Hunters register nearly 50,000 wild turkeys in Wisconsin spring turkey season

Michael King of Mequon poses with a wild turkey he shot while bowhunting in May in Washington County, or Zone 2, during the 2024 Wisconsin spring turkey hunting season.
Michael King of Mequon poses with a wild turkey he shot while bowhunting in May in Washington County, or Zone 2, during the 2024 Wisconsin spring turkey hunting season.

Hunters registered 49,759 wild turkeys in the 2024 Wisconsin spring turkey hunting season, according to preliminary data from the Department of Natural Resources.

The total represents a 17% year-over-year increase and is the highest in 15 years.

Moreover it's the fourth highest since 1983 when the state began a spring season for the reintroduced species.

The record high was a harvest of 52,880 turkeys in 2008.

The 2024 results reflect the robust overall status of wild turkeys in Wisconsin as well as favorable recent conditions, according to the DNR.

"One of the reasons (for the higher harvest) is likely great productivity over the past several years," said Taylor Finger, DNR game bird ecologist. "We have had mild winters for three years in a row and warm dry springs and summers which has resulted in excellent adult survival and nesting success. With that combination there are more turkeys on the landscape than we have seen in the past 5 to 10 years. Additionally, we have had good weather for most of the (2024 spring) turkey season which results in increased hunter opportunity and success."

The 2024 spring season featured a youth hunt April 13 and 14 and six, seven-day regular hunting periods spanning April 17 to May 28.

The season is structured to maximize hunting opportunities while minimizing hunter interference and allowing for a more sustainable harvest, according to the DNR.

Although Wisconsin legislators have attempted several times to modify the state's turkey hunting season structure, hunters and the state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation have consistently expressed support for the format.

The Wisconsin DNR's turkey management strategies have been validated as other states, including Missouri, Alabama and Georgia, have suffered substantial turkey population declines in recent years. Many researchers believe heavy hunting pressure early in the turkey breeding seasons in those states has contributed to the declines.

Wild turkeys are native to Wisconsin but were extirpated by unregulated hunting in the 1800s. After several unsuccessful attempts in the 20th century, a restoration effort started in 1976 took hold in southwestern Wisconsin. The project was a partnership of the DNR, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The work involved trapping wild birds in Missouri and releasing them in the Bad Axe watershed in southwestern Wisconsin. Subsequent trap-and-transfer work of the growing Wisconsin flock helped seed more areas of the state. The birds are now found in all 72 Wisconsin counties.

Signs of a very good year for turkey hunters started during the 2024 youth hunt when 3,963 birds were registered, a 33% year-over-year increase.

Wisconsin wild turkey management zones.
Wisconsin wild turkey management zones.

Overall for the season Zone 1 had 13,199 turkeys registered, followed by Zone 3 with 12,218, Zone 2 with 11,007, Zone 4 with 8,664, Zone 5 with 2,472, Zone 6 with 1,436 and Zone 7 with 763.

The registrations were higher in each zone in 2024 compared to 2023.

The totals are preliminary and may change slightly in the DNR's final report.

Turkey hunters in Wisconsin are required to purchase a Wild Turkey Stamp for $5.25. Stamp sales bring in about $750,000 annually, according to the DNR, and all funds generated from the sales goes directly to turkey management in the state.

For the 2024 spring season, 246,068 turkey harvest authorizations were available, similar to 2023. This year 139,931 of the tags were awarded to hunters in the annual drawing and the remaining bonus harvest authorizations were offered for sale starting in March.

Only bearded turkeys may be legally hunted in Wisconsin's spring season. The rule is designed to focus the majority of the harvest on male turkeys and protect female birds as they nest and rear poults; a small percentage of hens have beards.

The fall 2024 Wisconsin turkey hunting season, during which all turkeys are legal game, opens Sept. 14.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Hunters register nearly 50,000 wild turkeys in Wisconsin spring season