They aren't the most attractive bird, nor are they graceful flyers or adorned with colorful plumage, but Benjamin Franklin was fond of them and so are thousands of Minnesota hunters who will hunt them over two 5-day seasons between October 17 and October 28.
The wild turkey is a cautious bird and tasty meal, no doubt why Franklin proposed making it our national bird. Turkey hunting has become so popular in Minnesota that some hunters are willing to wait several years to get a license.
Tremendous inroads have been made in turkey hunting equipment, ranging from calls and camouflage clothing to tighter-shooting shotguns, even turkey decoys. Much is written about turkeys and turkey hunting in sportsmen's magazines. More than anything else, however, turkey hunting's popularity stems from the expanding range of the birds, thanks to an aggressive trap-and-relocation program managed by the DNR and the Minnesota chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
By the early 1900s wild turkeys had disappeared from Minnesota. But with funds donated by the NWTF, the DNR has transplanted turkeys across the state since the 1970s. Today, turkey gobbles reverberate from Houston County in the southeast to Becker County in the northwest to Jackson County in the southwest. Wild turkeys released earlier this year near Camp Ripley, Milaca, and Rice have joined a flock that totals more than 40,000.
The DNR warns hunters about the potential for mistake-for-turkey shootings. Three people, including a 9-year-old boy, were accidentally injured in shooting incidents during the spring hunt.
"Always know what your target is and what's beyond your target," said Capt. Jeff Thielen, DNR enforcement education program coordinator. "Never shoot at sound or movement. Be sure you positively identify your target."
It would seem impossible to mistake a hunter for a turkey, but it happens.
"Turkey hunters imitate the sounds of a turkey to attract their quarry," Thielen explains. "But they occasionally attract other hunters, too. That sets up a dangerous situation: a camouflaged hunter who sounds like a turkey and is watching for an approaching turkey being stalked by another hunter. In these situations some hunters don't positively identify their target and simply shoot at movement. They reason that they heard a turkey and see movement, and prematurely conclude they must shoot quickly or lose the opportunity."
Although it's not required to hunt turkey, wearing fluorescent orange clothing is the best solution to reduce accidental shootings. Some hunters place a square of orange on the back of their camo jackets and strips on the backs of their elbows. This helps identify their movements to other hunters and has little effect on hunting success.
"Blaze orange works," Thielen said. "It's an attention-grabber. But keep in mind there are hunters who suffer from color blindness and who might not recognize it the way the rest of us do."
Turkey hunters should note the following changes this season:
-- At registrations stations in Cloquet, the Twin Cities metro area and Winona, an Electronic Licensing System (ELS) for registering harvested birds will be tested. Possession tags will be printed by the ELS terminal and must be attached with a string or wire. DNR officials say the system should improve the efficiency and accuracy of turkey harvest estimates and provide more timely information to hunters;
-- The 2001 Minnesota Legislature ruled that planted native or introduced grassland or hayland, and short-rotation woody crops, are defined as agricultural land for the purposes of the outdoor recreation trespass law. This definition includes grasslands enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), or the state Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) Reserve Program. This means permission is necessary whether these lands are posted or not. Private property should be treated with respect. Ask first before entering private lands.
Whether you're a novice or experienced turkey hunter, read the turkey hunting tips on pages 102-104 of the 2001 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook, or contact your local conservation officer. The extra effort may save your life and lead to a turkey.
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