DULUTH — Hunters shot fewer turkeys this spring than in 2020 in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, at least in part because fewer hunters went afield.
In 2020, a record number of hunters purchased licenses in Minnesota during the early grips of the COVID-19 shutdown, 63,297, and proceeded to kill a record number of turkeys, 13,944.
This spring, Minnesota saw a drop of more than 5,000 hunters, to 58,125, and they bagged 11,992 turkeys. That’s roughly an 8% drop in hunters and a 14% drop in turkey harvest.
The 2021 harvest still was up 12% from 2019 and the number of licenses sold was still up a solid 25% from pre-pandemic 2019.
Leslie McInenly, wildlife populations and regulations manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the decline in hunters was expected, but that the decline in turkeys bagged is a bit of a surprise.
“Last year was a bit of an outlier with the stay-at-home-order concurrent with turkey season. I’m not surprised by the decline," McInenly told the News Tribune. “This year, most students were back in classrooms and back to sports and other activities, so (there was) less flexibility to take the kids out. More people were also back in the office/had more competing time commitments.”
McInenley said weather was favorable for hunters to stay afield this spring but, for whatever reason, wildlife managers reported unusually low turkey breeding activity during the season. That might have been due to warm weather just before the season started.
The Wisconsin DNR reports that turkey hunters registered 37,179 birds during the 2021 spring turkey hunting season, a 17% decrease from the 44,982 birds registered in the spring 2020 season.
A total of 220,347 harvest authorizations (permits to take one turkey) were issued for the 2021 spring turkey season, a 2% decrease from 2020, with 144,477 harvest authorizations awarded through the drawing and 76,200 sold over the counter. There were 16,215 fewer over-the-counter tags sold this year compared to 2020.
Again, officials said hunters probably had less time to be afield this year as life returned to more normal scenarios of school and work.
“Wisconsin was under Gov. Evers’ Safer-at-Home order during the 2020 season, which may have contributed to people having more time and opportunity to pursue turkey hunting while activities and events were canceled,” said Alaina Gerrits, DNR Assistant upland wildlife ecologist.
Overall, turkey harvest decreased across all zones and time periods compared to 2020 levels. Overall, the statewide success rate, not corrected for non-participation, was 16.9% compared to 20% in 2020.