Our Best Fall Turkey Hunts
September 30, 2010
Conditions are right for an excellent fall turkey season throughout the Northeast. Here's a look at how you can get in on the action near you.
Photo by Ralph Hensley
By Les Bartus
If ever there was a wildlife management success story, it's the story of the wild turkey in New England. Driven to near extinction throughout the Northeast in the late 1800s, wise management and stocking practices by the various wildlife biologists and state agencies have brought turkeys back in high numbers throughout the region.
While turkey hunting has traditionally been considered a spring pastime, there is ample opportunity throughout New England to hunt them in autumn. In fact, in some areas the chances for taking a trophy tom may actually be a bit better in the fall, due to a reduction in hunting pressure and the birds being more concentrated around available food sources.
Fall hunting tactics are a bit different, of course. You won't be calling to gobbling, hen-crazy toms. Still, the boss toms and hens are susceptible to calling in the fall. As a bonus, most New England states with fall seasons offer either-sex hunting, considerably increasing the odds of taking home a bird.
With plenty of unpressured birds, beautiful scenery and the opportunity to bag your own Thanksgiving centerpiece, do you really need more reason to give fall turkey hunting a try this year?
Maine opened its first bow-and-arrow season for fall turkey hunting in 2003. This year, the season runs from Oct. 18-29. There is a bag limit of one turkey of either sex. Designated hunting areas include wildlife management districts 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26. All of these areas are in the southeastern end of the state.
Favorite areas include Wildlife Management District 15 in Oxford, York, Cumberland and Androscoggin counties. This is the Sebago Lake area and contains a nice mix of forest areas and farmland to hunt in. Most of the forest region consists of hardwoods, with lots of oaks and other mast trees providing ample food for the birds.
Management District 21 is on the eastern side of Sebago Lake and contains the same terrain mix of forests and agriculture. District 21 consists of 14 townships in Cumberland, Androscoggin and York counties.
Yet another favorite among those in the know is Wildlife Management District 26, which lies in the Penobscot Bay area off state Highway 1. It contains 654 square miles in Waldo, Hancock, Knox and Penobscot counties. As in the other wildlife management districts mentioned, there is a good mix of turkey habitat here, with plenty of mast areas as well as farmland, giving resident turkey flocks everything they need to thrive.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife helps prospective hunters on their Web site by listing the map numbers in the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer that contains the particular wildlife management district that you are looking for and gives up-to-date road directions. These atlases are invaluable for researching hunting and fishing hotspots.
Anyone holding a Maine archery license may purchase a wild turkey hunting permit from a license agent or through the mail. The cost of the permits is $13 for residents and $43 for non-residents.
For more information, check out the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Web site at www.state.me.us/ifw/index.html; or phone them at (207) 287-8000. Hunters may also write to them at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, Augusta, Maine 04333.
There is also an automated information line in service at (207) 287-8003 that has updated information on season dates, new hunting laws, etc.
Lodging, restaurants and other amenities may be found by browsing the Maine tourist site at www. visitmaine.com.
Like its northern neighbor, New Hampshire only allows archery hunting for autumn gobblers; however, the season is a long one. At the time of this writing, the dates for the 2004 season had not been set, but in 2003, the season dates were Sept. 15 through Dec. 15 - one of the longest turkey seasons of any kind in the U.S.
All of New Hampshire's wildlife management units are open to fall turkey hunting with the exception of WMUs A, B, C1 and C2. License fees for archery are $22 for residents, and $73 for non-residents. All turkey hunters must also purchase a $6 wild turkey permit.
New Hampshire requires archers to have their name and address printed on each arrow. When a bird is bagged, it must be registered and sealed within 12 hours, and a conservation officer must be notified within 24 hours.
New Hampshire boasts a large number of state parks that are open to hunting. Many of these offer year-round camping facilities. For more information on these parks, visit www.nhparks.state.nh.us on the Web.
One favorite destination among those in the know is Bear Brook State Park in the town of Allenstown. The park consists of nearly 10,000 acres of mixed hard and softwoods, as well as some wet areas. Get there by taking I-95 to Route 4 west, and then turn onto Route 28 south and follow the signs the rest of the way. The campground number is (603) 485-9869.
Licenses may be purchased online. For information, the state Web site is at www.wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting. License information can also be obtained by calling (603) 271-3421. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department may be contacted at (603) 271-2461. Travel information may be located at www.visitnh.gov.
Beginning in 1969 with 31 wild turkeys obtained from New York, Vermont has managed to grow a flock estimated at well over 40,000 birds. With that many turkeys, and plenty of public land to choose from, it's no trick to find a place to hunt fall toms.
Deciding exactly where to go can be a problem, however, albeit a pleasant one. The highest bird densities occur in the valley regions of Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River, with the edges of the Green Mountains also holding large pockets of birds. The common factor among these areas is a mix of forests and farmland, giving the birds ample food, shelter, field edges and low growth to nest in.
Rutland County annually leads the field when it comes to harvest totals, with Bennington County not far behind. The state is blessed with a large amount of public land, both state owned and federal, ranging from the Green Mountain Nationa
l Forest to the many wildlife management areas scattered throughout the state.
A few of the areas to begin focusing your search on include Otter Creek WMA on state Route 7 near Danby-Mount Tabor, the recently opened Blueberry Hill WMA in Castleton and Hubbardton Battlefield WMA in Hubbardton.
Moving to the north of the Rutland-Castleton area along Route 22A, try the Pond Woods WMA in Orwell and Richville WMA in Shoreham.
