New England's 2008 Wild Turkey Forecast

New England's 2008 Wild Turkey Forecast

Here's a look at what New England's spring turkey hunters can look forward to in 2008. (May 2008)

Most New England states have growing populations of wild turkeys and expect another banner year for hunters in 2008.
Photo by Travis Faulkner.

North America's largest upland game bird is the Eastern wild turkey. Extremely alert and cautious by nature, wild turkeys present a challenge for even the most experienced hunter.

What gets many hunters hooked on gobblers is the interactive nature of the sport. There's something about calling to your intended quarry and listening as it calls back and works its way closer that really gets a hunter's heart pounding!

Luckily, turkey populations are holding their own, despite poor brooding and nesting conditions in 2005 and 2006. Cold, rainy springs dampened nest success and poult survival. Biologists in most New England states are reporting increased broods from the 2007 hatch and expect record-breaking harvests for the 2008 spring and fall seasons.

CONNECTICUT
Spring turkey hunters in the Nutmeg State may be blessed with a bumper crop of birds, according to Michael Gregonis, a Wild Turkey Program biologist.

For 2008, Connecticut's spring turkey season is May 7-31.

"The outlook for the 2008 spring season should be good," Gregonis said. "Weather conditions during spring 2007 were relatively warm and dry, which should lead to higher poult production than Connecticut has seen during the past several years.

"During the 2007 spring season, a total of 6,304 permits were issued and 1,601 birds were harvested," he continued. "The overall success rate for hunters in 2007 was 16.5 percent -- a decrease from the 2006 success rate of 17.7 percent. The decrease in harvest and hunter success may be attributed to lower productivity during spring 2006."

Connecticut's turkey population is robust enough to allow for three seasons: spring, fall archery and fall firearms. Bird numbers are estimated by considering annual brood surveys and spring turkey-hunter surveys.

"Connecticut has good turkey numbers statewide," Gregonis said.

"Traditionally, zones 5 (northeast) and 1 (northwest) report the highest annual spring turkey harvest. These areas have a significant amount of agricultural land, and hunters tend to have more access to private lands."

For hunters not so lucky, there are plenty of public-access options.

"Cockaponset State Forest is a good bet," he said. "This area is over 17,000 acres and provides habitat for a good number of turkeys. The topography is rolling hills with hardwood ridges, with wetlands in the valleys. Hunters can gain access by purchasing a state turkey-hunting permit.

"Hunters should not give up if they don't harvest a bird the first week of the spring season," Gregonis advised.

"Toward the end of the season, hunting pressure is reduced, and the gobblers are still active."

Cockaponset, the state's second-largest state forest, spans 3,000 acres in the Middlesex County town of Haddam. To get there from Route 9, take Cedar Lake Road and then turn at the Pattaconk Lake sign.

For more information on turkey-hunting opportunities in Connecticut -- plus a listing of lands open to the public -- call 1-860-424-3011, or go to www.ct.gov/dep/site/default.asp .

MAINE
According to Brad Allen, Bird Group leader of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Pine Tree State's wild turkey population continues to expand.

Consequently, the hunting seasons and areas open for turkey hunting are also expanding. Maine no longer conducts a lottery for turkey permits.

"Accompanying ever-increasing turkey-hunting opportunities are the tasks of keeping track of and properly managing the wild turkey population," Allen said. "When hunters take to the field this spring, they'll have the chance to contribute to wild turkey management. Previously, only randomly selected hunters who were mailed a survey could provide information used to help manage Maine's wild turkeys. However, in 2007, a new Web-based hunter survey became available and is open to all wild turkey permit holders."

To participate, you can log on to www.maine.gov/ifw/ hunttrap/turkey_spring_survey_2008.htm .

Allen said that provided the winter isn't unduly harsh, a good number of larger, mature toms should be in the fields and woods this spring.

"We had really good production this year, with a dry spring and good poult survival," reported Allen Starr, a wildlife biologist in Region F.

While some of the best turkey hunting anywhere may be had near farm fields in Maine, doing so often requires seeking landowner permission.

For public lands in Region F, Starr said that Bud Leavitt WMA is absolutely the best.

Bud Leavitt (Bull Hill) WMA spans 6,430 acres in the towns of Atkinson, Charleston, Dover-Foxcroft and Garland. This WMA has undergone intense management for both forestry and wildlife since the 1980s.

Plenty of mast and active field maintenance makes this an excellent turkey-hunting destination. Access to the Bud Leavitt WMA may be had off Route 15 in Charleston.

