WELCOMING NOVICES INTO THE TURKEY WOODS DURING COVID—AND THE CHANCE TO HIT A WISCONSIN SPRINGTIME ‘HOMERUN’
As COVID cases mount across the Midwest, the Wisconsin DNR is expected to continue to suspend most of its in-person events this spring—including its popular Learn to Hunt and Hunt for Food turkey classes. While this may come as a disappointment to some, it is not a death knell to hunter recruitment. In fact, as many Wisconsinites are working and attending school from home, there may actually be more opportunities to get new hunters into the turkey woods in 2021. This can easily be done while still adhering to COVID safety guidelines.
First Crack for Youths
The Youth Turkey Hunt, held the weekend prior to Wisconsin’s turkey hunting season, is a decades-running favorite for introducing youngsters to hunting. This special season allows hunters 15 years old and younger to get a crack at turkeys that have not been pressured for several months. Youths have two licensing options—complete hunter safety certification before the season or hunt under the rules of a mentored hunting license. Both options require the youth to be within an arm’s length of the adult, who must possess a valid Wisconsin hunting license and be at least 18 years old.
The 2021 Youth Turkey Hunt will take place the weekend of April 17 and 18. Youth can hunt regardless of what time period their permit is issued for, but may only hunt in the Turkey Management Zone designated on their permit. The bag limit is one male or bearded turkey in total during this two-day youth hunt. All other hunting regulations apply. A spring turkey license, stamp and valid turkey permit are required.
The general framework for Wisconsin spring turkey season lays out seven Turkey Management Zones and 6 week-long periods (A through F). Seasons begin on a Wednesday and end the following Tuesday; Period A starts April 21 and Period F starts May 26. Each turkey permit—or harvest authorization, in DNR terms—is valid for a specific period and zone.
Because the mentor and young hunter must legally be within arm’s reach of each other, the Youth Turkey Hunt is a great opportunity for adults and children living in the same household to get out in the woods together. It’s worth noting, too, that mentoring one’s own children allows maximum opportunities for repeated hunting experiences—which is the key to creating new hunters.
Another option for mentoring during the Youth Hunt comes via United Special Sportsman’s Association (USSA), which is planning on acting as matchmaker between young hunters and adult mentors. Youth and mentors hunting together during the Youth Turkey Hunt under the USSA banner will have to follow its COVID protocol. That means that hunters and mentors will need to be tested for COVID prior to the hunt, according to Brigid O’Donoghue, who is the CEO of USSA and passionate about recruiting youth.
“It’s essential to give our kids the know-how to hunt on their own when they are adults. Sunrise in the turkey blind is a life-changing experience. Hunter recruitment also ensures our conservation departments will have adequate resources in the future,” said O’Donoghue.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mark your Calendars!
Experienced hunters may know a novice who wants to turkey hunt this spring, but perhaps that person missed the December 10, 2020, permit application deadline. The good news is that plenty of permits will still be available this spring. These “leftovers” go on sale March 15 according to the following schedule, starting at 10 AM and continuing until midnight each day.
While the youth season is very popular, youths aren’t be the only first-timers heading out into the woods this spring. Within the last decade, hunting has become increasingly popular among young adult men and women. While typically not from hunting families, these “adult-onset hunters” quickly come to appreciate what experienced hunters have been enjoying for decades—acquiring healthy wild protein, gathering with friends and family, and connecting with nature.
Novices of all ages can become hunter-safety certified fully online until further notice. The cost is $24.50 plus a $10 registration fee. Those born before January 1, 1973, don’t need to complete hunter safety to obtain a hunting license in Wisconsin. However, the roughly 6-hour course comes with many benefits including understanding firearm safety, acquiring survival knowledge, getting a free small game hunting license, and the ability to hunt in any of the 50 US states, Canada, and Mexico.
Virtual Hunting for Dummies
There’s a lot to learn about turkey hunting, and those new to it may not know where to begin. Fortunately, there are plenty of quality virtual venues where turkey hunting skills can be acquired from the comfort of home.
The National Wild Turkey Federation and Kalkomey Enterprises, LLC., have partnered to develop Turkey Hunting 101. Here, novices learn the same skills that they would acquire in face-to-face instruction. Modules on strategies, scouting, gear, decoys, safety, and bird-cleaning are all part of this part of this $29.99 course. (Readers of this article can go to https://www.todayshunter.com/turkey101/ and enter the following code to receive a 30% discount on the course: NWTF2021354894.)
There are also a number of free, prerecorded classes on turkey hunting. The Wisconsin DNR plans on offering a Virtual Turkey Hunting Class during the third week of March; sign-up will be through Go Wild. Illinois Learn to Hunt and Minnesota DNR are among them. While regulations may vary, the skills taught are applicable to Wisconsin.
Mixed Bag Fun
Passionate longbeard hunters often bag a gobbler or two during early seasons. This leaves them free to enjoy other springtime outdoor pursuits, including taking out new hunters. Often the thrill of bringing a strutting gobbler within shotgun range of a new hunter is as, if not more, rewarding than harvesting their own.
Wisconsin’s “Turkey Commander” Loren Voss—who has killed a hundred-plus birds in some 50 years of hunting—put it this way: “Bagging your first gobbler is a thrill no matter what your age. And that’s for mentor as well as the new hunter.”
Fortunately, ample turkey permits remain available during periods D, E, and F for most zones. These later periods offer warmer weather and less competition, making them ideal for bringing new hunters afield. Hunters may want to consider mentoring those in their household or social groups so as not to risk additional COVID exposure.
In this scenario—where the new hunter possesses a hunter safety certificate, a valid turkey stamp and permit valid for the zone and period being hunted—the mentored hunting rule of staying within an arm’s length of each does not apply. This makes it easy for the hunter and mentor to maintain social distance from one another.
“In 2020, there were more than 20,000 over-the-counter harvest authorizations that were never issued for later time periods. Don’t be afraid to try hunting later periods. You may have to change your tactics, but there still lots of opportunities,” WDNR Assistant Upland Ecologist Alaina Gerrits said.
If turkey hunting is slow, there’s no shortage of other outdoor fun to be had in May. Foraging is a natural companion to turkey hunting. Morel mushrooms, wild asparagus, and various wild greens (including dandelions, nettles, ramps, and watercress) are all availabe during later turkey-hunting periods—often in the very same woods that are being hunted for turkeys.
In a state with 15,000 lakes and 13,000 miles of trout streams, fishing opportunities abound. Taking a break from turkey hunting when the gobblers have quit talking and pursuing easy-access species like trout and panfish helps to keep things lively. It’s a also a way for your mentee to experience a range of activities.
Get out There!
It’s old news that we need to bring new hunters into the fold. At the same time, all Wisconsin hunting isn’t equally welcoming. A frigid sit in a duck blind or deer stand may be too much, too soon. The interactive nature of turkey hunting, pleasant weather during later seasons, ample permit numbers, abundant public lands, plus the opportunity to fish and forage make Wisconsin turkey hunting a great intro for novice hunters.
Grab a grandkid, neighbor, spouse, or friend and show them how much fun it is to be in the woods in springtime. They might just hit the Wisconsin Springtime Homerun of a wild turkey, morel mushrooms, wild asparagus, and fresh-caught fish