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DNR Encourages Social Distancing During 2020 Spring Turkey Season

April Also Marks Start Of New Fishing Regulations

Wild turkey
Melissa Ingells/WPR

Life in Wisconsin has changed in countless ways due to the new coronavirus, but at least one annual tradition returned Wednesday.

With outdoor activity deemed essential under the Evers administration’s safer-at-home order, 2020 spring turkey season is now open.

Turkey hunting is typically a solitary activity, according to a news release from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Officials warn it’s more important than ever to keep it that way.

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In many ways, it’s business as usual this turkey season, which runs from Wednesday to Tuesday, May 26. Each permit is valid for seven days and allows for hunting in one of seven areas around the state. Both factors make it easier to ensure social distancing among hunters, said Mark Witecha, an upland wildlife ecologist with the DNR.

“One of the great things about the turkey season here in Wisconsin is it spreads the pressure out over time and space,” he said.

In a normal year, that could mean a more successful hunt due to less competition, Witecha said. It also comes with the added benefit of few interactions between hunters, which is crucial this year as Wisconsin fights to slow its new coronavirus outbreak. About 85 percent of Wisconsin’s turkey hunting takes place on private land, Witecha also noted.

Members of the same household may hunt together. Otherwise, social distancing guidelines should be observed, he said.

Turkey permits are still available in five of the state’s seven hunting zones. Bonus spring turkey harvest authorizations can be purchased for $10 on the DNR’s licensing website.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the DNR is encouraging hunters and anglers not to travel far, said DNR policy specialist Meredith Penthorn. Witecha also advised hunters who do travel to bring their own supplies.

Some Wisconsin communities have asked seasonal visitors to stay away to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus. As Wisconsin Public Radio previously reported, many rural areas lack the medical resources to care for out-of-town patients.

Earlier this month, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism chose to suspend the sale of turkey permits to out-of-state hunters. Non-residents can still buy hunting and fishing permits in Wisconsin, Penthorn said. Witecha noted the “vast mast majority” of Wisconsin turkey hunters are residents of the state.

Last year, Wisconsin hunters harvested more than 38,000 birds during the spring season, DNR records show. Thanks to a relatively mild winter, the current turkey season should be a good one, Witecha said.

“Turkeys should have fared well through 2019, and I expect a fairly healthy population going into the breeding season this year,” he said.

April also marks the start of new fishing regulations from the DNR.

Under the new rules, anglers in much of the state can now catch-and-release largemouth and smallmouth bass year-round, Penthorn said. Whitefish and cisco bag limits have also been reduced. Local updates to fishing regulations can be found on the DNR’s website.

Some communities around the state have closed boat ramps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. With the fish harvest season opening next month, local anglers should check to see if their municipalities have established any social distancing guidelines that could affect their ability to fish, Penthorn said.

As the state grapples with the new coronavirus, Witecha hopes Wisconsinites can find some solace in the outdoors, he said.

“If there’s a silver lining to this, I hope it’s people maybe getting to reconnect with family, reconnecting with nature and getting that reminder of what’s truly important in life,” he said.