Wild turkey populations expanding in northeastern Minnesota

Wild turkey populations are on the rise in northeastern Minnesota, and the birds are showing up in areas where they haven’t been seen in the past, reports the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Once considered limited to southeastern Minnesota’s agricultural fields and rolling bluff country, wild turkeys have expanded their range by finding areas of suitable habitat as far north as Itasca and southern St. Louis counties and in areas along the north shore. The unusual presence of a new forest game bird has prompted questions about the bird’s expanding numbers and opportunities for hunting.

“The Department has not released or relocated wild turkeys to northern Minnesota since 2009 when birds were released in northwestern Minnesota,” said DNR forest game bird coordinator Ted Dick. “The increase of wild turkeys in northern Minnesota is likely a combination of range expansion of existing flocks from Aitkin and Carlton counties, while some of the sightings are believed to be escaped or released heritage breed birds from captive flocks.”

Turkeys are an adaptable bird capable of foraging and surviving on a variety of food sources including acorns, berries, grain, buds, ferns, grasses, insects, and small frogs and snakes.

Turkey hunting was expanded statewide in 2016 by adding much of northeastern Minnesota to existing permit area 508 which now covers all of northeastern Minnesota and extends from north of highway 95 near St. Cloud and Princeton, northward to the Canadian border.

While turkey hunting success rates in northeastern Minnesota are likely low compared to more southern locations, hunters do have opportunities to pursue birds with shotgun and archery equipment in these expanded areas. The spring wild turkey hunt runs from April 12 to May 31, and is comprised of six separate time periods. In order to hunt the first two time periods, hunters must apply in the lottery and be selected for a license. Hunters may purchase licenses ($27) over the counter for the remaining four spring time periods. A fall turkey hunting season runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 29.

Anyone interested in learning more about hunting wild turkeys can attend a hunter education and wildlife species course when offered.  More information about hunting wild turkeys, harvest information, and turkey hunting permit area map is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/turkey.