Hunters registered 43,341 wild turkeys during the Wisconsin spring hunting season, on par with the average harvest since 2010 and about 5% lower than 2016, according to data released Tuesday by the Department of Natural Resources.
The slight year-over-year decline was likely due to relatively poor recruitment in 2016 and rainy weather during much of the second hunting period in April, said Mark Witecha, DNR upland wildlife ecologist.
“Overall I’d rate it a success,” Witecha said. “Even coming off a down year for turkey production and with poor weather in one of our early periods, we nearly matched the 2016 harvest, which was highest in six years.”
The 2017 harvest numbers are preliminary and don’t include the results from Fort McCoy, which typically adds more than 100 birds.
The kill numbers were 12,573 in Zone 1, 10,675 in Zone 2, 9,925 in Zone 3, 6,782 in Zone 4, 1,966 in Zone 5, 817 in Zone 6 and 514 in Zone 7.
The registrations represent a decrease in all zones compared to 2016.
Statewide hunter success was 20.4%, compared to 21.3% in 2016 and 19.7% in 2015.
The highest hunter success rate was seen in Zone 2 (22.2%), followed by Zone 4 (21%), Zone 1 (20.4%), Zone 3 (19.9%), Zone 6 (18.2%), Zone 5 (16.4%) and Zone 7 (14.3%).
According to registration reports, the statewide kill included 35,347 adult toms, 7,516 jakes (1-year-old males) and 389 hens.
Only bearded turkeys may be legally hunted in Wisconsin’s spring season; a small percentage of hens have beards.
Interest remains high for the Wisconsin spring turkey hunt.
The agency issued 212,088 permits for the past season compared to 212,772 in 2016.
About 130,000 hunters take part in the Wisconsin spring hunt each year, second in participation to deer hunting in the state.
Wisconsin has offered a spring turkey hunting season since 1983.
Wild turkeys are native to Wisconsin but were extirpated by unregulated hunting in the 1800s. After several unsuccessful attempts in the 20th century, a wild turkey restoration effort in the 1970s took hold in southwestern Wisconsin. The project was a partnership of the DNR, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
The work involved trapping wild birds in Missouri and releasing them in the Bad Axe watershed. Subsequent trap-and-transfer work of the growing Wisconsin flock helped seed more areas of the state.
Today wild turkeys are found in all 72 counties.
The Wisconsin wild turkey population showed strong growth as the birds filled unoccupied habitat and, as with many expanding populations, likely overshot their carrying capacity.
The spring turkey harvest reflected the population trend, with annual increases reported in all but two years from 1983 to 2008. The state record spring turkey harvest was set in 2008 with 52,880 birds registered.
Since then, the turkey population and spring harvests have settled in a range below the peak and within their carrying capacity, Witecha said.
The average Wisconsin spring turkey harvest from 2010-’17 has been 43,599 birds, according to DNR data.
Wet weather in June and July 2016 contributed to a 27% decline in turkey production, Witecha said.
So far this year, conditions have been more favorable.
“We’re about at the peak of hatching season,” Witecha said. “If it stays warm and we continue to get moderate precipitation, we would expect better survival and recruitment of turkey broods this year.”
The Wisconsin fall turkey hunting season opens Sept. 16 in all seven management zones.