Landowners provide public access

Wisconsin turkey hunting access programs offer privately-owned land for public hunting opportunities. 

With one of the healthiest wild turkey flocks in the nation, Wisconsin offers hunters an excellent opportunity to pursue birds in woods and fields statewide. The spring of 2020 saw Wisconsin turkey hunters register 44,963 birds (nearly 15% increase from previous spring).

Having ready access to places to hunt turkeys can be among the biggest hurdles for hunters looking to try their luck. Fortunately, Wisconsin offers the hunting access to match its flock, with 6 million acres of public land. Another, lesser-known public-access opportunity also gives spring turkey hunters access to private land, while providing an opportunity for landowners to be rewarded.

In 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources leased more than 38,000 acres of privately-owned land for public hunting access. Included are 3,600 acres of prime turkey habitat, leased through a relatively new initiative called the Turkey Hunting Access Program, or THAP for short.

The DNR funds these THAP leases primarily through state turkey stamp sales, bought by turkey hunters. Acres enrolled in THAP are located predominantly in southern Wisconsin, where most land is privately owned, and access is in high demand.

Partnering landowners receive financial payments from DNR in exchange for allowing turkey hunters access to their property during the spring hunting season. In turn, turkey hunters get new places to chase gobblers, offering a direct return on their stamp dollars.

Since its 2014 inception, THAP has proven popular with hunters. In survey responses, 96% of hunters report feeling satisfied with their experience pursuing turkey on THAP acres.

The NWTF Wisconsin State Chapter [SD1] helped expand access, gifting $10,000 to the Wisconsin DNR to fund additional THAP acreage. That direct contribution paid for 1,168 of the 3,600 acres currently in the program.

Funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program, paid for 34,000 more acres in 2020, offering additional benefits for both hunters and landowners.

ADVICE FOR HUNTERS

Before heading afield for the 2021 spring turkey season, savvy hunters can check for public-access opportunities in both the THAP and Voluntary Public Access programs. Interactive maps on the DNR website (dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/lands) provide the most up-to-date information on enrolled lands.

Other states often have similar programs, which have different names. Often funded in part by federal dollars, these programs are typically administered by state wildlife agencies. Each is designed to suit the unique public-access opportunities and challenges found locally.

No matter what state you may be interested in hunting, looking into these unique land-access opportunities may be beneficial. Consult state wildlife agencies and program guidance before heading afield as access policies can vary greatly between states.

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Wisconsin