Forty years ago, turkey hunting in Wisconsin was just a figment of a hunter’s imagination. There were no resident birds in any part of the state and hunters had to travel to states like Missouri or Pennsylvania to pursue the elusive “thunder chicken.” A few conservation groups and state agencies decided to change the future of the wild turkey in Wisconsin beginning in the 1970’s. What followed was arguably the most successful reintroduction program ever and a sport that is increasing in popularity each year.
In 1974, Wisconsin made an agreement with the state of Missouri to trade roughed grouse for captured wild turkeys. Missouri gave up 334 of its native birds for 135 of Wisconsin’s roughed grouse. This time the state decided to introduce birds in Southwestern Wisconsin as the habitat closely resembled that of Missouri. The only difference this time was these were wild birds and were already adapted to the conditions they would face. The numbers began to grow quickly. So much so, the state starting trapping birds and transplanting them in other areas of the state to help spread out the population. Areas were picked that resembled the habitat the birds were transported from. The southern and northern areas of the Kettle Moraine State Forest were some of the locations birds were released. These areas continue to have large populations of birds.
By 1983, the state had enough birds that the DNR decided to have its first traditional spring turkey hunting season. 1200 tags were issued for a very small hunting area in the western part of Wisconsin. During the first season, 182 Tom turkeys were tagged for a success rate of 15%. It wasn’t until 1989 that Wisconsin opened up a fall turkey hunt which allowed the harvest of any sex of turkey. This was the start of what would prove to be a very successful hunting program in Wisconsin.
In 2009, Wisconsin set a record for spring turkey harvest. A total of 52,581 turkeys were registered throughout the state. This total led the entire country; beating out the states you would consider having great turkey hunting. Missouri had 44,713 birds registered, Pennsylvania 43,680, Michigan 41,000, and Alabama 36,600. This season helped to put Wisconsin on the map as a world-class turkey hunting destination. For the spring of 2013, a record 234,420 tags were available to both residents and non-residents.
With the number of hunters in the field chasing birds, you need more than just luck on your side to punch a tag for a long beard. For me, scouting for the spring season starts on the first of the year. Driving around and marking locations of birds helps me to narrow down possible places to hunt when the season arrives. One of the most important tools that I use for scouting and locating birds is mapping software for my Garmin GPS units from onXmaps (formally known as HuntingGPSMaps). The mapping chips they offer work seamlessly with both my handheld unit and my Nuvi for the car. Together they provide the hunter with locations of public hunting grounds as well as the names of private land owners for the majority of the state of Wisconsin.
Do it yourself hunters need to have a plan before heading into the field, as knowledge of a hunting area and natural hunting skills are only part of what make the difference between eating tag soup or fresh turkey. Today’s hunters have more technology at their fingertips than their forefathers did. Using a GPS unit, a hunter can pinpoint his exact location and plot a course to the area they plan to intercept a weary Tom. Adding an onXmaps chip to your Garmin unit will give you an advantage over the average hunter that is also trying to punch a tag. This technology will also give a DIY hunter the advantage to navigate the checkerboard of public land that some hunters don’t even know exists.
In Wisconsin, the vast majority of land is privately owned and can make hunting challenging. One benefit of the onXmaps software is that it provides you the names of the private land owners. This is useful when scouting if you intend to knock on doors to ask permission. In my area, land owners generally won’t let you on to hunt deer, but if you ask about turkey you have a good chance they will say yes. Knowing who you are going to be dealing with before you ring that bell has proven beneficial. This technology replaces the old plat map books that you have to carry around in your vehicle. Now, you can plug the chip into a Garmin Nuvi unit and have the information in real time.
While knowing private landowner information is beneficial, the real beauty of the onXmaps products is the information about public hunting land. Even though the information is public knowledge and easily found, most hunters don’t spend the time doing the research. Having quick access on a GPS unit takes the time out of searching for your next honey hole. Throughout the state, we have a mixture of small parcels of public land as well as vast tracts of land that anybody can hunt. While driving around looking for birds ahead of the season, you can always mark the spots on your GPS so that you can check back again to hopefully figure out a Tom’s pattern.
Hunters that own the Hunt Wisconsin chip can also plug it into their computer to have access to the same information. All you have to do is download the free Garmin Basecamp software and you can view all of the public and private land information before you hit the road. This is very useful if you are not hunting in the area you live or want to look ahead for areas to hunt. You can also buy the Google Earth add-on that will not only show you information about the areas you hunt, but will also show topography information in 3D.
Another options that hunters have is the onXmaps Hunt Premium app for mobile devices. There are apps for both Android and iOS devices. The app is free to download and also comes with a seven day free trial for one state. This combination is great for the hunter on the go or an impromptu scouting mission. For $29.99, you can purchase a subscription for the state of your choice and have access to a ton of information. With the app, users can select from a few different base maps including streets, topography, and satellite images. This is hands down the best product for hunters that don't own a handheld GPS unit or want this information even when they leave their unit back at home. The app does have full functionality and allows hunters to mark waypoints just as they would on a handheld GPS unit.
While most hunters would argue that they head into the field to get away from technology and the daily grind, there should be a place in every hunters arsenal for a GPS unit and mapping software. Not only will it help you get back to camp, but it could also be the difference between going home empty handed or with a big Tom. Most turkey hunters will brag about the new call or decoy they bought. While these items may in fact help produce a successful hunt, why not brag about the bird you tagged on a piece of land that nobody else was hunting. Turkey hunting isn't any different than any other game we pursue. Scouting and preparation are generally the key to filling a tag.
With the onXmaps products, you can have a serious advantage over the other hunters by knowing exactly where you are going on the first day of your season. Driving around looking for birds after your first spot doesn't produce could prove to be a waste of time. Having spots already located on your GPS unit means you will spend more time in the field and less time searching when the clock is ticking.