Top Spring Turkey Hunts

Spring and winter weather conditions always affect May turkey harvests, but New England's biologists are optimistic about the 2004 season. Try these top-rated hotspots in your state this spring.

By Bob Sadowski

How do you determine a "top" turkey hunt? Here in the Northeast, the measurement for a successful spring hunt is a combination of accessible public land and high harvest rates. The only other thing you might need is a little luck.

CONNECTICUT
Connecticut hunters set a record during last year's spring harvest with 2,367 birds.

Michael Gregonis, Connecticut's wildlife biologist, attributes the higher bag limit to the fact that hunting time was increased by four days and state land bag limits were raised from one bird to two.

"The wet weather played a role in bird sizes," says Gregonis. "And, if the winter is mild, the number of birds available in spring should be good."

Gregonis suggested Cockaponset State Forest as a good place to start, with over 17,000 acres of public land open to turkey hunting. Last spring, 43 birds were taken from this area.

Photo by John Trout Jr.

To get there from Middletown, take either Route 9 or Route 17 south. From Route 9, take Exit 8 and follow Beaver Meadow Road west.

Gregonis also recommends 4,000-acre Naugatuck State Forest, where 20 birds were taken last spring. To get there from Waterbury, take Route 8 south to Exit 8 at Naugatuck's northern edge. State land is on both sides of Route 8. From New Haven, take Route 63 to the intersection of Route 42 west, which is the southern edge of the state land.

For more information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106-5127; call (860) 424-3555; or go online at www.dep. state.ct.us.

MASSACHUSETTS
During Colonial times, wild turkeys were common in Massachusetts, but by 1851 they were gone. The state re-established its population by releasing 37 birds in southern Berkshire County. To this day, Berkshire County is a productive region for turkey hunters.

Last year's harvest in Berkshire County, which is in the state's Western District, was 489 birds, a close second to first-ranked Worcester County in the Central District, with 592 turkeys. A total of 2,217 spring birds were harvested in 2003.

The spring season outlook is good, though the weather in early 2003 was wet.

Assuming a mild winter, the 2003 hatch should fare very well this spring, according to Jim Cardoza, MassWildlife's top turkey biologist. There are plenty of birds to be found all over the state, Cardoza said, but the state's Central and Western districts offer the best opportunities for hunters targeting public land.

A promising spot in the Western District is the Fox Den Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in the towns of Worthington, Middlefield and Chester. This WMA features several parcels of public land that cover a little over 2,000 acres. The land is steep in spots, especially near the Middle Brook-Westfield River. The land is flatter away from the river, with a mix of hardwoods and pines.

To get there from Pittsfield, take Route 143 to the town of West Worthington, and then go south on River Road, which turns into East River Road. Fox Den WMA is clearly marked.

Also in the Western District is Chalet WMA in the town of Dalton. Rolling hills with hardwoods and scattered stands of evergreen trees are the perfect setting to bag a tom. Take Route 8 north from Pittsfield to the town of Cheshire, and then travel east on Windsor Road where you can access the northern part of the WMA. If you're traveling on Route 8A/9 from Pittsfield, take Flintstone Road to access the southern tip of the area.

In the Central District in Worchester County, Hubbardston WMA is a flat area of mixed woods. From Worchester, travel northwest on Route 68 and turn right onto Bringham Street, which runs into New Westminster Road, which skirts the southern edge of Hubbardston WMA.

Fewer than 10 miles west is Phillipston WMA. From Route 68, take Route 62 west toward the town of Barre, and then take Williamsville Road north to Phillipston Road and Mile Road, which provide access to the WMA.

For more information, contact the MassWildlife Field Headquarters, Route 135, Westboro, MA 01582; call (508) 792-7270, or go online at www.state.ma.us/dfwele/dfw.

RHODE ISLAND
Last spring, Rhode Island turkey hunters harvested a record 275 birds. Some 72 harvested gobblers weighed over 20 pounds!

The hotspots last year were the towns of Exeter, with 44 birds harvested, and Richmond, with 26 birds.

"Population projections look very good," says Brian Tefft, Rhode Island's turkey biologist. "Although brood numbers were below average in June because of a late spring and a lot of rain, the hens seemed to pick up the slack after August."

Tefft is optimistic about the 2004 spring hunt.

"The turkey population continues to grow and with only a spring season, many hunters are encountering larger 2- to 3-year-old birds," Tefft said.

The Arcadia and Carolina management areas in the south-central part of the state offer a variety of terrain and plenty of room to set up without being stymied by another hunter.

To get there from Warwick, travel south on Interstate Route 95 and turn off at Exit 5 (Route 3 south), and then turn right onto Route 165 to reach the middle of Arcadia's 14,000 acres of public land.

To access Carolina WMA, continue on I-95 to Exit 3 (Route 138). Follow Route 138 east to Route 112 south. Route 112 is the eastern border of Carolina's 2,300 acres.

In the north, Tefft suggests Buck Hill WMA at the borders of Connecticut and Massachusetts. From Providence, travel west on Route 44 to Route 100 north. About five miles past the town of Pascoag, turn off Route 100 onto Buck Hill Road. This leads to Buck Hill's southern tip.

For more information, contact the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Great Swamp Field Headquarters, P.O. Box 281, West Kingston, RI 02892; call (401) 789-0281, or go online at www.state. ri.us/dem.

VERMONT
Vermont's turkey hunters bagged 3,694 turkeys last spring and this year seems like it will be a replay. Rain dominated the season last May, forcing hens to re-nest.

"Brood surveys were very good, and barring a bitter winter, the flock should fare well," said Doug Blodgett, Vermont's turkey biologist, who estimated the state's turkey flock to be in the range of 35,000 to 40,000 birds.

Blodgett recommended zones F1 and F2 in the central western part of the state, where 154 and 279 birds, respectively, were recorded last season. Also, midstate border zones J1 and J2 accounted for 306 and 256 spring turkeys.

Blodgett also recommended hunting the mountain areas, such as the Atherton Meadows WMA in Zone P in Whitingham near the Massachusetts border. This 1,042-acre WMA is mostly forested with hardwoods. Take Route 100 from Whitingham and travel past the Harriman reservoir about one mile on the north side of Route 100.

Lewis Creek WMA in Zone G in Starksboro is on the border of Zone F2. Lewis Creek's 1,846 acres are completely forested with aspen, birch, maple, beech and hemlock with some old farm fields and apple orchards.

To get there from Starksboro, travel south on Route 116 to Hillsboro Road.

For more information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's Agency of Natural Resources, 103 South Main St., 10 South, Waterbury, VT 05671-0501; call (802) 241-3700, or go online at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
According to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, wildlife management units H1, H2 and K produced nearly one gobbler per square mile.

In Unit K, try Perkins Pond WMA's 308 acres in Weare County. From the city of Concord, travel west on Route 13 to Route 77, continue on Route 77 as it merges with Route 114. At the intersection of Route 149, turn right. Perkins Pond can be accessed on the southern side of Route 149.

For more information, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Dr., Concord, NH 03301; call (603) 271-3421, or visit the NHFG's Web site at www. wildlife.state.nh.us.



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