Our Finest Spring Turkey Hunts

Experts are predicting a banner year for New York's spring turkey hunters. These top-rated public hunting areas are sure to offer exciting action in 2008.

(February 2008).

Photo by John Trout Jr.

You can't tell by the snow that's likely still piled up outside your window. But New York's spring turkey season -- May 1 through 31 -- is just a couple of calendar pages away. That means today, not tomorrow, is the perfect time to take inventory of your gear, start shopping for needed items, brush up on calling techniques and scout some new hunting grounds.

Knock on a few farmhouse doors. Also check out nearby state forests and wildlife management areas. Some of New York's most promising turkey-hunting spots are owned by the taxpayers and are available to licensed hunters. The following are among the best of the bunch:

CANADAWAY CREEK WMA

Chautauqua County has been one of our state's top producers of spring-season toms ever since the 1960s, when systematic trap-and-transfer programs triggered the wild turkey's comeback in the Northeast. In recent years, Chautauqua's May harvest has consistently been a leader among the 56 upstate counties where turkey hunting is allowed.

Some prime public land may be found in Chautauqua County. Your options include approximately 20,000 acres of state forests and the Canadaway Creek Wildlife Management Area, about six miles southeast of Fredonia in the town of Arkwright.

Canadaway Creek WMA's terrain is best described as an

upland plateau split by numerous gullies. Perhaps 90 percent of the property is covered by mature or second-growth hardwoods, with the balance consisting of small conifer plantations. Be sure to scout for roosting toms in or near those pines.

This WMA is easy to find. From the Interstate Route 90 exit at Fredonia, head south on Route 60 to Cassadaga. A left turn on Bard Road will take you into the heart of the management area.

Lodging alternatives in the area range from bed-and-breakfasts to first-class hotels in or near Fredonia and nearby Dunkirk.

For assistance, you can phone the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau at (716) 753-4304. (Continued)

HOWLAND ISLAND

Did you ever hunt an island? Numerous residents of the

Finger Lakes region can honestly say they've had that experience, at the 3,600-acre Howland Island unit of the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area.

Located at a large bend in the Seneca River northwest of the Cayuga County village of Port Byron, Howland Island is dotted with ponds used by migrating ducks and geese.

But the island's grassy fields, hedgerows and small woodlots abound with turkeys.

Surprisingly, a minor inconvenience deters many local hunters from taking on those toms.

In the 1990s, state highway officials shut down the main bridge to the island due to structural deficiencies. As a result, automotive vehicles are not allowed on the island. It's still permissible to walk across the decaying bridge off Howland Island Road, but parking room along the road is limited. Hunting pressure is also minimal on the opposite side of the island, off Carncross Road east of Savannah. At that location, a small parking area and a pedestrian bridge afford access to the island. The island flock is healthy and not unduly pressured.

The key to connecting with a nice tom -- like the 20-pounder Keith DePauw of Jordan downed in 2006 -- is pinpointing roosting areas that overlook interior roads.

To get to the island from the Thruway exit at Weedsport, go west on Route 31 to Port Byron and then north on Route 38 to North Main Street, which leads directly to the closed east-side bridge. A brochure on the island, available from the Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 8 office at (585) 226-2466, will prove helpful in finding your way around.

For lodging information, contact the Wayne County tourism office at 1-800-527-6510.

SUMMERHILL

STATE FOREST

Many state forests are lightly hunted after the first day or two of the spring turkey season. The Summerhill Reforestation area in Cayuga County is a prime example, even though it is roomy enough, at 4,355 acres, to accommodate more than a couple of hunters at once.

Located in the town of Summerhill, the irregularly-shaped tract is bordered at its extreme south end by state Route 90 about four miles east of Locke, and sliced by four local byways (Tollgate Road, Lick Street, Salt Road and Dresser Road) that head north, off Route 90. Most of the acreage is covered with stately conifers, but you'll also find some thick ground foliage and a few grassy fields along the perimeter of the property.

Following an ideal 2007 breeding and poult-rearing season in Cayuga County, there should be plenty of birds at Summerhill this year.

To get there from the Rochester or Syracuse metro areas, take U.S. Route 20 to Auburn and then head south on Route 38 along the west shore of Owasco Lake to Moravia. From there, continue south on Route 38 to Locke. At the blinking light, turn left onto Route 90.

Some of New York's most

promising turkey-hunting spots are owned by the taxpayers

and are available

to licensed hunters.

Travelers may choose from a wide range of lodging alternatives in or near the city of Auburn. For guidance, contact the Cayuga County Tourism office at 1-800-499-9615.

UPPER AND LOWER

LAKES WMA

St. Lawrence County deserves its reputation as one of the state's up-and-coming turkey-hunting destinations.

Upper and Lower Lakes WMA is on county Route 14, about five miles west of Canton. As its name hints, Upper and Lower Lakes is dominated by wetlands, yet it is also dotted with small woodlots and grassy fields that, between them, afford made-to-order roosting, nesting and strutting areas for turkeys.

The wooded areas -- sitting high and dry within sight of the stream that flows between the property's namesake lakes -- are the likeliest locations to call a local a gobbler into shotgun range.

Don't overlook the hedgerows. After I'd set up on my first hunt at the WMA, I was surprised to hear a couple of hens perched in a thin row of trees adjacent to the access road I'd just crossed on foot. Apparently I had walked right under them in the gathering light!

Newcomers to Upper and Lower Lakes who aren't conf

ident of scoring on their own might consider booking one of the local guides. They're at home both on the management area and on private properties leased by the Basswood Lodge, which may be reached at (315) 379-1528.

For a map of Upper and Lower Lakes WMA, contact the DEC's Region 6 office in Watertown at (315) 785-2261.

BEAR SPRING

MOUNTAIN WMA

Bear Spring Mountain WMA in Delaware County has been a popular hangout for deer hunters and turkey hunters for decades. Local residents, as well as visiting hunters from the metropolitan New York City area, vie for choice locations in the management area on the opening day of the spring season. If you join them, you might feel that the place is a bit crowded. Come back on a Wednesday, however, or even on the third or fourth weekend in May, and you might have all or most of Bear Spring Mountain's 7,100 acres to yourself!

This year, hunters may be surprised to find that major repairs have been made to the main road to the WMA.

Route 206, which winds up and down mountainsides between the Delaware County village of Walton and the Beaver Kill valley village of Roscoe in western Sullivan County, underwent emergency repairs following a spring flood.

At the time this article was due, the reconstruction was proceeding as planned, but not yet finished.

Bear Spring Mountain is about five miles south of Walton on Route 206, so to verify current road conditions, traveling hunters should contact the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-642-4443.

If Route 206 is open in both directions, hunters may reach the WMA by going south from Walton, or by taking Route 17 to the East Branch exit following Route 30 north from there to Shinhopple, where a left on Trout Brook Road leads directly to the management area.

The WMA is very hilly, with cover consisting of a mix of mature hardwoods and deciduous trees and a few maintained clearings. Many hunters camp in tents or pop-up trailers along the interior roads.

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