The days are getting longer, the sun seems brighter, and it almost seems like winter might finally be almost over. Well, at least we are getting closer. That can mean only one thing—turkey season will soon be here. Minnesota’s spring season runs from April 15 to May 31 and is divided into six hunt periods, with all but the last consisting of seven days. Turkey hunting is becoming increasingly popular in the Gopher state, with youth and women among the growing number of hunters seeking the elusive gobbler. So how does a neophyte to this challenging sport get started?

First of all, the Minnesota DNR website is an excellent source of information. Not only will you find all the regulations you need to know, but you can also find land areas where the public is allowed to hunt. Minnesota’s 1,300 Wildlife Management Areas are wetlands, uplands, or woods owned and managed for wildlife by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Hunting is open to the public during regular seasons. Turkey hunting is also allowed in Chengwatana, St. Croix State, and Nemadji Forests.

Pine County has a number of these Wildlife Management Areas where turkey hunting is allowed. These WMA’s have been groomed as wildlife habitat, and turkeys and deer have especially benefitted from the efforts of the DNR and organizations like the Pine County Thunderin’ Toms (a local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation since 1998) and the local Pheasants Forever chapter. Members have written grants and supplied workers to maintain hundreds of young oak trees planted in local WMA’s. Many of the trees have reached heights of over 12 feet and continue to provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife. The DNR website also includes information on wild turkey hunting clinics and access to mentor hunts in the state.

Locally, the Thunderin’ Toms offer a mentor hunting class for young hunters, along with a limited number of mentored hunting trips for those interested in learning how to hunt this elusive bird. This year’s class will be offered at 7 p.m., Friday, April 3, at Adrenaline Archery in Pine City. First time hunters and their parents can learn about hunter safety, state regulations and turkey calling. Renowned call maker Jerry Martin from Luck Calls will be there to demonstrate various calls. Some of the mentors will be on hand to discuss specifics of the hunt. The Toms try to accommodate as many youth as they can, but more mentors as well as landowners who will let the youth hunt on their land are needed. The mentor program is run by the DNR in cooperation with the Thunderin’ Toms. More information can by found by calling Mark at 320-438-9509. Please call to check if any coronavirus concerns will affect the mentor hunting class.

An excellent source of information for turkey hunters is found on the National Wild Turkey Federation website. You can find out all about how to prepare for the hunt, where to find turkeys and how to attract turkeys with calls and decoys, and even how to field dress and cook delicious wild turkey meals.

Some highlights of the 2020 regulations:

• Firearms hunters 18 and older must choose their hunt period when they purchase a license. This year, hunters can hunt statewide, with a few exceptions for three specified WMAs.

• Archery-only license holders may still hunt statewide for the entire season (April 15-May 31). Hunters cannot purchase both a firearms and archery-only license.

• Licensed hunters ages 17 and younger may hunt statewide for the entire season (April 15-May 31) with firearms or archery equipment.

Turkey Facts from the National Wild Turkey Federation  (Along with random thoughts from an old hunter)

• When the NWTF was founded in 1973, there were about 1.3 million wild turkeys in North American. Now there are over 6.5 million. (I didn’t count them all myself, but the number was on the Internet so it must be true.)

• Their diet consists mostly of seed, fruits, vegetation, and insects. (This is true. Sometimes you will spend hours watching them eat as you try desperately to attract them with decoys and turkey calls.)

• The average lifespan for a turkey is 2.5 years; adult toms weigh between 18 and 30 pounds, while hens average 17 pounds. (My hunting partner weighed one in at over 26 pounds, and that was without holding his thumb on the scale. I was happy he shot it, because he had to carry it out.)

• Turkeys can fly at speeds over 55 mph, and can run 25 mph. (Since it is difficult for old guys to travel that fast, we usually wait for them to come to us.)

• Turkeys are intelligent wild animals, and they are very wary of humans. Their keen eyesight and excellent hearing allows them to detect even the slightest amount of movement, so hunting them is challenging. Since they can rotate their heads to allow for a 360 degree field of vision, patience is extremely important for veteran and novice hunters. (Many of us have scared off a potential Thanksgiving dinner with inadvertent movements.)

• Adult toms are typically larger in size and more colorful than hens, with colors of red, white and blue being noticeable on their head and neck. A male turkey’s feathers also will be closer to black and have a more vibrant sheen, while a hen turkey will generally be more brown in appearance. (Please note that this is entirely opposite of the human species, where the females are always better looking.)

What do you need to hunt turkeys?

• A shotgun or a bow. Most hunters use 12 or 20 gauge shotguns, but this year Minnesota hunters can use a 410 as long as they use the appropriate premium ammunition. It is important to pattern your gun so you understand how your gun and ammunition will respond at various distances.

• Decoys—hen, tom, and jake decoys are options. Prices range from $15 to well over $150.

• Calls—There are box calls, striker calls and mouth calls. You need to learn the basic sounds like cluck, purr, putt and yelp, to start. As your ability increases, you can add the more advanced sounds and learn to create dynamics within those sounds to keep the birds listening

Checklist for safety:

1. Always keep your gun’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

2. Treat every gun as if it is loaded.

3. Only load or cock a gun when you are at your shooting location.

4. Identify your target and verify beyond your target before shooting.

5. Keep the muzzle clear. Never let anything obstruct the muzzle of a gun or allow it to come in contact with the ground.

6. When you finish shooting, put the trigger safety in the “on” position and unload the gun. Store guns so they are inaccessible to untrained shooters.

Save the Habitat

The Thunderin’ Toms provided a workshop along with free seed for conservationist and hunters interested in developing food plots to enhance wildlife habitat. We donated our planting equipment to the Pine County Soil and Water Conservation District so that anyone interested in developing habitat for wildlife can access it. The Toms have also continued their efforts to preserve oak trees they have sprayed and caged over the last 8 years in the county’s three Wildlife Management Areas. Some of the trees have reached over 12 feet in height.

Honoring Those Who Serve

The Thunderin’ Toms began the Turkeys for Vets campaign in Pine County in 2013. We have given away over 800 turkeys to honor service members during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Chris’ Foods and Daggett’s Grocery provide discounts for the turkeys, and Ben Weiner, with the help of Pine County veterans’ organizations and the Toms board members, help arrange for the delivery of 102 turkeys in 2019.    

Save the Hunt Mentor Hunt

The Pine County Thunderin’ Toms raised funds for our mentor hunt program by raffling off a gun. We then offered a “New Hunter Course” for young hunters at Adrenaline Archery. Mentors took six young hunters into the fields for the 2019 spring season. We are also looking for additional mentors and hunting land for the 2020 season. If you are interested or know of some good places to hunt, please contact us.

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