Hotspots For Empire State Spring Gobblers

Hotspots For Empire State Spring Gobblers

New York's turkey hunters can expect great sport in 2007 as biologists predict good numbers of birds statewide. Try these proven public lands for hot action near you this spring. (April 2007)

Photo by Kenny Bahr

Spring gobbler harvests in New York peaked from 1999 through 2002.

After that, the take started a downward slide due to poor nesting conditions and perhaps over-harvest -- factors currently being investigated in a three-state study along with Ohio and Pennsylvania.

That slide bottomed out in 2005 at 24,900 birds, based on the calculated harvest -- which, biologists say, is a much more accurate estimate than the reported take. That still was better than any time before the 1995 season.

According to Mike Schiavone, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation biologist, the kill rose a little in 2006. Although it is expected to drop slightly this spring, there should be a good number of adult gobblers available, thanks to a good nesting season in 2005.

Here's a look at where to find your Empire State longbeard this season.

WESTERN REGION

No doubt, New York's southwestern counties offer some of the finest wild turkey hunting in the Northeast. In fact, some of the best turkey hunting in the country takes place along the southern tier.

For calculated spring gobbler harvests from 2001 through 2005, the top two counties are Cattaraugus County and neighboring Chautauqua County, the westernmost of the southern-tier counties. Moving eastward, Allegany County ranks 12th and Steuben County ranks 8th.

This is where the modern turkey-hunting tradition began in New York, hunting birds that moved in from Pennsylvania. The habitat here is ideal, a mix of rolling farmland and forested hills. If you're willing to travel to get your spring gobbler, this is the place to go.

Chautauqua County is the leading county in New York for wild turkeys. The average calculated spring gobbler harvest from 2001 through 2005 was 1,628 birds -- a number approached only by neighboring Cattaraugus County, which had an average spring gobbler take of 1,538 birds during that same period.

The habitat here is mostly rolling farmland. State lands are generally reverted farmland or wetlands. Most tracts of public land are small and surrounded by farmland, which adds to their appeal.

Wellman State Forest

Wellman State Forest, a 447-acre tract close to the Pennsylvania border, is a largely ignored area, yet it lies in the middle of some of the finest turkey hunting in the state.

To get there, follow state Route 69 south from state Route 394 at Lakewood. This is flat terrain, reverting farmland covered by secondary growth forest in various stages.

Hatch Creek State Forest

Hatch Creek State Forest covers 1,283 acres in the town of Gerry southeast of Sinclairville. If you're coming down from the Buffalo area, take Interstate Route 90 to the Fredonia exit, follow state Route 60 past Sinclairville and then turn left onto Old Chautauqua Road. This is rolling hills with forested habitat, surrounded by agricultural lands.

Bear Creek State Forest

A little farther down the road is Bear Creek State Forest, a 547-acre tract bordered on the south by 999-acre Hiltonville State Forest. Hunters can reach the southern end of this tract of public land by following Route 60 into Gerry and turning onto county Route 50.

State Forests In Cattaraugus County

Cattaraugus County has 23 state forests, with a combined area of almost 34,000 acres. The largest contiguous tract of state forest in the county is formed by the McCarty Hill State and Rock City state forests, with a combined area of more than 6,000 acres near the middle of the county between

Salamanca and Ellicottville

From I-86, take either exit at Salamanca and head north on state Route 353 or U.S. Route 219. From Route 353, turn right onto Stone Chimney Road, Whig Street or state Route 242 at Little Valley. From Route 219, turn left onto Hungry Hollow or Mutton Hollow.

Few hunters realize that camping is allowed on state forestlands. A free permit is required to stay longer than three nights at any one campsite. Camping is not allowed within 150 feet of water, roads or trails.

Information about local services for Chautauqua County and Cattaraugus County is available through the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 1441, Chautauqua, NY 13722; or call 1-800-242-4569.

Erie County

Erie County ranks third for average spring gobbler harvests, with 1,285 birds per year. Wild turkey hunting is obviously great here, but access is limited because of a shortage of public land. And because this is the county surrounding Buffalo, there is very heavy hunting pressure.

CENTRAL REGION

New York's north "coast" is not without its wild turkey hotspots. The Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area and the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area lie in a mix of rich agricultural lands and wetlands that hide a healthy turkey population. This is flat terrain with a lot of dense cover. Some of the better places to hunt are along the edges of public land where you might catch the birds tracking back and forth from adjacent agricultural lands. The gobblers will be concentrating on romance, but the hens will be seeking food sources.

