There’s no better place to hunt turkeys
Vic, my turkey dog, a Vizsla (member of the pointer group), and I begin our fall hunting adventure together, typically setting up where Vic scattered a flock of turkeys. Vic lays next to my left leg with the look of happiness only a dog can express at a glance. As the scattered turkeys start their lost “kee kee” whistles looking to find each other in order to regroup, we know that’s my cue to start lost yelping and assembly calling. In the case of scattered gobblers, coarse yelps, and aggressive purrs can bring them back into the gun.
I love it when the woodlands are filled with the sounds of turkeys whistling and yelping at each other and back at us. Vic and I then become part of the flock, talking back and forth. As the conversation continues, Vic stiffens on a laying point towards the direction of the approaching turkeys. My gun will be up at the ready. There are two tags in my pocket and with a couple of gunshots, I’ll be hoping to validate those.
Turkeys are not just another upland bird to be flushed and shot. You can certainly do that; it’s legal. However, to a traditional turkey hunter like me, turkeys are special birds that require more finesse to tag. After all, what other upland game bird can be called in?
And there is no better place to hunt turkeys than in Wisconsin. The combination of seasons, habitat and the fact I can take my dog along in the fall make it turkey hunting heaven.
The Wisconsin Slam
Summer turkey? Wait you can’t shoot turkeys in the summer. There is only a spring and fall season, right?
Most think of Wisconsin’s two turkey seasons; spring (April 15 to May 26) and Fall (Sept. 12 to Dec. 31 — closes during nine-day gun deer season then reopens at the end of deer season).
But if you check the calendar, the fall turkey season dates overlap the official calendar dates of summer and winter. Summer officially runs June 21 to Sept. 22 allowing one to bag a summer turkey in the fall season, and winter officially starts on Dec. 22 giving Wisconsin fall turkey hunters a 10-day opportunity to shoot a “winter” turkey.
It was about eight years ago when it dawned on me that Wisconsin hunters can shoot a turkey during each of the four calendar-based seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall and winter.
Think of it as “The Wisconsin Slam” — taking a turkey in each of the seasons. Who do you know who has accomplished this? No trophies are awarded, and there is no official recognition. It’s all about the personal satisfaction a turkey hunter who understands turkeys and their year round behavior gets from this distinction.
Bar none; Wisconsin is a unique stand-alone wild turkey hunting state offering thousands of tags over the counter that in some units do not sell out by season’s end.
Why pursue a Wisconsin Slam?
The Wisconsin Slam is fun motivation to get out turkey hunting during a time when you might be distracted by something else to do or hunt. The “summer” and “winter” turkeys are harder to bag and offer a fun challenge. The vegetation is thick in the summer making the turkeys harder to find and see. Winter season is the opposite — there is no vegetation, so the turkeys are easier to find, but that means it is also easier for the turkeys to see the hunter and his dog.
Being able to hunt in all seasons of the year is a uniquely Wisconsin hunting opportunity that so many hunters are overlooking. The spring season is the most popular but I’d like to see more hunters take advantage of hunting turkeys during the four seasons of the year. Need more incentive? Summer, fall and winter turkeys are more tender and taste much better than the spring gobblers who are the survivors of winter starvation.
Not only can you complete a Wisconsin Slam but the state offers a variety hunting flavors.
Want to chase turkeys in miles of forests? Head to the northern big-woods. Want to try mountain turkey hunting? Wisconsin doesn’t have any “real” mountains but western Wisconsin does have some mighty steep bluffs. Marshland and river bottoms across the state can provide hunting with the feel of southern swamp turkeys, minus the large reptiles. Don’t forget to try southern Wisconsin for some prairie turkey hunting.
I’d argue that no other state offers such a myriad of turkey hunting opportunities.
Another important dimension to Wisconsin’s wild turkey hunting happened when turkey dogs were legalized for the fall turkey hunt season starting in 2011. It is widely believed hunting turkeys with dogs is a new method; however, turkey dogs in North America are one of the original turkey hunting practices which date back to the founding of Jamestown in 1607. A small contingent of turkey hunters are now bringing the sport of turkey dogging back.
In spring, gobblers advertise their location by gobbling. In fall, this is not normally the case which makes finding the turkeys more challenging. Thus, a turkey dog comes in handy during the fall season. A turkey dog’s job is to find the turkey flocks then flush them in different directions while barking or yipping to let his master know where the action is. When turkeys scatter in different directions, it is easier for the hunter to call the turkeys back together while setup with their dog at the point of the break.
Hunting with a dog in the fall brings the excitement that makes spring hunting seem tame by comparison. When turkeys respond for gathering they do so with gusto, gobbling, purring, kee kees, yelps — you name the call, and they do it. Many times a group of gobblers will not only gobble and purr they’ll fight with each other as they come back.
Turkey dogging also extends the time of contact and interaction with wild turkeys. The first contact is when the dog is flushing or breaking up the turkey flock this is particularly rewarding for the hunter who enjoys the flush of wild birds. The second contact occurs when the turkey answers your call. Yes, turkeys talk to you. Then of course, hopefully, the interaction brings the turkeys in close to you and your dog. A trembling dog close by your side adds to the excitement of the incoming birds as you know you have trained this dog with the skills required. It’s fun to share the excitement, and there’s no better place to do it than in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s turkey management plan
The Wisconsin Wild Turkey Management Plan, a product of coordination between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, key stakeholder groups, and the public, is available on the department’s website.
People can view an electronic copy of the plan by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for keywords “turkey management.”
The Wild Turkey Management Plan will guide decisions regarding the allocation of turkey permits, the structure of our spring and fall hunting seasons, the use of Wild Turkey Stamp funds, and many other aspects of turkey management in the state through 2025. The current plan reflects recent scientific research and changes in turkey distribution and hunting tradition. The management plan was guided in part by input received at 12 meetings held statewide in April and May 2012, as well as an online survey available during the same time period.
Article appeared in the Wisconsin Resource Magazine in August 2015. Written by charlie elk.