatever they’re doing — or not doing — on your hunt.

That’s the name of the game. It might be as simple as switching calls (box call to slate call, etc.), which has worked  for me on several occasions. Or, it could be shutting up and not calling at all (silence can be very effective at times). Or, you might have to get up and move, particularly if the bird is a ways away, like more than 100 yards.

Bottom line — the hunter who adapts is the one who succeeds.

About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek