Doug Leier: Get set for North Dakota's spring turkey season, which opens April 8
North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists are working to learn more about a bird that is wildly popular with hunters.
WEST FARGO – While the appearance of an American robin, emergence of a crocus or the first pitch at spring training might signal to some that spring has arrived, the real spring season in North Dakota opens April 8 with the turkey season and continues through May 14.
This year, 7,142 spring turkey tags were available, just 235 fewer than last year, with 22 units having more licenses available, eight with fewer and 11 remaining the same. Of note, unit 21 in Hettinger and Adams counties remains closed.
While turkeys seem to get hidden in the shadows of deer and pheasants, North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists are working to learn more about a bird that is wildly popular with hunters.
Rodney Gross, Department upland game management biologist, said little research has focused on turkeys in the state, leaving biologists to take their best guesses on things such as home ranges, peak nesting season, seasonal movements and peak breeding period.
“If you don’t know things about the species you’re trying to manage, you’re kind of flying in the wind,” Gross said.
A five-year study, in conjunction with UND, that kicked off earlier this winter, could answer these questions and others.
“This study could really open our eyes to a lot of different things that we didn’t know about turkeys in North Dakota,” Gross said.
This winter and next, Game and Fish Department personnel will employ rocket/drop nets to capture birds that have descended uninvited on private landowner feed supplies. The goal is to fit a total of 180 turkeys over the course of two winters with backpack-style GPS transmitters with VHF, which will allow researchers to track the birds.
While all of the marked turkeys will be tracked, Gross said some will be moved from the capture site and released at Department wildlife management areas and some, the control birds, will remain.
“The control birds remain because we want to see how they respond to having a big net shot over them and getting poked and prodded, as each turkey will have blood drawn,” Gross said. “We want to see how far these turkeys are traveling to gather at these private feed sites. Are they resident birds within a mile or are they coming from 10-15 miles away?”
Once turkeys are trapped, fitted with GPS backpacks, leg bands and released, monitoring of their movements and whereabouts begins immediately. The bulk of this duty will fall on UND doctoral student Cailey Isaacson, with help from Department personnel.
Some of the specific questions biologists hope to answer from the study include:
- Do home ranges differ between translocated birds compared with those simply trapped and released at the depredation site?
- How far do translocated birds move from the release site? Do they stay on the WMA where they were released, or do they return to the original areas?
- How do survival rates compare between translocated turkeys and the control birds?
- Do hens nest after being transported?
Odds are some hunters this spring will harvest a tom wearing a GPS backpack and a leg band that provides contact information for the Game and Fish Department. When that happens, Gross encourages those hunters to report their kills.
To read more about turkey research in North Dakota, visit North Dakota OUTDOORS on the Department’s website at gf.nd.gov .