Mentors Introduce 237 Youth to Turkey Hunting

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This spring 237 youth were introduced to turkey hunting as part of a unique partnership among the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and families. Ninety-four of the participants bagged a bird. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s turkey population continues to expand, creating opportunities for hunters of all ages.

“Our youth turkey hunt program continues to grow and that’s great,” said Jay Johnson, DNR hunting recruitment and retention coordinator. “We had more youth hunters than ever, with a 39-percent success rate for harvesting a bird. Adult mentors did an excellent job of making the hunt meaningful, memorable and safe.”

Minnesota’s youth turkey hunt requires a parent or guardian to accompany the guide and youth on the hunt. This allows the youth and guardian to build a mentoring relationship that often means in the youth stays interested in hunting. Only the youth is allowed to harvest a bearded turkey during the youth hunt.

NWTF representatives recruit volunteer hunting guides from local chapters. Those guides secure permission to take youths ages 12-17 hunting on private land. Each youth must attend a wild turkey hunting clinic that focuses on topics and tips for youth hunters.

“This hunt is a perfect example of the creative way the DNR is partnering with stakeholder groups to accomplish the common goal of developing the next generation of hunters and conservationists,” Johnson said.

DNR’s efforts to increase Minnesota’s wild turkey population and expand the bird’s range are fueled by NWTF volunteers, and funds and revenue generated by turkey stamp sales.

A new study by Minnesota State University, Mankato graduate student Jennifer R. Snyders at the DNR’s Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Center in Madelia shows that the pre-settlement wild turkey range in Minnesota likely ran from Pipestone County to Goodhue County.

The DNR first held an authorized turkey hunt in 1978 when there were about 1,000 birds in Minnesota. All of these were in far southeastern Minnesota, according to Richard Kimmel, DNR farmland wildlife population and research group leader. Today there are an estimated 65,000 wild turkeys in Minnesota.

Wildlife managers, with assistance from NWTF and other volunteer groups, began annual trap-and-transplant programs in which birds are trapped in one area and moved to a new area. Flocks form and wild turkeys begin to increase their population and expand their range naturally.Since 1976, about 5,200 turkeys have been trapped, primarily in Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties, said Gary Nelson, Winona area wildlife manager. Those birds as well as turkeys brought in from Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Wisconsin have been released in 292 places in 70 of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

“The result of those efforts has been a phenomenal increase in wild turkey population and range,” said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief. “There now are literally thousands of birds across most of the southern two-thirds of Minnesota, providing an opportunity for nearly 38,000 hunters to harvest a turkey this spring.”

Youth completed their turkey season April 20, Minnesota’s spring wild turkey season runs through May 29.

“The birds are out there,” Simon said. “The most important thing for camouflaged-clad hunters to remember is to be absolutely sure they have a clear, safe shot at a wild turkey before they ever take the safety off.”