Our Top State Forest Turkey Hunts

These state forests offer spring gobbler hunters thousands of acres of well-managed habitat where you can expect healthy, growing flocks of birds this season. (April 2008)

Photo by Rod Cochran.

The most exciting way to bag a wily old tom turkey is to locate his roosting tree by using an owl, crow or other vocal stimulation that will generate his answering gobble. Then, next morning, you sneak into position in the pre-dawn's total darkness and wait for the fly-down. This technique builds about as much anticipation as any hunter can stand.

Bringing home a trophy bird is always a low-odds proposition, and the best-laid plans often go awry. There's no end to the bizarre surprises that frustrate turkey hunters -- such as the appearance of a coyote just as the birds fly down, sending them in a panic over the ridge.

But even if your most clever strategies are busted, your odds of calling in a gobbler this spring will still be about as good as it gets.

"The weather conditions for nesting last spring were ideal," said Dr. William F. Porter, who directs turkey research projects at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse.

"When we get an unusually dry May, nesting success increases. We believe this is because predators are less able to detect the scent of nesting hens under dry conditions. Bird hunters with dogs can readily identify with this, because dogs are more effective under moist conditions."

During the last 20 years, DEC researchers have developed a computer model based on nesting-season weather that predicts fall hunting success with 95 percent accuracy. They have projected a 40 percent increase in hunter success for last October.

ESF researchers hope to develop a spring-harvest computer model, and have submitted a funding proposal to the National Wild Turkey Federation.

"While we haven't done the work to predict spring harvests," Porter noted, "good hatches obviously translate to increased numbers of jakes the next spring, and 2-year-old gobblers the following spring. So it looks like at least a couple of years of good hunting are on the horizon."

Across the state, there are so many great hunting locations that each hunter probably has his own list of top 10 hunts for this spring.

To get a hint of the possibilities, just look at the state forest statistics in three southwestern hotspots:

• Chautauqua County, with 15 forests totaling 17,199 acres,

• Allegany County, whose 23 forests total 45,829 acres, and

• Cattaraugus County, with 22 forests totaling 34,213 acres.

In addition, turkeys are thriving across the Appalachian Plateau, through the Finger Lakes and Catskill regions to the St. Lawrence and Hudson river valleys. So any statewide list of the best public hunting destinations will only scratch the surface.

In listing the following hunting areas across the state, selection was based on their location in regions of high turkey populations. Also, we selected large tracts of state land that probably can absorb more hunting pressure. And when possible, wildlife management areas were included because they're supported by hunting-license dollars and managed specifically for game.

Still looking for a place to open the season this May? Here's a top 10 list that won't steer you wrong:

CANADAWAY CREEK WMA
This Chautauqua County property, covering 2,180 acres, is managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation to maintain high-quality habitat for a variety of forest species through regulated timber harvesting and various other operations.

Some of the wildlife projects are aimed at ruffed grouse, although these also benefit turkeys, deer, small game and songbirds.

The landscape here is classified as a broad and deeply dissected upland plateau. That means the property consists mainly of steep slopes covered with deciduous trees interspersed with conifer plantations. Drainage is provided by Canadaway Creek, which runs through the property.

The WMA lies in the town of Arkwright about four miles northeast of the village of Cassadaga and six miles southeast of Fredonia.

There are two parcels, with the main tract bisected by county Route 72 and Center Road.

Park Road, south from Ball Road, leads to the smaller tract, which lies about a tenth of a mile northeast of the main property.

Turkey hunters should consider Boutwell Hill State Forest as an adjunct to Canadaway, as it is located just a mile to the south. This property contains 2,944 acres that extend for about five miles on a north-south axis down to county routes 66 and 85.

It will take some scouting to effectively hunt Boutwell Hill, since on a map, the boundaries resemble pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Access is via Lewis Road, Boutwell Hill Road, East Road and Sanford Road.

HANGING BOG WMA
Comprised of rolling hills covered with extensive forestlands and marshes, Hanging Bog WMA is named for a unique wetland created by a retreating glacier.

The WMA encompasses 4,571 acres that have been managed by the DEC for wildlife since 1962. Major practices have included establishing and thinning conifer plantations, selective and clear-cutting of hardwood forests, cropland leasing, planting food plots and cover shrubs, and developing small marshes, ponds and potholes.

Located in the town of New Hudson in Allegany County, Hanging Bog WMA is about a mile south of Rushford Lake and north of the hamlet of Black Creek, which is on Route 305. Several local roads provide access including New Hudson Road, Federal Road, Rush Creek Road and Punky Hollow Road.

