While nowhere near as popular as the spring rendition, the fall wild turkey hunt is finding a small niche in the Brainerd lakes area.
The spring hunt has grown into a massively popular event in the area and across the state as hunters embrace the challenge of calling toms into the shooting fold. But in the fall, toms won’t be nearly as receptive to those alluring calls. In fact, hunters hoping to encounter toms in Saturday’s fall wild turkey opener will be greatly disappointed. Finding even hens might be a challenge.
But for hunters who need their turkey fix, the fall turkey season is a great excuse to get into the field. Or for youths or novice hunters who might be intimidated by the massive spring hunt or unable to get a hard-to-come-by permit in the spring. Or as a scouting tool or a way to get in good with farmers — as in access to hunting land — for spring turkey hunters. And even for grouse hunters or archery deer hunters — you never know what you might see outside your blind or near the trail.
All you need is a permit. And according to Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd, as of Thursday afternoon, 24 of the 100 either-sex permits offered for the fall
hunt in Permit Area 249 — the only permit area open to the fall turkey hunt locally — are still available. They may be purchased over the counter anywhere hunting licenses are sold.
“Quite a few of these might be (purchased by) archery deer hunters. It also gives them a license to shoot a turkey,” Drotts said. “Grouse hunters or archery deer hunters.”
And, of course, turkey hunters, although the fall hunt is a far cry from the spring celebration, when toms are out and about.
“What happens with the fall hunt is it’s a lot different because you don’t have the toms responding to a call,” Drotts said. “It (the fall hunt) is a lot of scouting. You’re looking for a travelway. Hunters walk around the woods until they flush one out and get the flock busted up.”
Still, one plus of the fall season is a permit is good for a tom or a hen.
“In the spring it’s toms only. You call like a hen and get them in and get a challenge that way,” added Drotts, who said he, too, is considering picking up a permit for the fall hunt. “In the fall it’s an opportunity where you have to find the travelways.”
According to Drotts, this is only the third year the fall season has been offered in Permit Area 249, which runs just southeast of town to Garrison and includes the southern third of Crow Wing County, Drotts said. He added that, locally, Permit Area 246, which runs west of town and up to the Park Rapids area, will probably boast a healthy enough population to offer the hunt next fall. Permit Area 248 west of Camp Ripley also is open to the fall hunt this year, Drotts said.
“The population in 249 is getting well established,” he said. “There are too many birds in some spots. We’re getting complaints from farmers. In the winter we’re getting as many as 200 birds on those spots. Farmers give us access in the spring and want us to come back in the fall and shoot the hens.
“In the spring, hunters have been cooped up all winter. And there’s the challenge of calling something in and sounding like a hen — that’s what’s a challenge. And to get that interaction. Fall hunting is totally different. The toms won’t respond then. It’s like hunting deer. You’re trying to find feeding patterns and travelways and sitting on a stand and doing some foot hunting and busting up a flock. It provides recreation, but the fall hunt is more designed as a population and management tool. The spring hunt is more recreational. But we encourage it (the fall hunt). It’s a good way to take out a young hunter and a good way to get on the good side of a farmer. It’s growing in popularity, but it’s a small event.”