Apply Now For Spring Turkey Hunts

A mere 30 years ago they could have never imagined that wild turkey hunting in Minnesota could become the booming sport that it is today.   Indeed, when those first birds from Missouri were released down in the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, and at other satellite locations in S.E. Minnesota, it was with crossed fingers that wildlife managers expected to ever see a population explosion and the reintroduction of a majestic game bird to our state.

But sometimes with a little luck and some proper planning things will go better than expected.   Way back when Minnesota was only a territory and still a destination only for explorers, reports have often referred to wild turkeys inhabiting the state.   Still, through most of the 1800’s and 1900’s, Minnesota was largely a state without a wild turkey population.   Even earlier during the 1900’s there were attempts to release birds into the wild…but the populations never took.   If you were from Minnesota and wanted to seriously hunt wild turkeys, you needed to go to the western Dakota’s, down to the southern states, or out in the colonial states of the East Coast.


Minnesota’s spring 2005 turkey hunt will begin in mid-April, but if you want to hunt the birds you must apply at an ELS agent on or before Friday, December 3rd.   Sportsmen can even apply online by clicking here.

If you’re familiar with how the turkey hunt has been conducted in Minnesota much has remained the same.   This year there will be an additional 4,300 licenses given out in the permit areas so applicants stand an even better chance to draw a tag.   A total of six 5-day seasons and two 7-day seasons later in the year will be held during the spring of 2005.   For the first time ever, applicants in the last three seasons will be asked to choose a 2nd choice tag, but best of all they will not lose any preference points by doing that if their 2nd choice is awarded.

Archery hunters are also given some increased opportunities at turkeys this coming spring.   Tags may be purchased for any zone that typically has over 50 or more permits available during the last two hunting time periods.   Hunters applying who and are successful in getting a tag through the lottery, however, are exempt from the new spring archery license.   Check out the Minnesota DNR web site for additional details.

No doubt about it in the 21st Century Minnesota is becoming a quality state for hunting turkeys.   And if you are new to turkey hunting, there is no better time to hunt these wily birds than in the spring during mating season.   But be forewarned…turkey hunting is highly addictive.   I have often contended that a hunter who experiences a quality turkey hunt will be spoiled for other hunts.   Turkey hunting holds a special interaction (calling) with the prey that just isn’t present with most other forms of hunting.   One of the longest stretches of calling on a big tom I ever experienced lasted over 1 ½ hours.   That’s over 90 minutes of heart-pounding excitement.   With duck or goose hunting, your calling might last a few minutes.   Same with predators…if you’ve called them for 20 minutes with no response…it’s likely time to move on to a new spot.

Most wild turkey addicts live and dream about wild turkeys all year long.   I think it is only appropriate that the Minnesota DNR has its spring wild turkey deadline in early December so a hunter can spend the long winter months preparing and anticipating.   After all, to be successful you can’t just pick up a mouth or a slate call and expect to be proficient right away.   It takes much practice and patience to learn the proper, effective turkey calling techniques.

In Minnesota, the process to go spring wild turkey hunting begins by applying to an ELS agent and paying a $3 fee.   The way I see it, this is a very small price to pay for a chance to celebrate one of the true wildlife conservation success stories of all time.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Fox Sightings on the Rise

I’ve always appreciated catching a glimpse of a fleeing red fox. There’s just something about their sleek, brightly colored appearance that has fascinated me ever since my youth.

I grew up on a farm and like most farm boys you were expected to “help out with the chores” beginning at an early age. I think it must have been about the ripe old age of 8 years old or so when my nightly task after school was to chase the cows home from whatever pasture in which they were found grazing. So, after school I would set out with my three canine accomplices (Poochie, Queeny and Sharky) to complete the necessary task.

I distinctly remember one night in particular as if it happened only yesterday. The cattle on this evening happened to be in one of the far pastures which meant about a ½ mile journey to and from the barnyard area. Most nights I would just take the dogs with me and the cows, knowing the routine, would willingly head for the barnyard.

Well, this night was a little different. I was walking on one of the well established cow paths sort of daydreaming when suddenly I was face to face with a critter that I knew instantly was not one of my dogs. Truth be known, the red fox was much small than all of my dogs…but in the mind of an 8 year old it could have just as well been a bear. Both of our eyeballs—at the sight of one another—were likely as large as golf balls.

The fox bolted in one direction and I bolted in the other direction—heading home. That night I remember running so fast that I actually beat the cows home. I soon came to the realization that I didn’t really chase the cows home each night…they were simply conditioned to see a young boy with his dogs…and they used this to prompt them to head home for “the good stuff” that dad would throw in the feed bunk.

That night I described my hair-raising experience to my father informing him that there was a wolf out in the pasture and that a young boy should not be chasing cows out there. Of course he laughed, and used the experience to do a little teaching about nature. Soon he had me convinced that it was not a big, bad wolf I had seen; rather, it was a red fox. Absolute proof came when he showed me a picture from a book and I confirmed that was the culprit causing shivers to run up and down my young spine.

