Morken: Outdoor thoughts on public-comment periods, spring turkeys

A young doe comes in to inspect a hen decoy during the last morning of the Minnesota turkey hunting season on May 31. Getting toms to commit to the decoys like this doe proved more difficult this spring. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Over the years covering outdoor-related stories in Minnesota, I have been to a lot of public meetings on proposed regulation changes.

Some of those have been very sparsely attended. Others, usually on issues having to do with deer, have drawn big crowds. A handful of times, I have had people say to me that they doubt DNR staff is actually listening to them -- that public meetings or online surveys to gather input is nothing more than a mandatory objective to check off their list.

Time and again, though, I know there are issues where the DNR absolutely is listening to public input. Years ago when covering a meeting on proposed changes to the spring turkey season in the state, I had a DNR manager at the state level tell me that turkey populations in Minnesota had reached the point where they could easily support a two-tom bag limit.

“Why not do it?” I asked. His response was that the public didn’t want it.

Surveys and face-to-face meetings told them that. The idea being that shooting a bird and having the ability to get back in the woods would limit opportunities for some by tying up private lands the whole spring. Landowners will often let multiple hunters use their property during seasons that are broken up into seven-day periods.


Last week, it was obvious that the DNR was listening when hunters voiced their concerns about the deer population goals they were setting for local permit areas.

In March, the recommendation by the DNR was to reduce deer numbers by 50% from their current levels in five Central Hills Prairie Block areas. I wrote that story and heard from a couple local hunters who were clearly upset with that proposal. They then spoke up through the last public comment period before those goals became official. Many hunters did.

“When we went out for public comment on the draft regulations, we did hear pretty strong opposition from area hunters for the significant reduction,” DNR Big Game Program Leader Barb Keller said when I reached out to her on May 26. “That led us to revisit those recommendations, and when we reviewed public input that we collected in 2014, the slight (25%) reduction did seem to be more in line with the 2014 input. I think it’s a good example of the public comment process.”

Permit areas 213, 214, 215, 276 and 277 in west-central Minnesota will now be managed over the next 10 years to reduce the deer population by 25% instead of the recommended 50%.

I’m sure there are still some hunters who think that’s too much, but there’s also landowners who were very active in having their voices heard during the public-comment period who probably are upset it’s not going to be managed toward a 50% reduction. It seems this is an example of the two sides meeting in the middle here.

Your voice has potential to make a difference. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s not worth sending that email, making that call, attending that meeting or filling out that survey.

Turkey hunting thoughts

The Minnesota turkey hunting season wrapped up on Sunday, and it’s safe to say that the birds ran me ragged this spring.

I had one opportunity while archery hunting in April where I released an arrow but caught only feathers. That one solid chance is about all you might get when bow hunting turkeys.


I got into the blind at about 4:30 on Sunday morning overlooking a freshly-planted bean field. Toms were gobbling from many directions. About an hour after shooting light, a group of two toms and two hens came into the field about 200 yards away from me.

I called a couple times to get their attention. One tom started making his way my direction before veering off and heading back onto the ridge behind me. That’s pretty typical of how my encounters with birds went over the past month.

I have heard so many people who don’t hunt turkeys talk about how easy they must be to kill. They see them pecking their reflection in a window or strutting 10 yards off the road without a care in the world, and they often get labeled as “dumb.”

Anyone who has hunted them consistently knows that certainly is not the case. Basically every animal in the woods is out to get them from the time they are eggs in a nest. They are wary of any sense of danger, and incredible survivors.

Hunt them long enough, especially with a bow in hand where everything needs to go right, and you’ll be reminded of that more often than not. I certainly was this year.

Eric Morken


Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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