By Mark Melotik, Executive Editor ScoutLook Weather
What’s one of the few things better than calling in a big Minnesota spring gobbler? Calling in a pair of the majestic birds, more or less simultaneously. This heart-thumping scenario played out in front of me late last April in the state’s southeastern corner, near the quaint and scenic city of Houston.
All morning, at regular intervals, I had been broadcasting my three-note hen turkey calls—“yawp-yawp-yawp!”—and now, not one, but two deafening gobbles came thundering back from the steep, surrounding bluff country. Both seemed surprisingly close. Soon I glimpsed a large dark gobbler sneaking in from the right, his eyes locked on my three-decoy spread set just five yards from my portable blind. As I squirmed into position for the severe right-angled shot, my laser rangefinder showed the big tom at 36 yards—precisely where the cagey longbeard reconsidered and turned back.
Before I could feel any disappointment another loud gobble erupted behind me; in seconds I was at full draw and focused on a second gobbler circling in to the left. At the 25-yard shot the longbeard launched into flight but the loud crash behind me, just seconds later, signaled my aim had been true. And I was one very happy Minnesota turkey hunter.
Whether your weapon is bow, shotgun or crossbow, and whether your goal is a neat new experience in unfamiliar terrain, a delectable wild game dinner, or maybe adding a midwest eastern wild turkey to your latest grand slam, Minnesota is a must-see destination for turkey hunters nationwide. An exciting new turkey hunting structure, and some impressive numbers, tell the story.
Minnesota issued 49,991 turkey permits during the 2016 spring season, including 10,343 archery permits, which represented a 105-percent increase over the 5,291 issued in 2015, likely a result of the expanded opportunity that allowed archers to hunt the entire season. The total number of permits increased from 2015 by 7.1 percent (3,316), primarily as a result of archery license sales more than doubling. Hunters registered a total of 12,313 turkeys during the 2016 spring hunt, which was the second-highest harvest recorded and above the 5-year state average of 11,442 birds. If you’re wondering, Minnesota’s turkey-hunting heyday is now.
Don’t Forget Spring Fishing
Minnesota’s turkey population is certainly booming, but any savvy outdoorsman traveling to the Gopher State this spring would be wise to also pack some fishing gear, and maybe, add a few extra days to sample the state’s world-class fishery. Inland trout season opens in mid-April, followed by the bass, walleye and northern pike openers in mid to late May. No matter where you end up, you’re never far from prime multi-species angling opportunities.
Stream trout might offer some of the easiest “cast and blast” combo adventures for Minnesota turkey hunters, especially in the southeast corner of the state. Virtually all of southwest Minnesota’s 700-plus miles of streams flow through grade-A turkey habitat.
Statewide, Minnesota holds an impressive 3,817 miles of designated trout streams, plus 2,699 miles of designated trout stream tributarie. Solid fish populations abound, the product of both natural reproduction and aggressive stocking. In 2015, the state’s five coldwater hatcheries produced 1.7 million fingerlings, yearlings and adult fish for stocking in 75 streams and 158 lakes–roughly 201 tons of fish. Whether you prefer to cast flies, spinners, Rapalas or live bait, Minnesota’s brown, rainbow, and brook trout are ready to add spice to your springtime adventure.
New ‘Hunter Friendly’ Turkey Structure
Significant changes were made to the Minnesota spring turkey season structure in 2016; according to the state DNR the new structure was intended to regulate harvest and distribute hunting pressure by allocating permits across 12 permit areas that now include the entire state. Previous to 2016, much of the northcentral and northeastern portions of the state were not open to turkey hunting. There are now only six time periods using a quota system for the first two time periods. In 2015 there were eight time periods, with the first three using a quota. In 2016 the first five time periods were all one week long, while the last time period was 14 days long, and all unsuccessful licensed turkey hunters from the previous time periods could hunt during this final time period. The first time period began on April 13, and the final time period concluded on May 31.
During the spring of 2016, adult hunters interested in pursuing turkeys for the first two time periods were required to apply for a permit through a lottery system, but youth hunters, and for the first time licensed archery hunters, were able to purchase a permit over-the-counter, and hunt in any permit area for the entire season. Preference for this lottery system was determined by the number of years a valid but unsuccessful application had been submitted since last receiving a permit. Hunters could apply individually or in a group of up to four hunters. Successful applicants were notified through U.S. Mail and unsuccessful applicants were awarded a preference point. Alternatively, firearms hunters could simply purchase a permit over-the-counter for one of the last four time periods.
The goal of this new season structure in Minnesota is to provide additional quality turkey hunting opportunities while still managing hunter interference rates by maintaining 12 permit areas and two quota time periods. The best part? It seems to be working nicely.
Places to Hunt
Minnesota has a vast system of county, state and federal forests that are open to turkey hunting, as well as an immense state Wildlife Management Area system. The location of these lands can be found using the DNR's Recreation Compass (view version for mobile browsers).
Wild turkeys have become an increasingly common sight across much of Minnesota (see turkey ranges and permit areas). With the exception of the heavy forest north of U.S. Highway 2, you're likely to spot the eastern wild turkey just about anywhere.
Be sure to get permission before hunting on private agricultural land or posted land.
2017 Season Information
The deadline for firearms wild turkey hunters to apply for early season spring hunting permits is Friday, Jan. 27. The spring season, which runs from Wednesday, April 12, to Wednesday, May 31, is divided into six time periods.