"If you're looking for a large area that is easy to hunt, Frye Mountain WMA is certainly that area," advised Jim Connolly, a wildlife biologist in Region B. "The department also has properties around Merrymeeting Bay, by the Kennebec River, and at the St. Albans Wildlife Management Area."

Frye Mountain WMA spans 5,240 acres in the towns of Montville, Knox and Morris about 12 miles west of Belfast. Frye, an accumulation of over 30 old farms, is considered to be premier turkey habitat.

St. Albans WMA's 540 acres lie in the town of St. Albans adjacent to Mulligan Stream. There are twenty other WMAs in Region B, and countless others statewide worth exploring.

Because Maine does have so much p

rivately owned land open to hunting, WMAs are often underutilized. Visit www.maine.gov/ifw/wma for WMA maps and information.

For more Pine Tree State hunting information, call (207) 287-8000, or visit www.maine.gov/ifw/index.html .

MASSACHUSETTS
Bay State turkey hunters took a record number of birds last spring, when 2,481 turkeys were harvested.

"This is probably due to a combination of factors, including a record number of turkey hunters and excellent weather during the hunting season -- especially the first week," said James E. Cardoza of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

The 2008 spring season begins on the last Monday in April and runs through May 24 in zones 1 through 10 and in Zone 13. The season ends on May 10 in zones 11 and 12.

"The 2008 season will probably be pretty good," Cardoza said. "The weather during the season, especially the first week, is an important factor.

"The number of hunters is a lesser factor, as is the previous breeding season. The 2007 hatch was probably average or a little above.

"The word 'best' is subjective, since a skillful hunter can do well anywhere in the state," Cardoza continued. "The most turkeys are taken in Berkshire and Worcester counties. However, that is a factor of tradition. More hunters go there -- hence, more turkeys are taken."

The most important factor to hunting success is scouting," Cardoza said, adding as a reminder to hunt safely and respect other hunters and landowners.

Birch Hill WMA in the Worcester County towns of Royalston, Templeton and Winchendon is a multi-parcel area totaling 7,431 acres.

The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife owns 3,210 acres, and the remaining 4,221 are leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through the Department of Environmental Protection.

With that much land-base comes a good mix of habitats. Mixed hardwood and conifer forests are broken up by open fields, brushlands and shallow grass-hummock marshes.

For access information, consult DeLorme's Massachusetts Atlas and Gazetteer, page 25.

Three Mile WMA, in the Berkshire County towns of Sheffield and Great Barrington, covers 1,095 acres.

Three Mile WMA is covered with mature oak and hardwood forests, with old fields of white pine surrounding the pond. Most open fields lie along Cross Road and Brush Hill Road. Parking is available at an improved log landing off Brush Hill Road, or at an informal pull-off on Cross Road.

For more details, check out DeLorme's MAG, page 44.

For information on other WMAs in Massachusetts, visit www.mass.gov .For hunting information, you can visit MassWildlife at www.mass.gov , or call them at (617) 626-1590.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
The Granite State should have about 36,000 wild turkeys available for hunters in 2008. The spring season runs from May 3 through 31 in most wildlife management units, but until May 17 in WMU A.

Hunters may harvest one bearded turkey by shotgun or bow, although the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department encourages hunters to pass on bearded hens.

The 2008 Youth Turkey Hunt is scheduled for April 26 and 27. Last year, 437 turkeys, or 12.4 percent of the total spring harvest, were taken during the youth weekend.

New Hampshire offers a three-month fall archery season (closed in WMU A), and a five-day shotgun season in select WMUs in the Connecticut River Valley and in southwest regions of the state where turkey populations are higher.

Effective in 2008, turkey-hunting licenses increased to $15 for residents and $30 for non-residents. At press time, discussions were underway to repeal the requirement for a separate additional fall shotgun turkey permit so that in the future, a single turkey license would let hunters participate in any established New Hampshire turkey season.

Good places to hunt in 2008 include Cummins Pond WMA in the Grafton County town of Dorchester. It spans 665 acres and is secured for hunting access through a conservation easement. The site offers outstanding wildlife habitat.

From Lyme Center, take Cummins Pond Road. From Dorchester, take North Dorchester Road to Cummins Pond Road. For details, check out DeLorme's New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer, page 38.

Kearsarge WMA spans 1,080 acres in the Merrimack County town of Andover at the base of Mount Kearsarge. At lower elevations, the area is a mix of hardwood and softwood forest. But as the land rises, it becomes predominantly first hardwoods and then scrub spruce.

