Gearing up for spring gobblers: Surplus permits on sale this week

Ross Bielema

As the woods and farm fields start to green up and north-migrating waterfowl send their honks and whistles down to my little corner of Wisconsin paradise, I began dreaming of puffed-up gobblers coming to my sweet box call and seductive mouth call.

And then reality hits, and I realize all my turkey gear is scattered to the far corners of my garages and basement. I remember last year’s bungle of a desperation shot on a hefty tom strutting just a smidge out of range (rookie move) and having three identical jakes standing in easy gun range that I let go to grow up (pro move, but it left me with no bird).

I have a confession to make. I’ve never enjoyed eating wild turkey, and maybe this is why I often seem to sabotage my own turkey hunts, whether subconsciously or just by sheer foolishness. I began turkey hunting in Dubuque, Iowa, around 1986 or so with bow and arrow. (Iowa came up with a genius idea that if you hunt turkeys only with bow and arrow, you can hunt all of the turkey seasons.)

Despite being able to hunt every weekend of turkey season in Iowa for years, I never connected with my compound bow (I once shot at the same tom three times before the flock around him flew) but enjoyed every second in the spring woods, seeing wildflowers and greenery never seen in the fall.

Seeing life spring forth is probably the best reason to turkey hunt. The sights and sounds are inspiring and rejuvenating. I don’t feel the pressure to put an animal in the freezer or compete with other hunters in any way. After a winter of gloomy skies, frigid temps and snowy roads, I’m ready to feel the warm sun and hear buzzing bees and the sweet gobbles of a lusty tom.

If you didn’t get the permit date or zone you wanted (most of Shawano County and all of Waupaca County are in Zone 3, while Oconto County is in Zone 5), this week began sales of bonus (surplus) tags.

Zone 3 tag sales started March 20, with Zone 5 and 7 tags on sale March 22. Zone 6 is sold out. On March 23, any remaining tags for any zone not sold out are available. Just log onto the Go Wild site ( at 9:45 a.m. and wait until the sale begins at 10 a.m. daily. Since you are assigned a random order, there is no advantage to logging on before 9:45 a.m. It’s a nice way to extend your season, especially if you don’t have a honey hole that generally guarantees you to get a bird in a day or two.

Although there were more than 106,000 permits available as of March 18, when Zone 1 tags went on sale, these bonus tags do go fast, especially for the earlier time periods. The permits are $10 for residents, $15 for non-residents.

Season dates are: A, April 17-23; B, April 24-30; C, May 1-7; D, May 8-14; E, May 15-21; and F, May 22-28. Check this link to see which bonus permits are left (there were none available as of March 8 in any zone for seasons A and B):

Here’s the part I will never understand. If I applied for a specific season date in Zone 3 and got my second or third choice, why are there any left for the zone and season I requested? If I go to Dairy Queen and request a butterscotch Dilly bar and they say sorry, we are sold out of those, and the guy ordering after me gets a butterscotch Dilly bar, I’m going to be upset. Last year, I didn’t get drawn for any tag and had to buy my tag in the bonus sale. Yet there were surplus permits for my request dates in Zone 3. Is it possible that the DNR is still using some sort of antiquated drawing system? Many years ago, I found out they were still using punch cards to keep track of the deer permits. What? Or a better question was, why?

I think one application choice should be “any remaining season in Zone 3.” This could potentially reduce the number of surplus tags left. There’s probably a way to eliminate the need for the bonus tag drawing, although many hunters forget to apply by Dec. 10. (Who is really thinking about turkey hunting in December, anyway?) I once forgot to apply on the year the DNR computer system jammed from so many applications and they extended the application date through the weekend. Remember that? With the new Go Wild system, us patron license buyers apply for all their permits at the time of purchase (normally in March or April). This eliminates the need to remember all these random application dates.

Whatever season you get, it’s going to be a fun time. If you are new to turkey hunting and can’t get a friend to take you or teach you, the state has a very successful Learn to Hunt program:

If you can take a youth hunting, it’s even more enjoyable. Remember, any youth can mentor hunt with an adult, even if they haven’t completed a hunter safety course. Search for “mentor hunting” on the DNR site for details.

The youth turkey season is April 13-14.

Good luck.

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