DULUTH - With a relatively early spring and most snow now gone in Minnesota's turkey-hunting range, turkey hunters are optimistic about their prospects. It's a fair bet that some turkey hunters are practicing their yelps with diaphragm-style calls - hands-free, of course - on their daily commutes.
Minnesota's spring wild turkey season opens Wednesday, April 12.
While the epicenter of turkey hunting remains southeastern Minnesota, the turkey population continues to do well in Carlton County, said Chris Balzer, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager in Cloquet.
"The last decade or so, we're seeing more and more turkeys moving north," Balzer said. "The winter of 2013-2014 knocked them back a bit, but they've been increasing ever since. Turkeys are pretty widespread in Carlton County."
Balzer said he would have expected that severe winter to be devastating for turkeys.
"They proved us wrong," he said.
Hunters had to apply through a lottery for turkey permits only for the first two hunting periods of this spring's season. Permits can be purchased over the counter for the remaining four periods. The final period ends May 31.
"It's a good year for turkey hunting," Balzer said. "Sometimes, that first season can be dicey with 2 feet of snow on the ground, but it should be good."
Turkeys aren't distributed evenly throughout Carlton County, he said.
"They're scattered around in pockets. Some of the best populations are probably on private land, where there's some agriculture and hayfields," he said. "They're a little less abundant in deep forest areas on public lands."
Balzer said he hasn't heard any gobbling yet, but he's seen plenty of turkey tracks on rural roads.
One good thing about being on the fringe of the turkey range is that hunters don't have to compete with many other hunters.
"I think there's plenty of room for hunters in Carlton County," Balzer said. "I haven't heard any reports of crowding, even on WMAs (wildlife management areas)."
In Minnesota's 2016 spring turkey hunting season, a total of of 49,991 permits were issued, including 11,449 youth permits. Hunters registered 12,313 turkeys, which was the second-highest harvest recorded and above the five-year average of 11,442.
As in Minnesota, recent mild winters in northwestern Wisconsin point to a good turkey season, although older gobblers may be hard to find, said Greg Kessler, Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager at Brule. Wisconsin's spring wild turkey hunt opens April 19.
"Most hunters are reporting seeing good numbers of birds, and with three mild winters in a row we should have an excellent season with a good number of both jakes and 2-year-old toms," Kessler said. "The older toms will be in short supply after the extremely hard winter of 2013-2014.
"There are many reports of toms gobbling very actively in the early mornings already and if the early snow melt and very moderate temperatures persist, the youth hunters should have excellent conditions in our first hunts of the year."
Wisconsin's youth turkey hunt is April 15-16.
The number of turkey permits for northwestern Wisconsin (Zone 6) remains the same in 2017 as it was in 2016 at 4,500 permits. Last spring's harvest in that zone was 813 birds for an overall success rate of 18.1 percent, Kessler said. Statewide, the same number of permits were available this spring as for last year at 240,768. The 2016 statewide success rate was 21.4 percent, with 45,390 birds harvested.