Come for the Turkey Hunting; Stay for the Fishing

By C. B. Bylander

photos courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
photo iStock.com/Jen Lamberts

Those itching for a quality turkey hunt will find plenty of places to scratch their desire in Minnesota. Wild turkeys inhabit all of southern and central Minnesota, and can be found even in parts of the far north.

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.

If you’ve never hunted or fished in Minnesota, you’ll find tips here for getting started.

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 to go the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website and click on Recreation Compass at dnr.state.mn.us/maps/compass.html

This site includes the statewide turkey hunting permit map, and by using its Landview function, you can view aerial photos of the entire state. Recreation Compass also shows the locations and boundaries of more than a thousand state wildlife management areas, dozens of state forests, and federal lands, all of which are popular public hunting destinations.

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 two time periods in 2018 (April 18-24 and April 25-May 1) need apply for a spring turkey permit. This means an unlimited number of permits are available for the remaining four time periods of the year (May 2-8, 9-15, 16-22 and 23-31). 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 from May 23-31.

Licenses are available on-line 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 five hours to the north lakes are still frozen. Typically, green-up is fairly complete toward the end of May. Though the first two 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 at dnr.state.mn.us/safety/apprentice.

Double your pleasure

Mille Lacs Smallmouth_web
Bass fishing on Lake Mille Lacs

Those who want to add extra fun to their turkey hunting trip should consider bringing a rod and reel, with or without a boat.

Why?

Because one of the most uplifting yet perplexing experiences on opening day is this: Gobble. Bang. Done. Now what?

A great solution is to explore the lakes, rivers and streams of one of America’s top three inland fishing destinations. Southeast Minnesota–where turkeys are most abundant–is 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 at dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/trout_streams/south_mn_maps.html. The stream trout season opens April 18 in 2018.

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. Information about these and other cities is available at http://www.somntravel.com/request-information/.

Minnesota’s inland fishing season opens May 12 in 2018. 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’s DNR LakeFinder at dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind. 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 Lake–the 132,000-acre legendary lake and home of the Bassmaster Toyota Angler of the Year Championship the past two years–should know that state forests, state wildlife management areas and county forest land are in the immediate area. Helpful information is available at millelacs.com

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.

2018 SEASON INFORMATION

The deadline for firearms wild turkey hunters to apply for early season spring hunting permits is Friday, Jan. 26. The spring season, which runs from Wednesday, April 18, to Thursday, May 31, is divided into six time periods. One notable change to the 2018 hunting regulations is that wild turkeys must be transported with one leg or fully feathered wing attached.