Our Fall Turkey Season Update

Opportunities to take a fall turkey are increasing throughout the Northeast, and biologists are predicting high numbers of birds for the either-sex fall hunt. Don't miss out on this great sporting tradition!

Photo by Paul Tessier

By Al Raychard

By all accounts and measures, New England's turkey population came through last winter in pretty good shape. Snow depths and recorded cold temperatures were the worst in recent memory, but at the start of the spring 2003 hunting season, an estimated 130,000 birds inhabited the six states. Given good spring brooding and rearing conditions this spring, fall hunters should have plenty of birds to pursue during the fall seasons.

GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME

Turkey hunters can expect more hunting opportunities this season. Maine, for example, offered its first-ever fall turkey season last year. In Vermont, Wildlife Management Unit H1 was added to the Oct. 5-25 bow and arrow hunt, and WMUs H2 and J2 were opened to shotgun and bow and arrow hunting from Oct. 26 through Nov. 1.

Here's a look at what's in store for New England's fall turkey hunters in 2003:

MAINE
Maine held its first-ever fall turkey hunt in nine wildlife management districts (WMDs) in 2002.

"Much of the state supporting huntable numbers of birds was open to bowhunting last fall," said Phil Bozenhard, the biologist in charge of the state's turkey program. "The only thing that might change this year is that muzzleloaders might be allowed."

That decision will be made just before the fall hunt, the biologist notes, so interested hunters should contact the wildlife department for detail.

Maine's turkey population has come a long ways since 19 birds were released in York County in 1977. Wild turkeys are now scattered over a huge chunk of the state and number between 17,000 to 20,000 birds, one of the highest populations in New England. According to Bozenhard, Maine hunters took 151 birds last fall.

Much of the turkey hunting in Maine takes place on private land, and finding open ground that hasn't been spoken for in desired locales can be a challenge. This is less true in fall due to lower hunter participation, but the WMDs open to fall hunting offer some excellent public land where turkeys are present in good numbers.

One prime example is the Mt. Agamenticus Wildlife Management Area in York and South Berwick in York County. It was in this vicinity where Maine started its turkey reintroduction program because of its good habitat, and things haven't changed much over the years. The 1,117-acre tract consists primarily of upland hardwood forests with some forest wetlands mixed in, and there are lots of birds in the region. The area is approximately six miles north of York Village. It is best reached from U.S. Route 1 via Mountain Road out of Cape Neddick and then Mt. Agamenticus Road, which travels through the area. Secondary roads lead to various points that are worth scouting before the season begins. Lodging, restaurants and other services can be found all along U.S. Route 1 from York Village to Ogunquit.

Another piece of public ground worth taking a look at in this vicinity is the Kennebunk Plains WMA. The area covers over 1,000 acres of plains-like grassland surrounded by upland woods. This WMA is about five miles west of Kennebunk Village and U.S. Route 1 and is easily reached via Route 99 and secondary roads such as Mcquire Road.

The Vernon S. Walker WMA in Newfield and Shapleigh is worth exploring, too. Route 11, which takes off from Route 109 at the south end of Mousam Lake west of Sanford, parallels the area's western border and touches the WMA in spots between Shapleigh Village and North Shapleigh. In all, 3,954 acres of mixed hardwood forests and uplands are available here. Mann Road cuts through the WMA at North Shapleigh. Several gated tote roads offer foot access deep into the interior from other town roads surrounding the unit.

Two more public lands deserve special note. One is the Pineland Public Reserve Land (PRL) in the Cumberland County towns of New Gloucester, Gray, North Yarmouth and Gray. At 1,100 acres, the Pineland unit is a sizeable piece of public land in Maine's most populated county, and its mix of rolling hardwoods and former agricultural fields offer good turkey habitat. Not only are the woodlands productive, but also the eight miles of edges where fields meet woods are prime spots to decoy a fall turkey.

Access to the unit is off both sides of Route 231 from Penny Road on the north, Morse Road on the west and Town Farm Road on the south.

There are firearms restrictions in certain areas, particularly near the barns and buildings off Route 231 and near the school south of Morse Road.

The other is the Leavitt Plantation in the town of Parsonsfield in northwest York County. This is private land, but in April the Maine Department of Conservation purchased the development rights, which ensures public access for hunting and other recreational use. The area covers some 8,600 acres of rolling terrain, mixed hardwoods and old farmlands.

