New York's Fall Turkey Hotspots

New York's Fall Turkey Hotspots

Empire State autumn turkey hunters have plenty of room to roam on public lands this season. Here's where you can bust a flock and then call them back in. (October 2007)

Photo by D. Toby Thompson.

Recent turkey population trends, relative hunting pressure, public access opportunities and other factors must be considered in ranking New York's best fall turkey-hunting destinations.

Taking all of this into account, no one will dispute that the following counties merit special attention from gobbler-getters this season:

CATTARAUGUS COUNTY

For the first four years of this century, autumn hunters bagged an average of 693 turkeys in Cattaraugus County, and a year before that in 1999, the county produced a state high of 1,537 fall-season birds.

But Cattaraugus County hunters have more than 100,000 acres of public hunting areas to spread out on, including the 65,000-acre Allegany State Park south of Salamanca.

The park offers a near-wilderness experience for hunters willing to hike half a mile or so from the park roads. The county also has one large wildlife management area in 4,571-acre Hanging Bog WMA off Route 305 in the town of Hudson, plus 33,000 acres of state forests, all of which offer turkey hunting ranging from fair to good.

Check out the two South Valley forests totaling more than 4,100 acres in the town of Randolph, immediately west of Allegany Reservoir. They feature the same sort of steep, heavily wooded hills -- some might say "mountains" -- that dominate the state park's landscape and offer similar numbers of turkeys.

If you prefer to hunt in the park, you must obtain a free hunting permit in addition to your state license before going afield. Permits are available by calling the park police office at (716) 354-2535.

The folks at Cattaraugus County Tourism, at (716) 938-9111, will suggest alternate accommodations in the area.

MADISON COUNTY

Blessed with a mix of forested hills and farmlands, perfect habitat for the Eastern wild turkey, Madison County typically produces 400 roasting birds each fall for its devoted hunters. In 2001, the autumn tally was the 10th-highest among the state's counties -- an impressive 778 birds.

They tend to run big, too, partly because they have no need to tighten their belts in the winter. Unlike turkeys residing in more densely forested counties, the flocks in Madison County often feast on the undigested grain and other tidbits served up by local manure spreaders.

Wes Stiles, a retired New York Department of Environmental Conservation biologist, referred to the spectacle of farm tractors delivering these snacks on the snow as "the American Dairy Association's free-lunch program."

Many local farmers grant permission to polite fall turkey hunters. But Madison County also has more than 28,000 acres of public hunting areas.

In fact, the National Wild Turkey Federation's state chapter thought so highly of the 3,605-acre Tioughnioga Wildlife Management Area that it helped fund a DEC habitat-enhancement project on the premises, which lie east of New Woodstock off Damon Road.

Other good bets for turkey hunters in Madison County include the 3,430-acre Beaver Creek forest in the town of Brookfield off Beaver Creek Road and Fairground Road; and the 9,414-acre Charles Baker forest, also in the town of Brookfield east of Route 12 off Moscow and Quaker Hill roads.

For assistance in finding lodging in Madison County, contact the county tourism office at (315) 684-7320.

The 70,000 acres of public hunting grounds within its borders are a big reason why Chenango County's fall turkey harvest has been so rich lately. Calculated kills in recent years have ranged from a low of 341 turkeys in fall 2000 to a high of 939 a year later. (That one-year range -- owing to a bumper crop of poults in the spring, 2000, reproductive season, illustrates the ability of turkey populations to bounce back in a hurry.)

Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area is a 4,500-acre mix of rolling hills, timber and small clear-cuts off Route 23 between Sherburne and Norwich. It's probably the most heavily hunted of Chenango County's public parcels. But several other spots also merit attention from fall turkey hunters.

For example, check out the 3,254-acre Long Pond State Forest on either side of Route 41 in the town of Smithville; the 9,120-acre New Michigan State Forest off Center Road in Pharsalia; and the 3,469-acre Melondy Hill forest southwest of Bennettsville on Melondy Hill Road in the town of Afton.

Each of these is characterized by moderately steep, mostly wooded terrain and harbors better than average turkey populations.

Chenango County's Chamber of Commerce, at (607) 334-1400, is the place to inquire about accommodations for visiting hunters.

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY

New York's biggest county in geographic terms, St. Lawrence is an up-and-coming turkey-hunting destination. In the 1990s, its reported fall-season kills averaged about 75 birds a season, but the DEC believes its actual yearly harvest amounted to four or five times that many.

Since the turn of the 21st century, the calculated kills have ranged from a low of 131 to a high of 640 per season, and the countywide flock appears to be in an expansion mode.

Getting in on the fun in St. Lawrence County means a visit to one of several state wildlife management areas, the public lands on the northern fringes of the Adirondack Park, or else knocking on farmhouse doors.

The 70,000 acres of public hunting grounds within its borders are a big reason why Chenango County's fall turkey harvest has been so rich lately.

The hunt that ensues will be noticeably different from the classic duels with hillside gobblers that are routine in the southern tier, Catskills and Finger Lakes regions.

In the St. Lawrence River valley sector of the county, roosting trees are often located in narrow wooded strips along streambanks or lake shorelines bordered by wide pastures or other open terrain. In contrast, heavily timbered forest becomes more common as you travel south and east of Route 11.

Public hunting grounds of note in St. Lawrence County include the Upper and Lower Lakes, Wilson Hill and Fish Creek Wildlife Management Areas, and approxi

mately 60,000 acres of state forest parcels.

Upper and Lower Lakes WMA, in the town of Canton off state Route 68 and county routes 14 and 15, spans 8,000 acres, about one-fourth of them upland habitat. Roughly half of the 3,425-acre Wilson Hill WMA, which is about 10 miles west of Massena off Route 37, is upland habitat; and the 4,400-acre Fish Creek WMA, south of Black Lake in the towns of Macomb and Depuyster, is also about half upland and half wetland.

All three WMAs offer at least fair turkey hunting. But the 20,000-acre Brasher State Forest in the town of Brasher along county routes 50 and 55, and the Yellow Lake State Forest -- a 689-acre tract south of Gouverneur in the town of Rossie -- are better bets. In both forests, expect thick woods with flat to gently rolling terrain.

For help in finding accommodations in St. Lawrence County, call the county Chamber of Commerce office at (315) 386-4000.

DELAWARE COUNTY

Since 2000, county hunters have bagged an average of about 900 turkeys per fall season. That puts Delaware in the same league as the perennially state-leading southern-tier trio of Chautauqua, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties.

Its best private-land opportunities are on the hilly dairy farms in the Delhi area, but most of Delaware County's best public hunting grounds lie in the southern half of the county.

Options for visiting hunters include 60,000 acres of the Catskill Preserve, 20,900 acres of state forests and the 7,141-acre Bear Spring Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

Bear Spring, about three miles southeast of Walton via county Route 206, is extremely popular with spring turkey hunters and also with deer hunters, but isn't heavily pressured during the fall turkey hunt.

Primitive campsites are another enticement. For current camping rules, call the DEC's Region 4 office in Stamford at (607) 652-7367.

Other good choices for a fall hunt in Delaware County include the 17,500-acre Masonville State Forest, off state Route 8 and county Route 20 in the towns of Masonville, Tompkins and Deposit; and the East Branch Forest, consisting of two parcels totaling 2,400 acres off Route 30 near Downsville.

The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, (800) 642-4443, is the best source for information on motels, bed-and-breakfast places and other types of lodging in the county.

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