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Wisconsin Spring Turkey Harvest Hits 20-Year Low

Spring gobbler take is the lowest since 1999
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Is the Wisconsin turkey harvest decline covid-related?

Spring turkey season just ended in Wisconsin and the Department of Natural Resource figures show that hunters harvested 37,179 male turkeys—the lowest overall harvest in 20 years. This is a 17 percent decrease from the 2020 spring harvest. While many will assume that the decrease in overall harvest is because of fewer turkeys on the landscape (which is making news in southeastern states), the lower number of turkeys killed is probably due to fewer hunters in the field, according to the DNR.

DNR wildlife ecologist Alaina Gerrits told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that decreased hunter participation is most likely the reason for this year’s spring gobbler tally decline.

“Last spring (2020) we were at the height of the safer-at-home order and many more hunters were available to hunt as there wasn’t much else to do,” says Gerrits. “This can be seen through a large decrease in over-the-counter tags purchased in 2021.”

In Wisconsin, hunters can buy tags over the counter based on season and zone until tags become sold out. So, a single hunter can buy multiple tags for multiple zones throughout the spring season, which ran from April 21 to June 1. According to DNR data, hunters weren’t buying as many tags. Bonus tag purchases for Wisconsin turkeys dropped this spring by 16,000, according to Gerrits, suggesting that hunters had many other spring pursuits available to them than last year during the pandemic lockdown.

In other words, the 2021 season looked a lot more similar to 2019, when approximately 38,000 turkeys were harvested. With the increase of hunters during COVID-19 shutdowns, approximately 45,000 turkeys were harvested in 2020.

Nearby Illinois also had a 15-percent drop in this spring’s turkey harvest, likely for the same Covid-19 reason that produced more birds in 2020.

Turkeys are native to Wisconsin, but the big birds were nearly wiped out in the 1800s by unregulated turkey harvest. Reintroduced in the 1970s with efforts by state agencies and the National Wild Turkey Federation, turkeys are now found in all 72 counties of Wisconsin. Fall turkey season opens in the Badger State Sept. 18.