The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced this week that spring wild turkey hunting licenses will now be available over the counter across the state (except for in three large Wildlife Management Areas).
This is significant news for Iron Range hunters because up until now residents looking to take part in the hunt had to apply for a tag via a lottery system and if you lived in northern Minnesota, where the turkey population is just starting to take hold, applying for license and then trying to find a spot to hunt in southern Minnesota seemed like a lot of work.
Now with the new option, if a hunter wanted to pick up a license and take a casual approach to the season, it would be a lot easier.
I applied for a turkey permit years ago and got one for an area just north of Forest Lake near where my sister lives. At first, I was excited about the prospect but once I started studying the area and considering that I would be walking into an unknown situation filled with terrain I wasn’t familiar with and most likely hunters who have staked out their territory, I decided against taking on the hunt.
That was also before the wild turkey population started to take off in the northern half of the state. Once considered a bird whose Minnesota territory was mostly south, since 2009 natural turkey expansion has meant more sightings in our neck of the woods.
“(Years ago) Native Southeastern Minnesota turkeys were trapped and transplanted around the state. They were transplanted to Aitkin and Crow Wing Counties and have adapted and spread from the south and west into St. Louis County,” Tower Area DNR Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch said Monday.
Turkeys prefer a mix of hardwood forest and open fields and pastures and the best numbers up north have traditionally been found in Carlton, Aitkin and Crow Wing counties, but range expansion is occurring in suitable habitat in southern St. Louis and Itasca counties and along the north shore.
“Turkeys are expanding into areas like Hibbing, Toivola, Cherry, Zim, Cotton, Palo, Makinen and Markham south of the Iron range. Scattered reports of turkeys are coming in north of the Range, also. They are well-established in the counties to the south and west of that area,” Rusch said. “The turkey population was expanding rapidly in southern St. Louis County until the series of tough, deep snow winters over the last five years. Turkeys are resilient though, and with mild winters the survival will improve and expand into the best turkey habitat.”
According to the DNR, hunters hoping to bag a tom turkey with a firearm this spring will no longer be restricted to a single permit area.
Beginning March 1, all spring turkey hunters can purchase a license over the counter to hunt in the spring hunting period of their choice.
“We’re making it easier to hunt wild turkeys in Minnesota,” said Leslie McInenly, wildlife populations program manager with the DNR said in a news release. “Turkey restoration has been a great success for the state, and over time we’ve been able to relax and simplify hunting regulations.”
Turkey season runs from April 15 to May 31 and is divided into six hunt periods, A through F. Firearms hunters 18 and older must choose their hunt period when they purchase a license and firearms turkey hunters can participate in Hunt F if they have an unused tag from one of the earlier hunt periods.
The 2020 Spring turkey hunt dates are: Hunt A (April 15-21); Hunt B (April 29-May 5); Hunt D (May 6-12); Hunt E (May 13-19); and Hunt F (May 20-31).
Despite the change, there are still three areas in the state where a lottery will be used: The Mille Lacs, Carlos Avery and Whitewater Wildlife Management Areas during seasons A through C.
Firearms turkey hunters ages 18 and older who are interested in a permit to hunt in those areas will be required to apply for a lottery. The deadline is Friday, Jan. 24. Successful applicants may hunt statewide, in addition to their selected wildlife management area.
“The Lottery was designed to equitably distribute the chance to turkey hunt among turkey hunters over time - within the six-week season and from year to year - and for each permit area,” Rusch said. “The turkey population has grown and spread state-wide so the need for the lottery has decreased. More permit areas spread the hunting opportunity and hunting pressure out and most turkey hunting occurs on private land, so the landowner ultimately controls who hunts and which season.”
In 2019, the DNR considered recent season participation, hunter interest in lotteries, harvest levels, and public comment on potential season changes. Public input indicated high levels of hunter support for greater flexibility in hunting location as well as increased opportunities to purchase licenses over the counter rather than through the lottery.
Archery-only license holders may still hunt statewide for the entire season (April 15-May 31). Hunters cannot purchase both a firearms and archery-only license.
Licensed hunters ages 17 and younger can hunt statewide for the entire season (April 15-May 31) with firearms or archery equipment.
Rusch said most turkey hunters prefer to hunt the first two seasons in April and that statewide those two timeframes usually produce the highest success rate.
However, sometime Mother Nature has an influence, particularly up north where April snowstorms can put a damper on things.
“Turkey hunting and hunting tactics change as the breeding phase progresses. These changes, like the seasonal changes of Spring, start earlier or later depending on your geographic location,” Rusch said. “The differences can be three weeks from the southern Minnesota border to the northern border. For the Iron Range, the last week of April and the first two weeks of May are prime time.”
Rusch said new hunters on the Iron Range and Tower wildlife areas should be prepared to study and be on the move.
“Hunt where you see turkeys, get reports or hear gobbling in the Spring. Be mobile. Don’t just hunt one spot. Move to find birds in pockets of good habitat. They are not everywhere,” he added. “There is tons of how-to information on-line and on cable. Turkey hunting requires a minimum of equipment. You don’t need to be a calling expert to start hunting. Learn as you go.”
More information on the spring turkey hunting season can be found on the DNR’s website at www.dnr.state.mn.us.