Turkeys are a good spring option

The beginning of my 2009 spring turkey season was on a Wednesday evening, Feb. 11, as I sat in the basement contemplating whether to apply for a license or take the year off.


The beginning of my 2009 spring turkey season was on a Wednesday evening, Feb. 11, as I sat in the basement contemplating whether to apply for a license or take the year off.

Unlike deer, for which many hunters haven't missed applying for decades, a spring turkey license application is not an automatic act for me and other turkey hunters. While a few will apply without checking their work or personal calendars for potential conflicts, I think most of us have a history of weighing the time commitment for scouting and hunting before fully immersing ourselves into chasing April gobblers.

And it looks like more and more of us are willing to make that commitment as the years go by.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department first held a spring turkey hunting in 1982 after more than 20 years of only fall seasons (except for a small experimental spring hunt in 1976). That 1982 spring involved two areas and 72 licenses.

By 1988 more than 500 licenses were available, and 10 years after that the state's turkey population allowed for 1,587 licenses. This seems like a lot until you consider that in each of the last two years, more than 7,000 spring licenses have been available.


Along with the turkey population expansion we've also watched turkey hunting interest grow. In 1998, 5,151 people applied for a spring license, and last year 7,996 put in. That's a pretty good example of how a healthy population can create more widespread interest.

That's not to say hunters will only target species with ample populations, because every form of hunting has its diehards who will go regardless of expectations for success. But with turkeys, it's almost a form of, "If you build it, they will come." High interest has followed the population, and that's a good thing because turkey numbers could easily grow to excess without current high hunting pressure. As it is the North Dakota hunters seem to be more than happy to gobble up (couldn't resist) any spring turkey licenses allotted.

Turkey hunting interest is growing along with other expanding outdoor opportunities like spring snow goose hunting and ice-out fishing. While some are drawn to the open-water rivers and the first lakes to lose their ice, others seek the thunderous cackle of white geese across the sheet water, the lure of watching spring grow from April to May in the hills and woods as turkeys begin their mating courtship is a unique.

While the application deadline has passed for this year, the lucky winners in the turkey lottery can begin their preparation, while those who didn't draw a license in a tough unit can look forward to next year when they'll have a better chance because of an extra bonus point.

The Game and Fish Department considers pursuit of a spring gobbler as more of a traditional hunt , while the fall season, because it can involve harvest of female turkeys, is more geared toward population management goals - either encouraging gradual growth or trimming back by increasing or reducing the number of licenses.

The spring turkey season in North Dakota opens April 11 and runs through May 17. And if your luck in the spring drawing was limited to adding a preference point, the fall turkey deadline will be July 1 with a scheduled opening date of Oct. 10.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: . Read his blog daily at

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