Two state forests are attached to Hanging Bog WMA and greatly enhance the turkey-hunting potential there. Crab Hollow State Forest on the west side contributes 1,154 acres, and Rush Creek State Forest on the northeast corner adds 1,404 acres. The combination of state lands open to public hunting totals 7,129 acres.

Crab Hollow Road is the best access for that forest tract, but Mt. Monroe Road and White Meeting House Road also provide access.

Russell Forest Road off Rush Creek Road

runs through Rush Creek State Forest.

RATTLESNAKE HILL WMA
With the hilly terrain of steep slopes and ridges typical of the Appalachian Plateau, Rattlesnake Hill covers 5,147 acres with a variety of wildlife habitats, including mature hardwoods, brushy fields, evergreen plantations, open meadows and a few remains of apple orchards.

For many years here, the DEC's management goals have been directed toward deer, turkeys, grouse and other forest-dwelling small game and non-game species. In remote sections of the property, you may encounter the occasional timber rattlesnake.

Located in Livingston and Allegany counties, this WMA lies about eight miles west of Danville and a similar distance southeast of Letchworth State Park. Local roads south from Route 436, and east and north from Route 70, provide access.

Ebert Road, which becomes Linzy Road, runs through the property.

Ossian State Forest, with 1,303 acres, is attached to the southeast corner of the WMA. Canaseraga State Forest adds another 1,287 acres one-half mile to the east, for a grand total of 7,737 acres of state land open to public hunting at this location.

To reach Ossian State Forest, hunters may use trails from Rattlesnake Hill. County Route 13A, north from the Hamlet of Canaseraga, leads to Canaseraga State Forest.

SUGAR HILL STATE FOREST
On the highlands west of Watkins Glen in Schuyler County, Sugar Hill's 9,085 acres sprawl across the landscape in a crazy quilt pattern, with complicated boundaries and many private in-holdings.

Turkey hunters should invest in some scouting to hunt this property effectively. Sugar Hill is easily accessible from several roads, and the Finger Lakes Trail and other trails permit easy exploration of the forest.

These trails and access roads are also important to turkeys, since they provide openings and herbaceous food and cover in a habitat that's more densely forested than most WMAs.

For this and other state forests, the DEC's management plan includes producing timber and other forest products, watershed protection, wildlife production and various recreational opportunities.

County Route 23 from Watkins Glen clips the northeast corner of Sugar Hill. County Route 22 runs through the western side of the forest, and county Route 21 bisects eastern portions. Evergreen Hill Road, along with several other local roads, provides access.

Goundry Hill State Forest, covering 2,112 acres, lies one-half mile off the southwest corner of Sugar Hill SF, with Coon Hollow SF, covering 2,456 acres, on the southeast corner.

Continuing south into Steuben County, hunters will find more state forests, too numerous to list here!

CONNECTICUT HILL WMA
At 11,045 acres, Connecticut Hill is the largest WMA in the state, and probably the best known. For decades, it has served as an outdoor laboratory for Cornell University researchers.

Its mature forest cover consists of beech, maple and hemlock, with significant areas of oak and pine. Open meadows, fields and stands of conifers are scattered throughout, and a number of ponds were created during the early years of management. Such diversified habitat attracts a great variety of wildlife, including turkeys.

A clue to the rugged terrain here is indicated on the map, where the hamlet nearest the WMA is named "Alpine." Hunters are in for some steep climbs, but trails and seasonal roads help in getting around this huge chunk of backcountry.

Connecticut Hill lies in Tompkins and Schuyler counties, approximately 16 miles southwest of Ithaca and one mile northeast of Alpine.

Access is from local roads leading westerly from stateRoute 13 including Boyland Road, Carter Creek Road and Connecticut Hill Road.

Swan Hill Road, northeasterly from State Route 224, can also be used, and Cayutaville Road crosses the northern extension of the property at the Robert H. Tremain State Park.

MORGAN HILL STATE FOREST
Central New York deer hunters are well acquainted with the public hunting opportunities at Morgan Hill, but the 5,560 acres of this hill country forest, ranging from 1,200 to 2,000 feet in elevation, are also a good bet for turkeys.

The forest cover is mostly native hardwoods and hemlock, but a large percentage is conifer plantations established more than 50 years ago.

At first glance, this may not appear to be high-quality turkey habitat. But active timber harvesting and firewood-cutting operations are improving the forest for both turkeys and deer, and recent skidder trails improve access for hunters. Additionally, there are about 14 miles of seasonal roads on the forest, plus five miles of marked foot trails.

