North Dakota's spring turkey season runs April 9 through May 15, and along the way thousands of hunters will spend some of the best days of spring scouting, sneaking, sitting and calling turkeys along rivers and streams, and in valleys and woods.
Our turkey population continues to maintain in most areas and is expanding in a few others. The State Game and Fish Department offered 6,720 turkey licenses for the spring season, an increase of 80 from last year. Ten years ago, North Dakota had about 2,900 spring licenses available.
The increase from last year is a result of slightly improved turkey production in spring 2010, mostly in the hunting units bordering the Missouri River.
Six of the 22 hunting units have increased license numbers this year, while three have fewer licenses. Unit 21, which encompasses most of Hettinger and Adams counties, remains closed in 2011 due to lack of turkeys in the unit.
Hunting is the best method wildlife managers can use to balance wild turkey populations. On the same note, hunters in any situation prefer less competition. For example, a spring turkey hunter would rather not have a half-dozen other hunters within a few hundred yards of his or her calling site.
If you’ve ever observed turkeys, however, you know first-hand they tend to travel in social groups. That behavior sometimes creates difficulties for turkey population management.
For instance, if a group of turkeys seek shelter in the same general area each winter, the landowner is likely to welcome hunters to help thin the local population. However, allowing enough hunters in to take out an appreciable number of turkeys is not an easy process.
In spring especially, turkey hunters by nature would rather have the place to themselves on the day they have permission. Contending with numerous other hunters on the same property can be just as difficult as getting a turkey.
Simply communicating your options and expectations with a landowner can make a big difference. For instance, if you can pass up opening weekend when other groups are also on the property, perhaps you can return for an evening hunt during mid-week and avoid the competition.
Similarly, if you fill your tag, tell the landowner and other turkeys hunters with permission for the same property. Keep the lines of communication open and honest and it will extend opportunity for yourself and others and help manage the turkey population at the same time.
Another factor that will likely come into play in some areas this spring is that the bulk of the spring snow melt and the start of turkey season are going to occur at about the same time. River drainages around the state are going to have high running water that may occupy many landowners with efforts to protect roads, bridges, farm buildings and homes.
Hunters should understand that recreational hunting might take be less of a priority this spring. If you run into such a situation, be patient, polite and help out if possible to foster positive landowner relations.
And remember, the spring turkey seasons is five weeks long, so opportunities may improve as the season progresses.
Before you head out, don't forget you need more than just a tag to hunt spring turkeys. In addition to the lottery license/tag, hunters must purchase a 2011-12 hunting license, as last year's license expired March 31. In addition to the spring turkey license, hunters must have a fishing, hunting and furbearer certificate, and a general game and habitat license.
Also, hunters ages 16 and older must possess a small game license, or combination license.