DNR celebrates 50th anniversary of turkey reintroduction and prepares for spring hunting season
For the past fifty years, wild turkeys have expanded their range north into the dense Minnesota landscape.
Spotting a turkey along the North Shore is undoubtedly a surprise for those lucky to see one. The migration of turkeys into the northern Minnesota terrain reflects the strength and adaptability of the large bird species.
“A lot of people think that wild turkeys cannot handle the cold weather of northern Minnesota,” Blane Klemek, the regional wildlife manager with the Minnesota DNR, said. “That’s just simply not the case.”
Following habitat loss and over-harvesting of wild turkeys in the late 1800s and early 1900s, wild turkeys ceased to exist in Minnesota.
In the early 1970s, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the National Wild Turkey Federation partnered to reintroduce turkeys on the landscape.
Between 1971 and 1973, 29 adult wild turkeys were trapped in Missouri and transplanted to southeastern Minnesota. The reintroduction efforts proved to be successful. The DNR continued reintroduction efforts in the northern counties of Hubbard and Polk in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Now, fifty years after the initial reintroduction, the population has grown to more than 70,000 wild turkeys statewide. The DNR states that turkeys inhabit all 87 counties in Minnesota.
“This is a good reason as any that I can think to celebrate the turkey reintroductions of the state of Minnesota as a success story that it is,” Klemek said.
As the population of turkeys grew, the DNR allowed limited hunting permits within targeted areas to manage the populations. Klemek said in the first five or six years following the reintroduction, the DNR approached turkey hunts conservatively. But over time, as the turkey’s range expanded and populations remained stable, the DNR allowed more licenses in larger turkey permit areas.
With the successful reintroduction efforts and the species’ resiliency, the DNR now allows a turkey hunting season statewide. On average, Klemek says hunters harvest about 12,000 birds per year.
The spring turkey season starts on April 12 and wraps up on May 31. Klemek said this would be his fourteenth-year turkey hunting in northern Minnesota. His interest in turkey hunting began in 2008 when he was involved with turkey reintroduction efforts in Clearwater County.
“I got to hold some of these turkeys in my arms and release them,” Klemek said. “That’s when I started getting the bug.”
Shortly after, Klemek attended an event hosted by the Minnesota DNR and the National Wild Turkey Federation with his son. They participated in a turkey hunt during the event, and his son harvested his first turkey. Since then, Klemek has been turkey hunting throughout Hubbard, Clearwater, Becker, and Beltrami Counties each spring and fall.
While turkey hunting is allowed in Cook County, it may take a few more years to have a healthy and stable turkey population along the North Shore. In the meantime, hunters will have to venture to the other 86 counties to harvest a bird.
In this week’s episode of the Outdoor News Podcast, host Kalli Hawkins speaks with Blaine Klemek, the regional wildlife manager with the Minnesota DNR in the northwest region, about the history of turkeys in Minnesota, the success of the reintroduction efforts and talks about the upcoming spring turkey hunting season. Audio below.