Our Top 10 Spring Turkey Hunts

Our Top 10 Spring Turkey Hunts

We asked New York's top turkey biologists where they would go for a productive spring turkey hunt on public land. Here's what they had to say.

Even if the weather is not always perfect, spring gobbler season is still a glorious time to be outdoors. Another winter has passed. Bright, fresh greens are beginning to appear. Best of all, turkeys are gobbling on the ridges. Hunting time is here again!

All we need are places to hunt. In years past, it was plain to any serious turkey hunter that the only good places to hunt spring gobblers were in the southern counties, most notably the Southern Tier.

A look at the 2004 spring gobbler take shows that turkeys have been expanding their range in New York. Regions that were recently fringe areas now provide good hunting. In fact, the state’s top 10 turkey counties are scattered all over the state. For example, the top county was Chautauqua County in the extreme southwestern part of the state, where turkey hunting has been good for many years, but the second best was Dutchess County in the southeastern region not far from New York City. The third best was Jefferson County, bordering Canada.

Based on advice from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation experts, here are 10 suggestions for places you might find your gobbler this spring.

NORTHERN ZONE

Northern New York counties have not had a reputation for good turkey populations, but this is changing.

“We see birds in places where 20 years ago you would have said you’d never see turkeys,” said biologist Ken Kogut.

In Region 5, the eastern side of the Adirondacks, turkey hunting still has been light in northern counties.

“In Region 5, the only good turkey hunting areas are in the south,” Kogut said. “The very best is in Washington County, which is hunted very heavily.”

Washington County ranked 13th last year with a take of 685 gobblers.

“I would say Batten Kill State Forest would be a great place to hunt. It’s a very productive area with a long history of turkey hunting.”

Batten Kill State Forest is relatively new. Situated in southeastern Washington County in the foothills of the Green Mountains, it covers 983 acres. The terrain is steep, with elevations ranging from about 500 feet along the Batten Kill to about 1,500 feet on the peaks. Habitat is primarily forest, including mature oaks and beech, but there is farmland in the valley where turkeys can find food during winter.

While nesting conditions have been poor for the past three years in most of the state, Kogut noted that a second nesting last year appeared to be quite successful in this area.

Batten Kill State Forest is northeast of Cambridge along Route 313, about an hour from the Albany area by way of Route 7 east and then Route 22 north.

Because it’s so close to Albany, this area gets a lot of hunting pressure, but there are pockets of cover where adventurous hunters can get away from it all.

“I think what makes these tracts remote,” Kogut said, “is that there are a lot of elevation changes. A lot of guys aren’t up to climbing 1,500-foot ridges, but the ones who do will have more opportunities.”

For information about local services, contact the Washington County Information and Tourism office, County Municipal Center, 383 Broadway, Fort Edward, NY 12828; call (888) 203-8622; or visit the agency’s Web site at tourisminfo@ washingtoncounty.org.

Similar in latitude, Peck Hill State Forest in Fulton County is also a short drive from the Albany area by way of Interstate Route 90 west to Exit 28 at Fultonville, and then north on Route 30A to Route 29A at Gloversville. Follow Route 29A north to the state forest land. A parking area on the north side of Wilie Road, left off Route 29A between Gloversville and Caroga Lake, has just been expanded to accommodate more vehicles.

“The terrain here is perfect for hunters who like to set up and call,” suggested Cliff Wray, a senior forester at the Northville office. “There’s a lot of up-and-down country. You can get up on the hillsides and work the turkeys coming up at you.”

Peck Hill State Forest covers an area of about 2,900 acres. Most of it is forest protected for municipal water supplies. A system of unmarked trails will help you navigate through this area. Rolling hill terrain is almost entirely forested. The only openings are log landings. It has a lot of red oak and beech mixed with other hardwoods, hemlock and white pine. Oaks produced a good crop of acorns last fall. There were also some scattered beechnuts. Very little agriculture is in the surrounding area.

Get maps of Peck Hill State Forest by contacting the Northville DEC office, 701 South Main Street, Northville, NY 12134. Information about local services is available through the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 2 North Main Street, Gloversville, NY 12078; or call (800) 676-3858.

EASTERN REGION

Surprisingly, Dutchess County, a short drive north of New York City, ranked second last year, with 954 gobblers.

