‘Tis the season for giving thanks and for turkeys! As Thanksgiving approaches and the hunting season is in full swing, turkeys and the delightful meal they make are on a lot of minds right now. At one point in Wisconsin’s history, there were hardly any turkeys at all in our state. Now, they roam far and wide, thanks to the Department of Natural Resources and conservationists.
Back in the 1800s, wild turkeys were nowhere to be seen in Wisconsin. During this time, open land was being sold to future farmers who cleared it for farming and for their homes. Unfortunately, this destroyed habitats where turkeys often resided.
Another factor that hurt the turkey population at the time was hunting because there were no conservation efforts to prevent overharvesting. During the initial settlement of Wisconsin, hunting was the most viable way to get food for families since they didn’t have well-stocked grocery stores like we have today.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at reintroducing the wild turkey, the DNR finally got some results with their efforts in the 1970s with turkeys from Missouri. Missouri’s population of ruffed grouse was struggling, so our state trapped and moved some ruffed grouse to Missouri in exchange for turkeys born and raised there. This might even be a better trade than getting number 4 from the Atlanta Falcons for a draft pick.
From that point forward, the turkey population in Wisconsin grew exponentially, and we now have a large turkey population that keeps growing. The DNR monitors the population, dividing the state up into zones to account for population spread. As a result, the hunting season for the top part of the state is shorter because there are fewer turkeys there.
Given the steady growth and stabilization of the turkey population, we can now allow more hunters to get out there and enjoy the hunt. To do this, we made a few legislative changes.
One bill that I introduced this session allows a person to transfer a turkey license and tag to anyone who is eligible to have it. Current law allows a person to transfer a turkey license and tag to a disabled person or a minor, but not other adults or family members over the age of 18.
Another bill requires the DNR to create a special hunting event outside the regularly scheduled spring and fall turkey hunting seasons for disabled veterans to go out turkey hunting with assistance provided by DNR mentors. While getting people out to turkey hunt is important, it is even better when we can honor and help our veterans.
With all the holidays coming up, I hope you get to spend some quality time with the ones you love most. I know I have a lot to be thankful for, and I look forward to gathering around the table with family and eating good food.
If you go out hunting for turkey, I hope you get one in time for Thanksgiving!