Access can be achieved from Route 160 in North Parsonsfield via Fred Leavitt Road, Merrill Hill Road, Middle Road and others. From these a series of tote roads and trails provide access into the interior.

For more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State St., Augusta, ME 04333; call (207) 287-2871, or visit the MDIFW's Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com.

For more information on Maine's Public Reserve Lands, contact the Bureau of Parks and Lands at (207) 287-3821, or visit the Web site at www.state.me.us/doc/parks.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
According to Ted Walski, New Hampshire's turkey biologist, the Granite State's turkey population has increased to about 23,000 birds since 1975, and turkeys are continuing to expand their range, even in central and northern areas where habitat conditions are less than ideal.

During the 2002 fall archery-only hunt that ran from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15, archers harvested 196 birds.

The Connecticut River Valley wildlife management units including H1, H2, G, D1 and D2 generally account for the highest harvest in the state, said Walski. This includes Grafton County with its active dairy farms, followed by Sullivan and Cheshire counties to the south along the Connecticut River. Finding a place to hun

t in these counties is not difficult, thanks to the large amount of public land available.

In Cheshire County, for example, Pisgah State Park, the state's largest, covers nearly 13,500 acres of marshes, swamps and forested terrain in Chesterfield and Winchester.

There is plenty of room to hunt here, and the park is open year 'round. It can be easily accessed from Hinsdale on Route 119 from the south or from Winchester and Route 9 on the northern edge using Route 63, which connects the two towns. It can also be accessed from Route 10 using a number of secondary roads.

Another good spot in this general vicinity is Pillsbury State Park in the Sullivan County town of Washington. This park covers over 8,000 acres in three separate parcels, and its heavily forested, mixed terrain contains good turkey habitat. The Pillsbury Conservation Easement that connects to the park to the north in the town of Goshen adds several thousand acres of additional hunting opportunities.

The park can be reached from Route 31 north of Washington, where secondary roads allow easy access to good hunting areas. There is a campground nearby featuring 41 campsites that is open until the end of October.

In northeast Sullivan County in the town of Springfield, Gile State Forest's 6,675 acres provide more good turkey hunting. Route 44 cuts just through the middle of the tract, and secondary roads take off from there.

Grafton County offers several prime spots for fall turkeys, too. One includes 5,655 acres of hilly, hardwood-covered terrain within Cardigan Mountain State Forest in Orange and Alexandria. The area is open year 'round and can be reached from Route 118 out of Canaan.

Another is the Enfield Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Enfield. This WMA covers more than 4,400 acres in two parcels along Route 44 east of Lebanon. To the north is the Mascoma River WMA in the southwest corner of Dorchester. It covers just over 2,203 acres.

For more information on hunting and camping at these and other state forests in New Hampshire, contact the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, 172 Pembroke Rd., Concord, NH 03302; call (603) 271-3556, or explore the division's Web site at www.nhparks.state.nh.us.

Camping info can be obtained by calling (603) 271-3628. For more information on fall turkey hunting, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Dr., Concord, NH 03301; call (603) 271-3421, or visit the department's Web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us.

VERMONT
Vermont's first limited fall turkey hunt was held in 1975. That year a total of 139 birds of either sex were taken. Since then, fall hunting opportunities have expanded and now include a bow and arrow-only season as well as a shotgun season. These seasons take place at different times in different wildlife management units, so hunters should check the current regulation digest for details.

As interest in the fall hunts has increased, so has the annual harvest. According to Doug Blodgett, Vermont's biologist in charge of the turkey program, hunters took 66 birds last year during the fall archery season, plus 522 more with shotguns for a total of 588 birds.

With a population somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000, wild turkeys are pretty much everywhere in Vermont. However, some of the largest densities have traditionally been in towns along and between the east edge of the Green Mountains and the Connecticut River, and towns bordering Lake Champlain. There is plenty of public land in the form of wildlife management areas and state forests to explore and hunt.

For example, Roaring Brook WMA in Vernon, south of Brattleboro, covers just over 1,400 acres. It offers good habitat for turkeys and can easily be accessed via roads leading from Route 142 at Blodgett and Central Park. Another good spot is the Atherton Meadows WMA west of Whitingham. It covers about 1,000 acres and can be reached using Route 111 traveling west.

Traveling up the Connecticut River valley, the Arthur Davis WMA in Reading west of the river town of Windsor offers more than 7,700 acres of public ground. It can be reached by traveling west from Felchville on Route 106.

