By: Pat Kalmerton
There are five species of wild turkey targeted throughout the United States, and many hunters will tell you that turkey hunting adventures are some of the most heart-pumping, breathtaking moments in their memory banks. If you were on top of your game and remembered to submit your Wisconsin Spring Turkey Application by the deadline (December 10) and were lucky enough to draw a permit in your desired zone (there are seven zones), you should be looking at a fantastic spring in 2015.
Turkey hunting is an opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to get back to what they live for after being cooped up all winter. It is finally time to feel the warm sun on their face and hear the world come to life every morning as Mother Nature’s children begin to awaken. It is a perfect time to get out and watch the animals shake the winter out of their bones. Waterfowl are nesting and active. Deer are moving. The unique sights and sounds of watching the world come alive are never more evident than in the spring – bring your camera! Oh, and while you’re searching for the feathery wild eastern turkey, don’t forget that this is also the time of year for fantastic morel mushrooms.
Spring turkey hunting is a way of life for many hunters who make it a priority to get their vacation days in order to ensure ample time for chasing these unpredictable birds. Studies say there are a lot of birds. No one gives exact numbers – but it’s true. I see birds in fields everywhere when driving through rural areas in fall and spring. This was not always the case.
Actually the range and numbers of wild turkeys had decreased at the beginning of the twentieth century due to hunting and loss of habitat. Game managers estimate that the entire population of wild turkeys in the United States was as low as 30,000 in the early 1900s. Game officials made efforts to protect and encourage the breeding of the surviving wild population. As the wild turkey numbers rebounded in the 1980s and 1990s, hunting was legalized in 49 states (excluding Alaska). Current estimates place the entire wild turkey population at 7 million.
In the Badger State specifically, turkey restoration efforts began in 1976 and less than a decade later Wisconsin had its first spring hunt. In the 30 years since that first season, wild turkeys have spread throughout the state and hunting opportunities have continued to increase. Today, Wisconsin stands among the top turkey states in terms of population numbers and stability, hunting opportunities, total harvest and hunter success rates.
The heart of the Wisconsin turkey hunting program is the spring hunt. Over the past 30 years, our spring hunt has evolved from three five-day periods in a handful of southwestern counties to six week-long hunts in seven zones across the entire state. Permits are distributed by random drawing, and there are always permits left over to accommodate hunters who missed the December 10 deadline, or those who want the chance to hunt two or more periods or zones. You can find left over tags and dates at http://dnr.wi.gov/permits/springturkey.html
Starting in April, there are six week-long seasons. Actually, if you include the spring turkey youth hunt there are seven. And it’s definitely worth including! To take part in the youth hunt, children must be 10-15 years old (residents and non-residents) and possess a current valid spring turkey license, stamp, and permit/carcass tag. All youth hunters must be accompanied by an adult (age 18 or older). Look into this option for young friends and family members and share your outdoor enthusiasm with them.
The six turkey hunt seasons take place during the following time periods:
A – April 15-21
B – April 22-28
C – April 29-May 5
D – May 6-12
E – May 13-19
F – May 20-26
So, there are a lot of birds and six seasons, but where should you go? Pick your zone! Do you want to travel or stay close to home? Do you want to hunt big woods or open fields? Do you have the legs and lungs for long walks and big hills? Consider your answers to these questions. It is important to know your limitations. There may be times when you find yourself stalking an active bird and you may be out of your comfort zone when it comes time to carry that 20-pound bird out with you. I do a lot of chasing and have found myself in that position before. Now I use a Tenzing TP14 turkey pack that has a game carrier big enough to carry a turkey out on my back. It even has an orange drop sheet that comes down over the bird for safety while I walk out with my reward strapped to my back.
After putting significant thought into pinpointing where you want to hunt, scouting should not be overlooked. Are you planning on hunting private or public land? Make sure you have some time invested to help your season success. Turkeys have patterns just like people and deer. Take time to learn them. They usually have their favorite roosting tree, strutting grounds, paths of travel, morning and afternoon spots. If you cannot be there to learn their travel patterns, put cameras out. I use my Wild Game Innovations “deer cameras” to scout turkey patterns as well! Find heavily traveled deer trails and you will find that they are also turkey trails.
Find roosting trees. These birds roost in big oaks or pines and they’re pretty easy to find. Follow the direction the birds tend to go just before dark. Once you know the area, there are two options. One, you can watch from afar in the evening and listen for the birds to fly up to roost. Two, you can walk in that area during the middle of the day so you don’t spook the birds and look for feathers and droppings at the base of the tree. You will be able to pinpoint their favorite branch if you look hard enough.
You have put in the time and work to determine where they like to feed, strut, sleep, drink and walk. Slam dunk right? Sometimes it is and sometimes it is definitely not. Turkeys can make a person who is typically calm, absolutely furious! Just when I think I have the perfect set-up, they have somehow figured out how to avoid it. Then the next day when I’ve adjusted, they go right back to their usual patterns again. Infuriating!
So, what else do you need?
Use decoys. I personally use Avian-X because I find them realistic and easy to carry, so I can adjust if necessary.
Find some calls that you sound sexy on! I use Flextone calls because I like the way they sound and the sexy purrs I can produce with the slate call. You need to find what is best-suited for you. Spend some time trying calls to see what you like best. You need to be confident! If you don’t think you sound sexy, neither does that big ol’ beard-swingin’ tom you’re trying to seduce!
Set your ground blind and be patient. I use Ameristep due to window configuration, but there are many different sizes and styles. I set a strutting tom decoy along with a hen and just wait it out. They will come. But if I am short on time and getting desperate, that’s when I grab my ghillie suit and Tenzing turkey pack for “running and gunning.” When time is of the essence, these are my weapons to find an active bird and go to him now!
There are many different styles of hunting. If you want to learn more about successful turkey hunting techniques in a particular area, hire a guide and take notes! There are no definitive answers so the fastest way is to observe and learn from those who have years of experience making mistakes and adjusting to harvest this sneaky bird.
Good Luck Hunting!