Mar 10, 2016

Wisconsin Turkey Hunting

By: Wisconsin Turkey Commander Loren Voss

Who would have thought that a 67-year-old lifelong resident of Wisconsin would be writing about turkey hunting in Wisconsin?

Born in the 40’s in Wisconsin and not seeing a turkey here until the 70’s, I never thought we would have turkeys come to our state.

But due to sportsmen and women of Wisconsin, NWTF (National Wild Turkey Federation and the Wisconsin DNR (Department of Natural Resources) our state now ranks high in places to turkey hunt.

Remember to support organizations like the NWTF for the great work they do for wild turkeys.  And don’t forget that when you support organizations like the NWTF, what they do spills over to help many other animals.

Short history of turkey hunting in Wisconsin

Wisconsin had tried in the 60’s to plant turkeys in the Necedah Wildlife Refuge but they died out after a terrible winter. In 1976, Wisconsin decided to trade the state of Missouri some ruffed grouse for 45 wild turkeys. By 1983, Wisconsin had its first spring turkey hunt. As flocks got larger, birds were moved to other locations. In 1989, the first fall turkey hunt was available.

During the first years, you could only hunt until noon and turkeys were mostly in the southwestern part of the state. Now, Wisconsin has turkey flocks in every county in the state. I never thought that we would be able to shoot multiple turkeys in Wisconsin by buying leftover turkey tags. Turkey hunting license sales in the state are about $750,000. There are 130,000 turkey hunters and we harvested 41,000 birds last spring and about 4,250 in the fall.

The Wisconsin record bird weight is 34.5 pounds. The United States record, from Kentucky, is 37.5 pounds.

Wisconsin Turkey Commander

I have hunted turkeys for more than 40 years and have personally harvested over 100 birds.

Because in Wisconsin we can now purchase extra tags, I have had some great experiences. I have had occasions where three toms have come into my decoys. And, because I had two tags for that season, I was able to get 50 pounds of turkey with one shot. One tom was 26 pounds and the other was 24 pounds, that’s some good turkey meat!

One year, I had tags for a couple of areas in the same week of one season. I got what my son’s father-in-law called, “the trifecta.” I shot a jake on Wednesday (I needed another hide for a decoy), I got a nice tom on Thursday, and shot a bearded hen on Friday. Because I was allowed to purchase extra tags, I harvested all three of the legal birds, possible in Wisconsin, in three days during the spring season. (Note: During the spring season, only bearded birds are allowed to be harvested. Some hens do have beards. In the fall, both toms and hens are legal with the appropriate tag.)

My record year was eight toms and I have hunted in many different states.

I have had the privilege to call and spend time with many people -- wounded warriors, first-time hunters and kids with special needs. I love any type of hunting, but being with people that have to put so much effort into what most people take for granted are my best times.

I use all of the various calls; diaphragm, box, slate and the old Indian wing bone calls that I make myself.  What I find really rewarding is to make a call out of the wing bones of the first bird someone has harvested.  The appreciation and joy it brings makes it all worth the effort.

I also have done and do turkey seminars throughout the state (I will be doing my turkey seminars at the Milwaukee Sports Show in March of 2016) and have had many fantastic experiences with some great people because of my turkey hunting.

Dan Small, of the Outdoor Wisconsin Show (which is in its 32nd year), asked me to be involved in a turkey hunting and calling video for him. As Dan hunted, he and his crew got to watch a large tom strut for more than three hours. However, the bird would not come close enough for a shot. To Dan’s disappointment, I went out the next morning and shot the bird. Dan is a great guy and being able to get the bird the next morning and rub it in a little was fun (as most hunters will agree)! It’s called hunting, not gathering, and sometimes the hunt just does not work out the way you want it to.

What do you need to do and have to turkey hunt?

First, find people like me who want to get more people involved in turkey hunting. Get them to take you out turkey hunting. Trust me; there are lots of us around!

Go to turkey seminars around the state. Most sport shops, large sport stores (Cabela’s, Gander Mountain), sports shows and the DNR present turkey seminars.

You will need a gun (I prefer a 3 ½ inch 12-gauge with turkey choke) or bow that you have practiced with so the bird is harvested and not wounded.

For new hunters, a pop-up blind with a comfortable chair is recommended. Turkeys can see unbelievably well. They are not the smartest bird, but they spook very easily and run or fly at the slightest movement. It was many years before I felt comfortable hunting without a blind. I still use a blind sometimes, especially when it is raining, I am in a new area or I think I may be hunting for a long time. I have one hunting spot where I am extremely lucky. The farmer is a cancer survivor like me, and we built a couple of 4-foot wide by 8-foot long roofed buildings along his fence lines. Now that’s turkey hunting in comfort! 

You also need a couple of good turkey calls. The various calls you can use are diaphragm, box, push button box, slate and the old Indian wing bone. For new hunters I recommend the push button box calls or the box call. These are easier to learn.

You will need a good set of camouflage clothes and boots that are comfortable.

A good decoy will help bring the birds closer. I personally do not like the decoys that spin. I believe the hen decoys should always be facing the hunter. The natural way is for the hen to come to the tom. I think that if the tom thinks the hen can see him, he stops coming in. I have skinned and treated the hide with the feathers of some of my birds, attached the hide to a decoy and made, what amounts to, a cheap mounted bird. This type of decoy works fantastic.

Now you have to do your homework to find a place to hunt with turkeys.

Scouting for birds

Drive around and ask landowners if you can hunt, find public hunting grounds or look for fields with turkeys.

When you find a spot, listen for gobbling and look for feathers, droppings, scratched up areas and roosting areas (you will see trees that are white from droppings with droppings all around them).

Also, look for dusting bowls. Turkeys scratch dust and lay in the dust so when bugs get on their feathers, they latch onto the dust and the turkeys shake the dust, with the bugs, off.

Look for fields where birds are feeding and ask the landowner where they have been seeing birds. Many turkey hunters are using trail cameras as a scouting tool, also.

I have hunted many years and am blessed to have many areas that I have hunted, so long, in fact, I no longer have to do much scouting. If the topography does not change, the birds will be in the same area year after year.

Now get out in God’s creation and enjoy the hunt!