Like local food? DNR wants you to hunt your own turkey

Wild turkey
A wild turkey, at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Tom Weber | MPR News file

The corner of Franklin and Riverside Avenues in Minneapolis might seem an unlikely place to start hunting for wild turkeys.

But a representative of a new outreach program by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources came to the Seward Community Co-Op recently, aiming to drum up interest in the bird.

Although many people who want locally raised meat go out and buy it, the DNR is teaching people to go hunting for it.

That's what brought turkey hunter Jay Johnson to the co-op's demonstration kitchen, where he shared techniques to get a turkey's attention. The first is using a box call that emits a squeaking sound similar to the call of a turkey hen.

"This is my bread and butter right there," Johnson said. "Don't ask me to do anything fancy. I'm no expert turkey caller."

The hen's call is one of the tricks of the hunt, along with a turkey decoy, said Johnson, a hunter recruitment and retention supervisor for the DNR.

"What I am counting on now is that that Tom knows where this hen is," Johnson said. "He's going to come in and if things are really right, he's going to come right in on the hen."

Eventually, that male turkey will wind up in a refrigerator. Johnson said a typical wild turkey might yield five or six pounds of usable and tasty meat.

Turkey hunting class
Jay Johnson, with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, talks about how to hunt turkeys Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 during a class at the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Food co-ops like Seward, he said, have been helping spur interest in deer and turkeys among people who take an active interest in where their food comes from — and who are willing to take up a bow or a gun.

DNR officials hope that could also stem waning interest in hunting among Minnesotans and bolster public support for wild land and conservation.

Hunting may not be for everyone. But for those who are interested, it can be a worthwhile experience, said Carla Irwin, a co-op member who has raised poultry, including turkeys, for food.

Is she willing to pull the trigger on a 12 gauge and drop a bird in the woods?

"Well, I'm willing to take one and respect the rest," Irwin said. "So, it's more about appreciation for the bird."

But there's a more conventional interest in the sport, as well.

Introduced into Minnesota in 1973 at the urging of hunters, the birds have grown widespread. Flocks of them roam suburban school yards and have even stopped traffic on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis.

Wild turkeys offer an easy entry into hunting, said Josh Dahlke, a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

"It's usually a springtime sport and isn't crowded with hunters," he said. "Turkey hunting doesn't require a dog or a lot of equipment and the kills are relatively easy to butcher and cook."

The state typically issues only about 50,000 licenses a year to turkey hunters. They likely can find birds to hunt within 30 miles of any location, Dahlke said.

"There's an abundance of public land in most states to turkey hunt and private access is actually not as hard to come by for turkey hunting as it is for white-tailed [deer] hunting," he said.

That's the kind of thing that prospects like Scott Vonderharr like to hear. The Fridley entrepreneur, who owns an ink and toner company, loves the outdoors. That makes him an ideal candidate for the DNR's hands-on primer on the sport. It will take place in five locations May 16 and 17.

Vonderharr, who has never hunted, said a couple things interest him about the sport.

"One being that I have lots of friends that hunt and I have always been intrigued about going hunting but don't want to be the guy that knows nothing in the group of people that know everything," he said. "Second, being able to be self-sustainable, should I desire to be or need to be."

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