It's March in Wisconsin and people’s thoughts are beginning to focus on fishing rivers for walleyes and to the many hunters who successfully drew a permit, to turkey hunting. We’ve had some snow and cold weather lately, but overall the winter has been a good one for turkeys.
Much of the northern third of the state still has snow in the woods and most of the lakes still have ice, but I’ve been seeing turkeys displaying and strutting on sunny, southern hillsides while doing some scouting. The turkeys have done so well in my little corner of the state that it not is uncommon to see dozens of turkeys flocked together in a farmer’s fields as they spread manure or pick through unplowed and harvested fields. The turkeys pick through the manure looking for any corn or grain that passed through the milk cows.
I regularly drive country and rural roads looking and glassing the fields and woods looking for turkeys and deer. Though, the wild turkeys are bunched up now, they will soon disperse as the weather moderates and we get closer to their breeding season. But, if you see turkeys in an area there is a good chance that the birds will still be in that area when the season opens April 19th.
The Wisconsin Youth Turkey Hunt is April 16 and 16th. Early season scouting can greatly help in finding locations where there are good turkey populations for hunting . If you’ve drawn a permit for a specific zone, stop and ask some farmers if you can hunt their property. You’d be surprised that if you’re courteous and present yourself well, many farmers will still give hunting permission. Plus, most counties in some of the better turkey zones have public hunting grounds and state parks that are open to hunting turkeys in the spring.
The counties that I’m going to recommend are all in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. This is the area (Vernon County) where the wild turkeys that the state of Wisconsin traded to Missouri for ruffed grouse were originally released back in the 1970’s. This area was originally picked because it contained the proper habitat that wild turkeys need to thrive and prosper.
Some of these counties border the coulee valley area near the Mississippi River. This area is hilly and wooded with mostly oaks and other hardwoods that provide the turkeys with the food they need to survive in Wisconsin’s cold winters. Acorns (mast) and other nut- bearing trees provide much of the turkey’s food supply.
The wooded hillsides give turkeys good roosting spots out of the wind and cold of winter. There also are agricultural fields mixed in with the wood lots and the waste and unharvested grain can provide valuable food at critical times like we experienced this year. Many of the hillsides face the sun, so the turkeys can forage hills that are open and snow free for food. In the spring, only tom turkeys and bearded turkeys may be harvested.
There are other locations in central Wisconsin that also have excellent turkey populations, but some of the counties are close to larger cities and towns and public hunting areas may be crowded. Turkey hunting in most of the state is very good, particularly the southern half of Wisconsin. The turkey range has expanded over the years since their introduction with a decade of warmer than normal winters fueling their growth.
The area that I’m recommending includes; Vernon, Crawford, and Grant Counties that all border the Mississippi River.
Highway 61 runs through the middle of these hot turkey counties and is worth driving thru if your permit is for one of these counties. The other good turkey counties are just east of the above counties that they all border. These counties are; Lafayette, Iowa, and Richland. The other two counties that I’d suggest are; Sauk and Dane which are east of the above mentioned counties.
The Lower Wisconsin River runs through the middle of the “hot” counties and driving the river roads (try driving Highways 18 and 151) west toward the Mississippi River is another good way to scout for gobblers. Highway 33 starts in Sauk County and goes west through Vernon County to the Mississippi River traveling across some very prime turkey country.
All of these counties have acres of public hunting ground and some state parks that allow spring turkey hunting. The following state parks are open to hunting if you applied for the specific park; Governor Dodge State Park in Iowa County, Devils Lake State Park in Sauk County, Wyalusing State Park in Crawford County, and Mirror Lake State Park in Sauk County.
Before you can hunt spring turkeys in Wisconsin, you needed to apply for a spring permit in that Management Zone and time period of choice. The permits have already been issued, so hunters should know if they’ve been successful.
Remember that all turkeys are now registered by phone or online. There are no longer registration stations. If you failed to get a permit, you can check on line for zones and time periods where there are still permits available for over the counter sales. Check to see what zones and time periods are still open. Be safe and good luck!
Engberg is a contributor to Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com