Spring turkey season good news for area hunters

It’s time to talk turkey.

Hunting, that is.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced the details of the 2021 spring turkey season recently and once again hunters will be able to buy a license over-the-counter to take part.

That’s especially good news for northern Minnesota hunters looking to get into the sport on their timeframe and close to home.

Wild turkeys were a rare sight on the Iron Range for many years, with local hunters needing to travel to areas of the state they might not have been familiar with to the south or west to take part in a season and having to go through a lottery system in order to secure a tag.

In 2019, after population growth state-wide, the need for a lottery system was decreased. More permit areas spread the hunting opportunities out and lowered the pressure in some of the state’s hotspots which led to the DNR taking a close look at 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.

And so in 2020, the DNR offered over-the-counter license sales for the first time. It turned out to be a decision, as turkey hunting participation increased throughout the state.

This year’s spring season will run from April 14 through May 31 and is broken up into six hunt periods. Firearms hunters 18 and older must choose one of the hunt periods when purchasing their license. They can hunt again during season F from May 19-31 if they did not fill their tag from an earlier season.

While hunters will be asked to designate a permit area they are going to mostly hunt in (for DNR record keeping), a license provides hunters with a chance to hunt all permit areas in the state, with the exception of three major wildlife management areas (lottery only in Mille Lacs, Carlos Avery or Whitewater wildlife management areas during A through C seasons)

The deadline to apply for those areas was Feb. 12.

Over-the-counter sales start March 1.

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.

Archery-only license holders may hunt statewide for the entire season and hunters cannot purchase both a firearms and archery-only license.

Licensed hunters ages 17 and younger can hunt statewide for the entire season with firearms or archery equipment.

The six hunt periods are as follows: Hunt A, April 14-20; Hunt B, April 21-27; Hunt C: April 28-May 4; Hunt D: May 5-11; Hunt E, May 12-18; Hunt F: May 19-31.

According to a news release from the agency, interest in the sport was up last year.

“We had really good participation last spring. License sales increased 36%, up 6,000 over 2019,” said Leslie McInenly, wildlife populations program manager with the DNR. “This year we are carrying forward the changes we made last year.”

Youth license sales rose 59% in 2020 from 2019. Archery and adult firearms license sales also increased 24% and 20%, respectively.

Hunters harvested 13,996 birds in 2020, the highest harvest recorded since modern wild turkey hunting began in 1978. That number is similar to the 2010 harvest of 13,467 birds. The average harvest over the past 10 years has been 11,400.

“We’re happy to see that people took advantage of the more flexible license structure last year and are looking forward to this spring,” McInenly said. “Wild turkey restoration is a great conservation success story and the expansion of their populations in Minnesota has allowed us to continue to allow flexibility in hunting regulations.”

Many spring Minnesota turkey hunters prefer to hunt the first two seasons in April because statewide those timeframes produce the best, but in northern Minnesota where weather can be an issue, hunters may want to look at the last week of April or the first two weeks in May to increase the likelihood that a spring snowstorm won’t disrupt their hunt.

Licenses may be purchased on the DNR’s web page, by telephone at (888) 665-4236 or in person wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold. Cost is $26 not including a $1 issuing fee. The $5 Wild Turkey Stamp validation is included in the license price. You do not need to purchase an additional stamp.

Online and telephone purchases include additional fees.

Licenses for spring turkey hunting are valid upon issuance. There is no waiting period.

According to DNR hunting rules, the bag limit for the spring hunt is one wild turkey with a visible beard. The beard is a feathered appendage protruding from the breast that is generally found only on males. The bag limit for the fall hunt is one bird of either sex.

Any shotgun or muzzleloader shotgun 10 gauge or smaller may be used. Only shot size No. 4 or smaller (sizes 4, 5, 6, 7½, etc.) may be used.

More information on the spring turkey hunting season can be found on the DNR’s website at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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CWD test results

Testing results from Minnesota’s 2020 hunting season and early 2021 special hunts confirmed chronic wasting disease in 22 wild deer, all within current disease management zones, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

In total, 7,682 samples were tested from hunter-harvested deer or opportunistic samples (deer killed by vehicles, reported sick or found dead). Nineteen of the positives were from deer in the southeast management zone and three were from the south metro management zone.

CWD was not detected in the north-central disease management zone, the southeast control zone, or the surveillance areas put in place for the 2020 hunting season. The surveillance areas added in 2020 were in east-central and west-central Minnesota, as well as a south metro surveillance area that surrounds the south metro management zone.

“Though CWD is detected in Minnesota’s wild deer, our recent test results show that the disease prevalence remains relatively low,” said Erik Hildebrand, DNR wildlife health specialist.

“Keeping deer healthy is our priority, and we continue to take aggressive action in areas where the disease has been detected in wild deer and monitor for the disease in areas where there are elevated risks for CWD.”

Some test results from the year’s management activities and any deer reported sick or dead are still pending.

The DNR monitors CWD by testing wild deer. When the disease is detected in either captive or wild deer, the DNR establishes surveillance areas and tests wild deer for at least three years after the detection. This is because it can take 1 ½ to 3 years before a deer shows clinical symptoms.

If three consecutive years of test results fail to confirm CWD, and an adequate number of deer are sampled, the DNR will end surveillance in an area.

In fall 2020, the DNR shifted to voluntary self-service sampling to facilitate social-distancing measures at sampling stations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the shift, the DNR set sampling goals based on the best available science that gives the agency confidence about disease prevalence in an area. While the majority of areas received enough samples to meet sampling goals and give confidence about disease detections, some surveillance areas did not.

The DNR will continue sampling for disease in these areas to enhance confidence about disease detection.

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