The largest public land in Dutchess County is the Taconic-Hereford Multiple Use Area. It is in the center of the county east of the Taconic State Parkway. Parking areas are along the parkway on a dirt access road off Tyrell Road and at the end of Pond Gut Road, which is off state Route 82.

The terrain on these 909 acres is rolling hills covered primarily by hardwood forest. Expect a lot of competition from other hunters on any public lands in this county. While scouting the area, rather than looking for the best places to hunt, look for places that other hunters might avoid.

Information on local services is available from the Dutchess County Tourism office, 3 Neptune Road, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601; or call (800) 445-3131 or (914) 463-4000.

CENTRAL REGION

Midstate nesting conditions have been similar to the rest of the state during recent springs.

“The last two springs have not been good for turkeys, and three years ago was not that good either,” according to Lance Clark, a Region 7 wildlife biologist.

However, that should not be viewed as a poor outlook for gobbler hunting this spring. Though there has been a short-term decline, the turkey population has been so high that we can still expect this year to be well above the long-term average.

“Most of our region has a pretty good population of turkeys,” Clark claimed.

Most of the public lands in the central region are expected to provide good turkey-hunting opportunities this spring. Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area is one of the best, Clark said.

Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area is in central Oswego County. Route 104 cuts through the northern side of the area. Route 22 is to the west and Route 69 to the south, and routes 183 and 13 border it on the east. From the Syracuse area, take Interstate Route 81 north to Exit 33 at Parish or to Exit 34 onto Route 104 East.

“In Oswego County, turkeys have been doing very well,” Clark said. “Oswego County ranked 10th last year with 740 gobblers.”

Happy Valley is a large wildlife management area at 8,645 acres. This is the Tug Hill Plateau area. Terrain is gently rolling woodland. Habitat is mostly mixed forest and conifer stands. Periodic logging has resulted in a good mix of brush and timber in the forest. Dairy farms in the surrounding area provide good winter feeding spots.

For information about local services, contact the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism, County Office Building, 46 East Bridge Street, Oswego, NY 13126; or call (315) 349-8322.

Tioughnioga Wildlife Management Area is handy to hunters from both the Syracuse and Albany areas. It is about six miles south of Route 20 at Cazenovia along Route 13.

“The access is very good,” Clark said. “There are a couple of town roads that go through there.

Turn east off Route 13 onto either Damon Road or Dugway Road, which pass through the WMA.

Tioughnioga Wildlife Management Area covers 3,605 acres. Terrain is moderately hilly. Habitat is mostly mixed hardwood forest with some red pine plantations. Surrounding agricultural land provides habitat variety and winter feed.

“Our technician who works there has been conducting timber sales and doing other things to benefit turkeys for some time, so the turkey hunting should be pretty good over there,” Clark said.

The National Wild Turkey Federation has also contributed money here for habitat work. Native and cool-season grasses have been planted in openings and along trails. These provide good feeding places for spring broods. Shade trees have been cleared around apple trees to promote growth. Scout for clear-cuts and other openings where gobblers like to strut in spring.

While you are scouting in the region, also check out Stoney Pond State Forest about 1.5 miles to the northeast, or Marrow Mountain State Forest, less than a mile to the southeast.

For information about local services, contact the Madison County Tourism office, P.O. Box 1029, Morrisville, NY 13408; or call (800) 684-7320.

WESTERN REGION

In the recent past, the best turkey hunting in the Finger Lakes area has been south of the Finger Lakes. This year, following three years of cold, wet springs, the hunting might be as good, maybe better, north of these lakes.

One good bet is the Lake Shore Marshes Wildlife Management Area, which consists of several separate tracts that cover a total of 6,179 acres in northeastern Wayne County between Sodus Bay and Fair Haven, roughly midway between Syracuse and Rochester along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The various tracts are accessible from several roads north of Route 104. From Rochester, drive east on Route 104. From Syracuse, take Route 481 northwest to Route 3, and then go west to Route 104.

Better known for its waterfowl hunting, this area also holds a good turkey population that is not widely known. The terrain is drumlin, rolling sand and gravel hills. About half is hardwoods forest, the other half mostly wetlands in various stages that can complicate walking.

Get information about local services from the Wayne County Office of Tourism, 9 Pearl Street, Lyons, NY 14489; or call (800) 527-6510.