This WMA is next door to the 4,965-acre Mount Kearsarge State Forest. For access from Route 11 west of Andover, take Cilleyville Road to Kearsarge Mountain Road and then to Leadmine Road for two miles. The WMA is on both sides of the road.

For more information, hunters may visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us , or call (603) 271-2461.

RHODE ISLAND
The Ocean State has an estimated population of 5,500 wild turkeys, according to Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist with the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife.

In 2007, hunters took 195 birds -- a 17 percent decrease from the 2006 spring harvest. Tefft said that the 2008 season should be about the same as 2007, or even slightly better.

"The 2-year-old turkeys do most of the spring gobbling and are most vulnerable to the hunter's call," Tefft said. "Therefore, birds hatched in 2005 would have been the ones gobbling for the hunter in the 2007 season. But because we had such a poor brood year in 2005 with low brood production, there were fewer 2-year-olds around during the 2007 spring season."

Hunters may take one bearded turkey during the spring season, which runs from April 30 through May 26. There is a special season for paraplegic hunters on April 26 and 27, which is also Junior Turkey Hunting Weekend. With the purchase of a separate permit, hunters may take a second turkey of either sex during the fall season.

Tefft said that some good areas to concentrate on this spring include the western portions of Providence, Kent and Washington counties. Turkeys were taken from 12 wildlife management areas (WMAs) in 2007, with Arcadia WMA and Durfee Hill WMA leading in the number of birds harvested.

"Be persistent, keep hunting throughout the season and don't give up," Tefft advised. "Remember, you can't get one if you don't go!"

Durfee Hill WMA spans 1,176 acres in the northwestern town of Glocester. Durfee Hill is primarily forested land with some wetlands and agricultural fields thrown into the mix. The Division of Fish and Wildlife maintains fields and food plots that provide food and cover for wildlife.

"Be persistent, keep hunting throughout the season and don't give up," advised wildlife biologist Brian Tefft. "Remember, you can't get one if you don't go!"

This WMA is made up of four separate parcels of land, with the most westerly parcel bordering Connecticut, with access at a check station on Reynolds Road. The largest, eastern portion may be accessed off Durfee Hill Road south of U.S. Route 44. For details, check DeLorme's Connecticut/Rhode Island Atlas and Gazetteer, page 64.

For more Rhode Island hunting information, visit www.dem.ri.gov or call (401) 789-7481.

VERMONT
Turkeys are plentiful in the Green Mountain State, according to Doug Blodgett, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

"We estimate our current population at 50,000-plus turkeys," Blodgett said. "Our spring 2007 turkey harvest was the highest on record, with 5,024 birds taken. This is the seventh record spring turkey harvest in Vermont in the last 10 years. Our turkey population is at all-time highs, and our current management strategy is producing these records as per our management focus."

Blodgett noted that results of the fall turkey hunt were not tallied at press time, and that a severe 2007 winter could negatively impact turkey numbers. But he said that barring an unusually harsh winter, the 2008 season is looking very good. Dates for the spring season are May 1 through 31. Fall dates had not been set at press time.

Asked for a few best bets, Blodgett replied, "That's difficult to answer as individual preferences for hunting areas are so varied. The truth is, good turkey hunting can be found statewide. About 12 percent of land in Vermont is publicly owned and available for hunting. The terrain ranges from steep and mountainous in the Green Mountain range to gentle valleys near Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River."

In the Barre District, hunters will want to scout out the old fields along Carpenter Hill Road in the northeast corner of Clover Hill WMA. This 506-acre WMA is in Strafford and may be accessed from Route 132 and Carpenter Hill Road or by Brook Road out of the village.

Clover Hill is owned by the state and is mostly forested. Another stretch of old-field cover can be found in the southeast section of the WMA.

In the Rutland District, Blueberry Hill WMA offers 1,152 acres of turkey terrain on three separate parcels. Blueberry Hill is comprised of 936 acres in Castleton and 216 acres in Ira off Route 4. Old fields and apple orchards are scattered throughout the mixed forest of red chestnut, white oak, birch, maple, aspen, hickory, hop hornbeam and white pine. Acorns (and turkeys) are especially plentiful here each fall.

Parking and access to the middle section can be had through an 80-acre parcel owned by the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs off Belgo Road. Access to the WMA is via the hill due south of the parking lot.

Get a copy of the Vermont Digest of Hunting, Fishing & Trapping Laws wherever Vermont licenses are sold, or call (802) 241-3700. For more information about Vermont's WMAs and about turkey hunting in Vermont, visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com .

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