In Stockbridge, south of Gaysville on Route 107, there is a large section of Les Newell WMA worth getting to know. This WMA covers nearly 8,000 acres in several tracts, with other portions in Barnard to the east. The WMA is accessible from Route 12 in that town.

Hunters looking for even bigger ground should consider 18,500-acre Coolidge in Sherburne. The forest is accessible via secondary roads from Route 100, from North Shrewsbury and the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Highway north of Plymouth.

On the west side of the mountains, Pond Woods WMA in Orwell covers 2,111 acres of good turkey habitat. It can be reached going south from Route 73 in that town or from the Sunset Pond Road by traveling north from Route 144 in Benson.

South of Vergennes in Weybridge, the 1,194-acre Snake Mountain WMA is a good bet, too. It can be reached from Route 23 using Snake Mountain Road south of Route 17.

Hunters should not overlook the fall turkey-hunting potential within the Green Mountain National Forest. In the Rochester District, for example, the Upper White River Basin along forest Road 55 with its mixture of apple orchards, old fields, open meadows and regenerated aspen growth has some good potential. The same is true of the Cobb Hill area along forest Road 68, the Hogback Mountain Area via forest Road 224, and Leicester Hollow along forest Road 243 in the Middlebury District.

For more information on these areas, as well as maps and camping details, contact the Rochester ranger office at (802) 767-4261 or the Middlebury office at (802) 388-4362.

For more information on Vermont's WMAs and state forests and additional hunting information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main St., Waterbury, VT 05671; call (802) 241-3700, or visit the VFWD's Web site at www.state.vt.us/fw/fwhome.

MASSACHUSETTS
Massachusetts commenced its turkey restoration program in 1972 when 37 birds were released in Berkshire County. Since then, the turkey population has grown to an estimated 15,000 birds scattered across the Commonwealth. The first fall season was established in 1990.

During the 2002 fall season, 125 birds were harvested in zones 1-9 and 13, which include much of the state except the northeast and southeast regions. However, Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties, all west of the Connecticut River, contributed 95 birds (39, 34 and 22, respectively). Although there is good habitat elsewhere in the state, these counties offer some of the best turkey range and some of the large

st public hunting grounds in Massachusetts.

Three of the best include Chalet WMA in Dalton and Windsor, with 5,354 acres of mostly south-facing, moderately steep slopes covered with mixed hardwoods. Another is Fox Den WMA in Worthington and Middlefield, with seven parcels covering 2,177 acres of steep-to-moderate, west-facing slopes covered with hardwoods rising from the East Branch Westfield River.

Also, try the Hiram H. Fox WMA in Chester, Chesterfield and neighboring towns. This area consists of two large parcels with rolling hills and gullies totaling 2,653 acres.

Maps of these and other WMAs in the state (covering more than 100,000 acres) showing access points, parking areas and gates can be printed from the Mass Wildlife Web site at www.state.ma.us/dfwele/dfw.

These counties also offer some notable state forests worth scouting. These include 4,100-acre Monroe SF, Hawley SF (covering nearly 7,500 acres), Pittsfield SF with 7,914 acres, and October Mountain State Forest near Lee and Becket, which sprawls over more than 14,000 acres.

Additional information on turkey hunting in the Bay State may be obtained by contacting the MassWildlife office in Westboro at (508) 799-7970, or by visiting the Web site listed above.

CONNECTICUT
The Nutmeg State is now home to approximately 30,000 wild turkeys, the descendents of 22 birds released in 1975. The first limited public-land fall archery season was established in 1983, but today there is also a shotgun season.

For opportunities on public land, the state forests in the northwest and northeast regions offer some of the best bets, such as Housatonic State Forest near West Cornwall that is easily accessible from Route 7, with 10,749 acres of mixed hardwoods, pine and hemlock in several blocks.

Tunxis State Forest along the central border of Massachusetts is another good spot. It covers some 9,000 acres in several blocks near Hartland and is best accessed via Route 20 out of Winsted.

To the south is Peoples State Forest near Barkhamsted, covering nearly 3,000 acres off Route 20, and Natchaug State Forest near Eastford, covering nearly 12,500 acres off Route 198 traveling out of Ashford.

In all, about 30 Connecticut state forests are open to fall archery or fall shotgun turkey hunting. For more information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Office Building, Hartford, CT 06115; call (203) 424-3011, or visit their Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/wildlife/.



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