Satisfy Two Passions in Minnesota: Turkey Hunting & Fishing

By Explore Minnesota

Wild turkey - photos courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Wild turkey / ScoutLook

Enjoy turkey hunting? Then you will enjoy Minnesota.

Those itching for a quality turkey hunt will find plenty of places to scratch their desire in Minnesota. Wild turkeys have become an increasingly common sight across much of Minnesota. 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.

Wild Turkey Country

Not all turkey country is equal. Some of the highest turkey concentrations exist in the southeast. That is where wild eastern-strain turkeys were released in the 1970s and the state’s first limited hunting season began in 1978. This seminal flock really took off in this land of rolling hills,hardwood forests and picturesque dairy farms. Over time, their descendants were captured and released in other suitable habitat. Today, wild turkeys are abundant in the oak and aspen forests that stretch across central and eastern Minnesota.

These forested areas are ideal for turkeys because they are interspersed with farm fields and pastures. Turkeys are common too in the timbered river valleys and woodlands of the west and southwest. Turkeys are less common in the agricultural lands of the northwest but strong localized populations do exist in certain timbered areas. Turkeys do not inhabit the conifer forests of the far northeast. They are found mostly south of U.S. Highway 2, a main traffic artery that cuts across northern Minnesota in a northwesterly direction from Duluth to East Grand Forks.

A good way to get to get a feel for these varied landscapes is through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources turkey ranges and permit areas map.

Seasons and licensing

Randy Turkey Kill in SE MN April 2016-1_turkey_bylander.jpg
Photo courtesy of Randy Roemer

Minnesota makes spring turkey hunting easy. Only those age 18 and older who want to hunt using a firearm during the first 2 time periods need apply for a spring turkey permit obtained through a lottery process. This means an unlimited number of permits are available for the remaining 4 time periods of the year in May. Archery and youth turkey hunters can hunt the entire season without applying for the lottery. Licensed hunters who did not bag a bird during their time period can try again the last 10 days of May.

Licenses are available online at mndnr.gov/buyalicense, by phone at 888-665-4236, or at more than a thousand license vendors throughout the state.

Helpful things to know

Minnesota is 400 miles from north to south. This means hunters in southern Minnesota can be enjoying a leafy spring in mid-April while 5 hours to the north, lakes are still frozen. Typically, green-up is fairly complete toward the end of May. Though the first 2 hunting periods are perennial favorites, many hunters favor early to mid-May dates. That’s because the weather is more stable, gobblers are still seeking non-nesting hens, and competition from other hunters can wane as outdoorsy Minnesotans begin to cast their interests toward fishing.

Typically, hunters harvest about 11,000 birds. The hunter success rate is about 30 percent. A safety training certificate is required for firearms hunters born after 1979, yet Minnesota offers a short-term exclusion to this requirement. To learn more, check out Apprentice Hunter Validation.

Places to hunt

Father and son hunting for wild turkey - photos courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Father and son hunting for wild turkey / DNR

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). This site includes the statewide turkey hunting permit map, and by using its land view option, you can view aerial photos of the entire state.

Be sure to get permission before hunting on private agricultural land or posted land.

Take Time To Enjoy Spectacular Fishing

Largemouth bass pulled from Pelican Lake in Crow Wing County/ Francisco Dela Rosa IV_web
Largemouth bass pulled from Pelican Lake in Crow Wing County/ Francisco Dela Rosa IV

Those who like to hunt and fish are doubly blessed. That’s because wild turkeys share the same landscape as many of Minnesota’s famed 5,400 fishing lakes, including legendary Mille Lacs Lake. In 2017, BassMaster Magazine ranked Mille Lacs as the number one bass lake in America.

What if you get your bird on opening day? A great solution is to explore the lakes, rivers and streams of one of America’s top three inland fishing destinations. Southeast Minnesotawhere turkeys are most abundantis home to thousands of miles of trout streams that trickle and tumble through steep wooded valleys. These waters hold wild and stocked brown, brook and rainbow trout, and are a breeze to find. Maps are available through the DNR's Southern Minnesota Trout Angling Opportunities Map.

Those seeking bigger water can ply the Mississippi River, another popular southeast fishing destination. The walleye season never closes where the Mississippi forms the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin. This year-round fishing applies to northern pike, sunfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and channel catfish, too. These opportunities include Lake Pepin, a stunning mile-wide pool nestled between towering bluffs at Lake City. Popular river city destinations include Winona, Wabasha and Red Wing.

Fishing charter on Mille Lacs Lake
Fishing charter on Mille Lacs Lake

Minnesota’s inland fishing season opens in early to mid-May. Therefore, those hunting turkey during the first three time periods are unable to fish for walleye, northern pike, bass and several other species. However, there is still plenty of fishing to enjoy because the crappie and bluegill seasons never close in Minnesota. The easiest way to scout for crappie holes or bluegill beds is to visit the Minnesota DNR LakeFinder. This website and app displays lakes by county, and it also provides contour maps as well as fish stocking and fish population information.

Hunters who want to experience Mille Lacs Lakethe 132,000-acre legendary lake and home of the Bassmaster Toyota Angler of the Year Championship in previous yearsshould know that state forests, state wildlife management areas and county forest land are in the immediate area. Helpful information is available through Mille Lacs Area Tourism.

For more information on hunting guides and preserves, fishing guides, charters and more, visit the check out Fishing and Hunting page.