Hunters will be hard-pressed to find an area anywhere in the central or southern end of Vermont that does not hold a good supply of gobblers. Pick any WMA or state forest and head for the high ground - the birds are literally everywhere throughout the state. They are spread a bit thinner as you move to the more northern portion of Vermont, but are still available statewide in huntable numbers.
The 2004 fall season shows promise of being a great one, as favorable spring weather resulted in good nesting conditions and the poults came through in fine shape.
Fall season dates vary depending on the wildlife management unit you wish to hunt, with most falling in late October. The bag limit is two birds of either sex. Licenses cost $16 for residents, and $25 for non-residents. A required turkey tag costs an additional $17 and $25, respectively.
Vermont is one of the few states that allows the use of dogs for fall turkey hunting.
Additional information, including maps of wildlife management areas, is available at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's Web site at www.vtfishandwildlife.com. The department also maintains an information line at (802) 241-3700.
Tourism information is available at www.travel-vermont.com.
Massachusetts has a very short fall turkey season of just six days this year, but the state also has an abundance of the big birds. In 2004, the season runs from Oct. 25-30, with a bag limit of one bird of either sex. Massachusetts has a yearly bag limit of two turkeys, so hunters who were lucky enough to bag a pair of toms in the spring are not eligible to hunt the fall season.
Generally, the western end of the state will be the best place to look for a fall trophy. During the spring season, Worcester County topped the chart for gobblers taken with 603 birds, and Berkshire and Franklin counties coming in second and third with roughly 400 each.
Last autumn, hunters accounted for 111 birds throughout the state. Berkshire County led the way, with Franklin County following closely in second place. Hampden and Hampshire counties made up the rest of the top quartet for the fall season.
Massachusetts has a very large number of public hunting areas to choose from. In the Western District, some likely places for hunters to begin their search for a fall turkey trophy are Peru State Forest and the Peru Wildlife Management Area in the towns of Peru and Windsor. This 4,729-acre parcel is made up of mostly northern hardwoods with some old apple orchards and meadows mixed in. Access to the area can be had through pull-offs along Peru Road in Windsor and from both ends of Montague Road in Peru. There is also some parking available at the lot at Tracy Pond off Middlefield Road in Peru. Another excellent area to begin looking for a fall trophy is the Fisk Meadows and Chesterfield Wildlife Conservation Easement in the town of Chesterfield. The WMA contains 580 acres, while the conservation easement covers 491 additional acres. The terrain is mostly gently sloping land with a mix of hardwoods and softwoods. Pay particular attention to the section known as Ram Hill, which is primarily hardwoods, with plenty of mast trees to concentrate birds in autumn.
Parking is available at the end of Old Chesterfield Road on the east side. There is also a log landing along Chesterfield Road that may be used for access to the area.
In the Central District, check out 10,557-acre Barre Falls WMA in the towns of Hubbardston, Oakham, Barre and Rutland. This enormous WMA contains lots of hardwoods and meadows, with plenty of mast trees such as oak and beech. Other public areas that bear looking at are Hawley State Forest and Conway State Forest.
MassWildlife makes life much easier for hunters by publishing excellent downloadable maps of all the state's wildlife management areas, which may be accessed on the Internet at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/ dfw/wma.htm.
Licenses cost $27.50 for residents, and $99.50 for non-residents. All hunters must also possess a $5 permit, which is easily obtained by mailing in the application that comes attached to each license. Hunters need to apply by Sept. 15 in order to ensure their application will be entered into the system in time for the fall season. Besides the permit, hunters must also possess a state safety sticker, which attaches to the gun barrel. Stickers may be obtained by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the MassWildlife Field Headquarters at the address listed below.
For more information, visit the MassWildlife online Web site at www.state.ma.us/dfwele/dpt_toc.htm.
Also, contact the Field Headquarters, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westboro MA 01581; or phone them at (508) 792-7270. Travel plans including restaurants and lodging can be made with information available at the Massachusetts Tourist Web site at www.masstourist.com
According to biologist Mike Gregonis, Connecticut is another New England state that contains a large population of birds spread evenly between its borders. Last year, hunters bagged turkeys in virtually every town across the state. Roughly 2,000 birds are taken annually during the spring seasons, with the towns of Lebanon, Woodstock and Colchester usually leading the way in numbers of birds brought to bag. Private-land hunting accounts for the majority (almost 90 percent) of the birds taken, although it must be noted that private land is where most of the hunting pressure is focused.
Connecticut holds a large number of public-hunting areas that are available to hunters, ranging in size from the tiny 147-acre East River Marsh in Guilford, which is accessible by boat only to the massive 17,186-acre Cockaponset State Forest in the towns of Haddam and Madison.
The Cockaponset and Naugatuck state forests lead the pack for numbers of birds taken from public land. There is a comprehensive list of all public lands, including maps of the state-owned land available on the Department of Environmental Protection/Wildlife Division Web site listed below.
License and permit applications are available online, with the cost of a firearms license being $14 for residents and $67 for non-residents. If you wish to bowhunt your turkey, you will need a small-game and archery deer license, available for $30 to residents and $100 for out-of-staters. The required turkey permit costs an additional $14 for residents and non-resid
ents. Send in your application early because the permit can take up to four weeks to process.
This year, the firearms season runs from Oct. 16-30. Be aware that there are some variations in season dates and license requirements, and final costs depend on whether you are hunting public or private land. So, it pays to read the regulations posted on the Web site carefully. You will find everything you need to know at http:// dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/wildlife, or you can request the various state publications at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Wildlife Division, 79 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06106-5127. Phone them at (860) 642-5127. Travel directions, restaurants and accommodations can be located by visiting the state tourism Web site at www.tourism.state. ct.us.
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