MINNEAPOLIS — Of all the research that's occurred in the past year about COVID-19 and its effects on people, little is known about whether the public's recreation habits and pastimes have been permanently altered by the pandemic, or whether, as life returns to normal, people's heightened interest in biking, hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities will fade to previous levels.
With the start of turkey hunting Wednesday in Minnesota, we might find out.
Consider that last year, just as the world began to fear the novel coronavirus that was spreading fast and killing increasing numbers of people, Minnesota's turkey hunting season opened.
In part because many kids were no longer in school then, and in part because hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans were suddenly working from home — if they were working at all — the Department of Natural Resources sold 37% more turkey hunting licenses in 2020 than it did in 2019.
Youth license sales were up by an even greater margin, 59%.
And the turkey harvest?
That also jumped 30% from 2019 to 2020, with 13,996 birds registered by hunters last year, a record for a single Minnesota spring season.
Can the state's turkeys sustain a harvest that high?
Leslie McInenly, DNR wildlife populations program manager, believes it can. "We killed about that many turkeys in 2010,'' she said, adding that the average Minnesota turkey harvest over the past 10 years is 11,400.
McInenly also underscored that the DNR last year initiated significant license-buying changes for Minnesota turkey hunters. Those changes, she said, might have prompted the license-sale boost at least as much as the pandemic.