The combined area of Oak Orchard WMA, Tonawanda WMA and the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge that lies between them, is about 19,000 acres.

Tonawanda WMA is along state Route 77 between Lockport and Batavia. Oak Orchard WMA lies about 3 1/2 miles north of Oakfield. Take state Route 63 north from Batavia to Oakfield.

For information about the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, write 1101 Casey Road, Alabama, NY 14013; or call (585) 948-5445.

For information about places to stay and other services, contact the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation, 345 Third Street, Suite 605, Niagara Falls, NY 14303; or try Niagara-USA.com.

There is great spring gobbler hunting throughout the central-region counties, but the best is along the southern border of regions 7 and 8.

Steuben County ranks 9th for average spring gobbler harvests, with 1,114 gobblers per year. The eastern end of the four-county

region, along with Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany, rates as some of the top spring gobbler hunting in the country. Steuben County dominates the state lands in Region 8, with 22 state forests and four wildlife management areas (WMAs).

West Cameron WMA

West Cameron Wildlife Management Area is a small, forested tract of 165 acres, but it lies near the middle of Steuben County and a very short distance from two state forests, bringing the total of public land holdings in the vicinity to almost 2,700 acres.

West Cameron WMA is a short distance south of I-86. Approaching from the Rochester area, take I-390 south to I-86 east and then exit onto county Route 10. At Bath, proceed south to Cameron, turn right onto county Route 119 and then turn left onto Angel Road.

Cameron State Forest is off county Road 10 north of Cameron. It has an area of 1,990 acres. Cameron Mills State Forest, a 544-acre tract, is about a mile east of Cameron along county Road 119.

For more information about spring gobbler hunting in Steuben County, contact the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road, Avon, NY 14414-9519; or call (585) 226-2466.

EASTERN REGION

In the Albany area, the best spring gobbler hunting -- based on harvest numbers -- is in Schoharie County. But the counties surrounding Albany County and including Albany County have similar average spring gobbler takes, making it too close to call.

Margaret Burke WMA

One interesting hunt in this area is the Margaret Burke Wildlife Management Area. This is a small tract of public land at 264 acres, but it has good potential. Habitat work conducted here by the National Wild Turkey Federation has improved winter cover, one of the primary factors in sustaining a good wild turkey population.

Margaret Burke WMA, also known locally as Knox WMA, lies in Albany County in the town of Knox. To get there from the Albany area, take state Route 156 past Knox about two miles, turn right on county Route 254, and then go about one mile to the WMA.

Black Creek Marsh WMA

Some spring gobbler hunters may overlook Black Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area, also in Albany County, because it is primarily known as a wetlands area. But it also has good wild turkey potential.

A small public-land tract of 287 acres, Black Creek Marsh WMA lies west of Albany in the towns of Guilderland and New Scotland. From Voorheesville, take state Route 156 north, turn right on Kling Terrace and go to the end.

Or take state Route 156 north 2 1/2 miles, turn right on county Road 202 and then go 3/10 mile to the WMA.

State Park Options

Don't overlook state parks near Albany. Grafton Lakes State Park has 2,357 acres northeast from Albany, two miles east of Troy along NY Route 2 in Rensselaer County. Phone the Grafton Lakes State Park's office at (518) 279-1155.

Spring gobbler hunting is allowed, but before planning a trip, always contact individual state parks to confirm their hunting rules.

Get information about these and other lands open to public hunting in the Albany area by contacting the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, 1150 Westcott Rd. Schenectady, NY 12306-2014; or call (518) 357-2049.

Neighboring Delaware and Otsego counties, at the "elbow" of the southern tier, rank 5th and 6th, respectively with 1,173 and 1,165 birds taken per year. Want to get away from excessive heavy hunting pressure coming out of the New York City region? This area is a good choice.

There's a fair amount of public land on the eastern end of the Catskills in Delaware County and on several state forests in Otsego County.

Hunters who put a high emphasis on adventure -- and this includes most of us -- should scout for spring gobblers in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. The Catskill Park and Forest Preserve provide public hunting on a large portion of eastern Delaware County.

The higher parts of the Catskills are not ideal wild turkey habitat, but there are birds along the fringes of the park where the public land is fragmented and elevations are lower.

