St. Paul — Hunting for wild turkeys in the fall never has been at the top of most hunters’ agendas. While it’s hard to say with certainty, it’s likely many of the people who buy a license to kill a turkey during the fall season do so on a just-in-case basis so they have the opportunity to harvest a bird if one happens by their bowhunting stand, for example.
Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Hunters bought fewer licenses to hunt turkeys this fall – 7,755 – than they have since 2011, and harvested the fewest number of birds – 945 – than they have since 2007. The season ran Sept. 30 through Oct. 29.
“Having fewer than 8,000 people buy a fall turkey license isn’t the direction we would like to go, but fall turkey hunting has never been a big-ticket item in Minnesota,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations program manager. “We hate to see those numbers going down.”
Of hunter numbers dropping about 10 percent between 2016 and 2017, he said: “I hope that’s just an anomaly and not a trend.”
Tom Glines, regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation in Minnesota, isn’t particularly concerned by what he’s seeing with regards to participation in the fall season. In other states where the fall season is popular, there isn’t the range of hunting options as there is in Minnesota. During October in Minnesota, hunters can target deer, grouse, and pheasants, among other species. He would be concerned if there were declines in the number of hunters participating during the spring season.
“In the spring, we are solid – we’re maintaining and/or growing participation in the spring hunt,” Glines said. “In my mind, fall turkey hunting doesn’t lead you to the excitement the spring season does. They do strut and gobble (in the fall), but they don’t come into the call as well. It’s not a sport that attracts a lot of new participants.”
Merchant is of the same mind when it comes to participation in the fall season.
“I’ve always told people that the lack of participation is primarily because there are so many other hunting opportunities,” he said. “It’s just never really caught on. I think that’s all it is.”
There are steps the DNR could take to try to increase fall participation, such as allowing hunters to use dogs when hunting for turkeys. Or, it could do away with requiring hunters to declare a permit area when they purchase their licenses. But Merchant doubts either step would suddenly make fall turkey hunting in Minnesota a hot commodity.
“If we were going to see some significant growth in that area, I think we would have already seen it,” he said.