During the last 20 years, DEC researchers have developed a computer model based on nesting-season weather that predicts fall hunting success with 95 percent accuracy.

Morgan Hill State Forest is on the Cortland-Onondaga county line about 25 miles southeast of Syracuse. The best access is from Interstate Route 81, Exit 14, at Tully. Proceed east on state Route 80 for about five miles, and then turn south on Shackham Road to the forest.

Morgan Hill Road, north from Route 13 (the junction is one? mile east of the hamlet of Truxton), runs through the center of the forest, but does not continue directly to Route 80.

PHARSALIA WMA
The site of pioneering wildlife management projects in the state, Pharsalia WMA's 4,625 acres in Chenango County are today surrounded by several state forests that, combined, provide enough turkey-hunting opportunities to last most hunters all month.

The terrain here is generally flat, with gentle slopes and shallow ravines. The WMA is largely forested with beech, maple, hemlock, cherry, aspen, and the usual conifer plantations and shrubby open areas. Management operations are aimed at maintaining a diverse habitat, including mowing and timber cutting.

Pharsalia WMA lies approximately 10 miles northwest of Norwich, and a similar distance southwest of Sherburne. State Route 23 borders the south side and part of the west side of the property.

Johnson Street runs east-west through the WMA, while Elmer Jackson Road runs north-south. Several other roads also provide access.

Perkins Pond State Forest, which covers 1,870 acres, is attached to the west side of Pharsalia WMA, and New Michigan State Forest, with 9,120 acres, is on the south side.

Otselic State Forest, covering 1,043 acres, is less than a mile from the northern border of Pharsalia WMA, and Beave

r Meadow State Forest, with 5,812 acres, is approximately a mile from the northeast corner.

CHERRY HILL STATE FOREST
In recent years, Cherry Valley has been a favorite location for turkey hunters. Cherry Hill State Forest is a cluster of seven tracts of state land totaling 7,400 acres in eastern Otsego County, about 10 miles east of Cooperstown.

Managed as a single unit, the DEC's goals here are to provide recreational opportunities and timber, while protecting wildlife habitat, water quality and aesthetics.

The predominantly hardwood forest is periodically and selectively harvested, while rows or small blocks of pine and spruce plantations are usually clear-cut.

The forest is situated on the rolling hills east of Cherry Valley Creek, with the group of properties centered at the South Valley crossroads, i.e., the intersection of Routes 165 and 34.

From state Route 20, take Route 166 south through the hamlet of Cherry Valley to the hamlet of Roseboom, and then proceed easterly on Route 165.

For free brochures to help locate Cherry Valley and Charleston (see below), call the DEC office in Stamford at (607) 652-7365.

CHARLESTON STATE FOREST
In southern Montgomery County west of Schoharie Creek, Charleston State Forest's 4,685 acres are parceled among three tracts, all with irregular boundaries. And one tract has two large inholdings of private land.

The topography of the western portions is relatively flat, typical of the Mohawk River Valley landscape, with low hills rising on the eastern half.

Timber-harvesting operations on the forest are aimed at maintaining a variety of habitats for wildlife production and watershed protection, while improving the stands of native hardwoods and planted evergreens.

DEC managers are receptive to volunteer projects that assist with the management plan here, especially in maintaining the extensive hiking trail system that also benefits hunters.

The approximately 10 miles of trails here are also used by skiers, with three primary access points: Burtonsville Road, Hughes Road and state Route 30A, where small parking lots are provided.

Charleston State Forest is south of Fultonville. To get there from I-90, take Exit 28 to state Route 30A. The forest tracts are east of the highway off the stretch between the hamlets of Charleston and Oak Ridge.

WOLF LAKE STATE FOREST
Turkey numbers have been growing in portions of the St. Lawrence River valley, possibly due to recent mild winters. Wolf Lake State Forest, with 4,315 acres, in southwestern St. Lawrence County, should be a good bet this spring.

To the east -- about a turkey-flush away -- Fire-Fall State Forest, with 1,601 acres, and across the lake, Trout Lake State Forest, with 1,064 acres, complete this complex for a total of 6,980 acres of state lands. The landscape is flat with poor drainage, with extensive boggy areas scattered throughout the native hardwoods.

These forests lie east of Gouverneur and about two miles north of the hamlet of Edwards. Access is provided by county Route 19 (also called Trout Lake Road), county Route 13 (also called Chub Lake Road) and Campbell Road.

For more information on New York's state forestlands, contact the New York Department of Environmental Conservation by logging on to www.dec.state.ny.us.

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