Outdoors: Surplus spring turkey permits go on sale March 19

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By: 

Ross Bielema

Every business and every person can be improved. As companies grow larger, those workers “in the trenches” seem to get farther and farther from those supervisors and other leaders making the decisions that affect everyone.

Individuals by nature are protective of their own decisions. It’s just human nature to be defensive when family members (mostly spouses) or friends offer constructive criticism to someone who may not even see the initial flaw.

One reason we hunters, anglers, snowmobilers or other natural resources users grow a bit frustrated with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is because we see the flaws, but they seem to fall on deaf ears.

Since I moved to Wisconsin in 2000, I’ve heard one common line from a few hunters every December or January: “I forgot to apply for my turkey permit.”

I heard the same line this winter.

I get that the state has a drawing to determine who gets permits for which dates and zones. Some dates are more desired than others. Some zones are more in demand. The drawing system is reasonably fair.

But not many people are thinking about turkey hunting in December. Dec. 10 is the deadline for applying to get a spring turkey hunting license, but most people are thinking instead about Christmas, late archery deer season, ice fishing, predator hunting or the snow in their driveway.

I don’t know what the answer is to helping these folks out, but I sympathize with them, so I try to print the reminder every year.

I forgot to apply for my turkey permit one year, but lucked out: It was the year that so many procrastinators overloaded the DNR computers when they all applied the weekend before the deadline. The DNR extended the application deadline that year to the Monday after the deadline, which saved me.

One of the advantages of computers (in theory) is making life faster and easier. As the DNR has switched from punch cards (yes, they were used for deer harvest information even in the early 2000s) to computerized, online systems (like Go Wild), it’s made it generally easier and faster to buy licenses and check the status of preference points, etc.

I buy a patron license, and one of the big advantages is that I can take care of most of my registrations for various licenses at one time. When I buy my patron license in March, I’ll be filling out my spring 2019 turkey hunting application, too.

But there has to be a way to push this Dec. 10 deadline back a few weeks, tie it in with some other license (deer?) or make it more memorable? Dec. 10 is just so…random.

In Iowa, non-resident hunters can apply for a permit from Jan. 1 to the last Sunday in January! There’s no application period for residents: simply buy a license for Seasons 1, 2 or 3 and a second (if desired) license for Season 4…even during the season! Season 1 is four days long, Season 2 is five days, Season 3 is seven days and Season 4 is 19 days long.

I’ve long pushed for Wisconsin to try Iowa’s solution for short turkey seasons. Iowans can hunt all turkey seasons with bow or crossbow if they opt for the “archery only” license. The Iowa DNR bets that most people with archery permits will not kill a turkey (they know the success rate, after all).

I bought archery-only permits for years when I lived in Dubuque and Clinton, but never killed a turkey with a bow. I finally bought firearms licenses and did bag a few before moving to God’s Country.

There’s no limit on the number of archery-only permits down there. This eliminates the deadline issues because procrastinators can always get a license and go with a bow or crossbow.

But back to reality. Surplus turkey permits go on sale at 10 a.m. March 19, starting with Zone 1. Zone 2 surplus permits go on sale March 20, Zone 3 are available March 21, Zone 4 are offered March 22 and Zones 5 and 7 are offered March 23. Zone 6 permits have all been awarded.

The DNR awarded a total of 138,144 “harvest authorizations” (turkey permits) this year out of a total 244,218 available (we can’t call them turkey tags anymore because tagging isn’t necessary). That means there are 101,074 permits left!

Those poor, forgetful “I forgot” souls would love to get their hands on a few of those, and hopefully will get some by either buying them online after March 18 or by standing in line at any license sales outlet.

There has to be a better way to award the remaining turkey permits so our procrastinator friends can get some, too. Maybe they could pay an extra $10 for an “I forgot” preference that would give them a leg up over the guy who already has two or three permits.

Maybe we could have a mini-lottery where every “I forgot” hunter donates money to charity or the local needy in turn for a chance at a prize package featuring a box of tungsten matrix turkey loads, a couple turkey calls, a turkey choke tube and a permit of his desired zone and season. We could hide a few permits in geocaches, have a scavenger hunt or give a few as prizes during National Wild Turkey Federation banquets.

If you have a brilliant idea on improving the system, drop me an email. I’d love to hear it.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.