Ever since this memorable day over 30 some years ago I have held a special place in my heart for red fox. I’ve trapped fox…I’ve hunted them…but most of all I have appreciated their existence in the ecosystem. Sure, they’re a predator and they can do some not-so-good things to our pheasant and duck populations during nesting season, but nature is not always kind that way and we must accept it. When populations get out of control that is when trapping and hunting play a vital role in wildlife management.

In recent years the fox population here in southeastern Minnesota has been what I would say was somewhat depressed. I could go a couple years between occasional sightings which was unusual. Typically, I would see them either in a road-kill state or running from one side of the road to the other during my travels. But not lately. “Mr. Red” has been a hard customer to find…and probably for several reasons. By no means is this scientifically deduced, but I think one of the big reasons the red fox has become so scarce lately has a lot to do with the population boom of the coyote. Twenty five years ago there were few coyotes to be found in this part of the state. Today, however, the coyote population is way out of control and it’s certainly suppressing the fox population to points where they are hardly seen anymore—at least until this year.

The Red Fox has a cousin, of sorts, the gray fox which to some extent can also be competition. It seems in areas where gray fox are quite prevalent the red fox population tends to be more suppressed. While red fox tend to prefer the more open meadows and fields, the gray fox, on the other hand, is more of a woodland dweller. In fact, one of the gray’s capabilities has been noted that it can climb trees—you will never find a red fox displaying this sort of behavior.

Indeed, during the past week I have seen three live reds and two dead ones lying along the road. I can honestly say that I have not witnessed this many fox during the past five prior years…so obviously the population must be on the rebound. Like most animals in nature, fox populations tend to run in cycles…and according to one of my old trapping manuals it stated that typically fox populations peak during years that end in “5.” If this holds true, then the next couple of years could be banner years for those of us who fancy seeing “Mr. Red.”

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Why Not Purchase a Wildlife Food Plot

It’s no big secret how a corn field is like a deer magnet in the late fall season. This is particularly true during the end of the harvest when unpicked corn fields can be quite hard for wildlife and hunters to find. But to the smart hunter, he can help create some of his own opportunities by simply using these food plots carefully and strategically.

A few days ago I was talking with my friend, Jeff, who explained to me that he bought a cornfield with a few of his hunting buddies. My immediate reaction was “you did what?” “Yea,” he said, “we talked a farmer into leaving a patch of corn near the woods where we hunt. We paid him $300 for about half an acre.” Essentially what Jeff and his friends did was pay the farmer to leave the corn in his field unpicked until spring. Jeff told me he didn’t really know if that was a good deal for the farmer or not, but he seemed satisfied.

Well, after hearing that I sat down to do the math. Assume a farmer averages 175 bushels of corn to the acre. I think that is a fair estimate as some fields are more fertile…others are less so. Then figure corn at about $2.00/bushel (this is a good estimate because even though a farmer could likely contract for a higher price…he experiences some savings by not combining the crop and having to haul it to market).

Jeff’s little purchase set him back $300. But the farmer was all smiles because for his ½ acre plot he could have realized maybe 90 bushels of yield that at $2 would have made him roughly $180 in the market. Getting $300 for the opportunity cost of not harvesting $180 worth of crops was a good deal…I dare say for the farmer, for Jeff…but most importantly for the wildlife in the area.

Certainly I don’t mean for this to be a lesson in grain commodity economics, instead…I want to point out how a group of sportsmen pooled their money to pay off the farmer…and in exchange they just might have significantly improved their success for later this fall. This holds true for this group of hunters whether it’s for pheasants or during firearms deer season.

Consider how a small group of, let’s say six hunters, pooled their money into the example I described above. Think of how each of these hunters has potentially increased their chances for a successful late season hunt. Furthermore, this wildlife food plot will be around when the hunting seasons close providing food and shelter for wildlife all through the winter. In some areas, a food plot could mean the difference in whether or not the deer will even winter in that particular area. If there is no food or adequate shelter, they will likely go elsewhere to find it.

I think more sportsmen need to think about how a wildlife food plot could benefit the area where they hunt. Certainly I am not advocating hunting right where the plot is (akin to baiting), but just having the food near a parcel of woods could be a big boon in the number of wildlife sightings during the season.

A group of hunters, in fact, might decide to use the food plot as a refuge in effect not allowing any hunting in that area. The choice is really up to the sportsmen to decide. The bottom line is either way a wildlife food plot will serve as a “welcome mat” of sorts, for many different species of wildlife.

Food and shelter are two vital essentials to any wildlife species. The other big requirement is water. When you develop a management plan to incorporate these plots into your hunting areas you are bound to improve your success. Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen…you give a little bit back to nature for the opportunity to take just a little bit. Like I said, how you use the food plot (to hunt or not to hunt) is up to you…but for a small investment you might just reap some big dividends toward your future hunting success.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.