Steuben County ranked seventh in the state last year with a take of 786 spring gobblers. It probably would be more difficult to get out of good turkey habitat on public lands than to find it here.

The Erwin Wildlife Management Area is about five miles west from Corning. From Interstate Route 86, take Exit 42 at Coopers Plains, and then follow Smith Hill Road. It passes through the northwestern tip of the public land. A left turn here will take you through the heart of the area.

Terrain is hilly on this 2,490-acre tract. Habitat is primarily hardwoods with some conifers. There is periodic logging, and some openings are maintained for wildlife.

Erwin Mountain State Forest borders a small section of the Erwin Wildlife Management Area, which is separated from the rest by Beartown Road, which starts at Gang Mills. This adds 507 acres of contiguous public land.

Information about local services is available from the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau, 5 West Market Street, Second Floor, Corning, NY 14830; or call (866) 946-3386.

Without a doubt, the best turkey hunting in New York is in Region 9. Using the new calculated spring gobbler harvest figures, which certainly are more accurate than the old system of just summarizing numbers from hunter reports, Chautauqua County led the state last spring with 1,096 gobblers. Erie County was fourth with 921 gobblers, and Cattaraugus County was fifth with 888 gobblers.

Virtually every state forest and wildlife management area in these counties has good turkey hunting. Coyle Hill State Forest in Allegany County is an interesting mix of rugged terrain where you can generally find some elbowroom. It covers 2,343 acres of Allegheny Highlands hills.

The habitat is mixed hardwoods forest in various stages of maturity, thanks to periodic cutting. There are some thick, brushy areas and conifer stands. Agriculture occupies some of the surrounding area.

This state forest is north of Interstate Route 86 between Hornell and Cuba. Exit onto Route 19 north, and then take an immediate left and follow a wi

nding dirt road to the public land.

Get information about local services by contacting Allegany County Tourism (Chautauqua-Allegany), County Office Bldg., Room 208, 7 Court Street, Belmont, NY 14813; or call (800) 836-1869.

South Valley State Forest covers 4,191 acres in southern Cattaraugus County. This is an oddly shaped public land with many angles in the boundary, which makes access to some places confusing. Because of this, you can find places that are hunted lightly. There is no better place for a gobbler hunter who knows how to use a GPS unit.

Rugged hills are covered by hardwood forest with hemlock thickets in some valleys and a few scattered pines. Expect to do some steep climbing. Elevations range from about 1,400 feet to more than 2,100 feet. The tops of the ridges are generally the best places for calling gobblers, but don’t overlook the finger ridges. Walk along the ridgetops, stopping to call from each side, until a gobbler answers.

Follow Route 219 south from Buffalo to Interstate Route 86 West. From Rochester, drive south on Interstate Route 390 to I-86 west. Take Exit 17 from I-86 between Salamanca and Jamestown and follow Onoville Road south. Turn right on Bone Run Road, Sawmill Run Road or Brown Run Road and watch for signs to access the public land. In some places, state forest tracts bordering the road are narrow strips, but the borders widen away from the roads.

For local information, contact the Cattaraugus County Tourism office, 303 Court Street, Little Valley, NY 14755; or call (800) 331-0543.

North Harmony State Forest is in Chautauqua County near the village of Panama. From the Buffalo area, take Interstate Route 90 west to Westfield, and then follow Route 394 east to Route 30 at Chautauqua. Turn right onto Wall Street Road to the state forest. Several dirt roads pass through the area. Watch for signs marking the public land.

This area covers 2,561 acres. The state forest is shaped irregularly, with a couple of private tracts that are surrounded by state land and others that are bordered on three sides by public land.

The terrain is mostly gently rolling, but there are a few steep slopes. Most of the habitat is hardwood forest, with reverting farmland and some hemlock stands on wetter ground. Much of the surrounding private land is agricultural.

For information about local services, contact the Chautauqua-Allegheny Region tourism office, Route 394, Main Gate Welcome Center, Chautauqua, NY 14722; or call (800) 242-4569.

For more information about turkey hunting in New York, including regulations updates, contact the NYSDEC, 50 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12233-4754; or call (518) 457-4480.

For more details about travel services in New York, contact the New York State Division of Tourism (N. America Group Travel), Empire State Development, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, Room 110, Albany, NY 12223; or call (800) CAL-LNYS, Ext. 47624.

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