Scouting is the key to locating game, and this is never more important than when hunting wild turkeys. In spring, gobblers are about to raise broods of young, so good habitat is the key. This includes forest openings where the young turkeys can find insects, which produce fast growth.

If you can't find forest openings on public land, scout the boundaries for openings on private land, and then hunt near those boundaries.

One advantage of hunting in Catskill Park can be camping. This is the ideal opportunity for an inexpensive hunting vacation. Little Pond Campground opens on May 19, in time for the latter part of the spring gobbler season. It lies near the eastern border of Delaware County.

To get there from the New York area, follow I-87 north to state Route 17, go west to the Livingston Manor exit, and bear right off the ramp. Then go to the T, turn right onto old Route 17 and follow it for a mile. Turn right onto county Road 151. About four miles from Lewbeach, go past a traffic light and turn left onto Big Pond Road. The campground entrance is 1/8 mile ahead on the left.

This is a great opportunity for a combination gobbler-hunting and trout-fishing vacation. This campground is just a few minutes' drive from the Beaver Kill, a trout stream of world renown. Little Pond holds big smallmouth bass and brown trout.

To fish here, you'll need a special permit from the city of New York Board of Water Supply. Motorized boats are not allowed on the pond.

For hunters who prefer seclusion, there are remote, primitive campsites on the back side of Little Pond. Call the campground for information at (845) 439-5480, or phone the DEC's regional office at (518) 357-2234.

Primitive camping is also allowed in most places in the park. A good place to start your search for details concerning camping in the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve is to contact the DEC's regional office at 1150 Westcott Road, Schenectady, NY 12306-2014; or call (518) 357-2049.

You'll also need to contact a forest ranger for a free permit to camp at one location for more than three days. To reach the appropriate forest ranger once you've chosen a hunting area, call (607) 652-7365.

NORTHERN REGION

The Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve and the rest of New York's northern region haven't been well publicized as turkey habitat, but there is some fine spring gobbler hunting here nonetheless. In fact, St. Lawrence County ranks 4th for average spring gobbler harvests with 1,176 birds per year, and Jefferson County ranks 9th with 1,096 spring gobblers per year.

A lot of the flat terrain in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties is agricultural, which is one reason turkeys can survive. Manure spread on snowy fields has helped many turkeys make it through tough winters. Also, there are many wetlands where turkeys can find winter food, plus thick conifer stands that provide thermal cover. Keep these facts in mind while you are scouting for spring gobblers.

Better concentrations of wild turkeys during spring are often related to these winter-survival factors. The birds may spread out more through the summer. But during the spring season, hunters should anticipate that gobblers will be reasonably close to their wintering habitat.

Some of the best fishing in the country for big walleyes takes place during spring gobbler season in the Henderson Harbor area. You can stalk gobblers in the mornings (hunting is legal through 12 noon), and then fish for walleyes in the afternoons. What a tremendous hunting-and-fishing-combo spring vacation!

Southwick Beach State Park

Southwick Beach State Park is another fine headquarters for a combo gobbler-hunting and walleye-fishing trip. The park has a campground that opens in early May. The park is bordered on the south by Lakeview Wildlife Management Area. Combined, these adjoining public lands cover about 4,000 acres.

To get there from Syracuse and the south, take I-81 north to Exit 40 and then take state Route 193 west to the park. For information, contact the Southwick Beach State Park office, 8119 Southwick Place, Henderson, NY 13650. You can also call (315) 846-5338 or 1-800-456-2267.

Lakeview WMA

Lakeview WMA is primarily a Lake Ontario shoreline habitat, but it also has some upland habitat that's home to wild turkeys. To the east lies the Littlejohn Wildlife Management Area with nearby state forest.

Littlejohn WMA covers 8,020 acres. You can get here from I-81 by way of Exit 38. Then take county Road 15 east to county Road 17.

Winona State Forest, which has an area of 9,233 acres, lies to the west of the WMA. A map describing it is available on the DEC's Web site at Dec.State.NY.US/Website/Reg6/DLLF/Winona.html.

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

For more travel information, contact the New York Division of Tourism (North America Group Travel), Empire State Development, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, Room 110, Albany, NY 12223. Or call toll-free 1-800-CALL-NYS, Extension 47624.

Find more about New York fishing and hunting at: NewYorkGameandFish.com

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