There have been some changes in figures for New York turkey hunting such as population and harvest figures for spring. Here’s a look at what Empire State turkey hunters can expect when they hit the woods this month.
Following the great “turkey boom” in the late 1990s, New York’s wild turkey population has shown a continued, gradual decline to the point that we now have about 20 percent fewer birds in 2014 than we did in 2001. According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2013 Turkey Management Report, harvest data indicate a long-term decline in wild turkey populations since 2001 and a sharper short-term decline since 2007. Although survey results indicate minimal changes in turkey numbers from 2011 to 2012, “other reliable indices of turkey abundance show a substantial change in turkey populations.”
There are several potential reasons for the long-term decline, including a natural contraction in numbers after turkey populations reached their peak around 2000-01, as well as changes in habitat and predator communities.
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“The most significant reason for the short-term decline is poor production,” the report said. “Above-average rainfall in May and June negatively impacts nest and poult success. Four of the past six years have shown production that is below the long-term average. In addition, winter 2011 was quite severe in many parts of the state, which had negative effects on turkey survival, particularly for juvenile birds.”
The winter 2012 Wild Turkey Flock Survey showed low to medium turkey numbers in most of the state containing wooded habitat. Only portions of the central region of the state showed high numbers of birds.
Overall, DEC researchers have shown that New York’s turkey numbers peaked in the late 1990s and have declined since that time. Turkey populations boomed in New York during the 1980s and 1990s as birds filled in available habitats and moved into areas where they historically did not exist. The decline that started around 2000 was likely, in part, caused by populations peaking and then settling down to somewhat lower but relatively stable levels more in balance with local environmental conditions. However, there is still much year-to-year variation in turkey numbers due to annual variations in production.
Also, declines in turkey numbers may be more pronounced in some local areas. Reasons for this include cold, wet spring weather, harsh winters and changes in habitat quality and quantity.
In areas where open habitats such as agricultural fields, hayfields, old fields, thickets and young forests have been lost due to vegetative succession or development, there are correspondingly fewer turkeys. In areas with a larger proportion of mature forest turkeys will persist, but at lower densities than areas with a mix of mature timber, early successional habitats and agriculture.
Predation can play a role in limiting turkey populations, the DEC report noted, but it is more likely that the problem is poor habitat quality, which makes birds, their nests and broods more vulnerable to predation.
Despite all of this relatively bad news, the DEC continues its commitment to preserving the long-term health of wild turkey populations.
“In order to do this, we need the help of hunters and others to monitor trends in turkey abundance and distribution,” the report concluded. Interested hunters and citizens can contribute their observations to the DEC in its summer or winter Turkey Flock Sighting surveys, conducted in August and from December through March. These surveys monitor the number of poults per hen in summer and the number of birds in a flock prior to the breeding season in winter. For more information, call (518) 402-8883 or log onto the DEC’s Web site at www.ny.gov/outdoor.
A recent study was completed in which DEC personnel fit wild turkeys with leg bands to help estimate harvest and survival rates. Information from this study and from all harvest reports helps the DEC improve turkey management in New York. For this reason it is important that hunters report their harvest during the youth, spring and fall seasons.
2012 TURKEY HARVEST SUMMARY
Despite the continuing decline in turkey numbers in New York over the last decade, hunter harvests have remained close to the 10-year average. Harvest estimates are based on surveys of approximately 12,000 turkey permit holders after the close of the hunting season. According to the DEC, this results in a calculated harvest estimate and a more realistic assessment of the status of New York’s wild turkey populations.
The estimated turkey harvest for spring 2013 was 21,515 birds. This is an increase of 13 percent from spring 2012, but is below the 5- and 10-year average spring harvest (26,200 and 28,300 birds, respectively). Spring hunting participation was similar to 2012 but the take-per-100-days-of-effort increased from 3.6 to 4.2, close to the 10-year average of 4.4 birds. About 62 percent of the birds harvested in spring 2013 were adult toms (compared to 72 percent in spring 2012 and 67 percent in spring 2011), indicating improved production in summer 2012.
The DEC said that turkey populations are down significantly from the early to mid-2000s due to several years with poor production (2007-11) and a severe winter in 2011.
The top five counties for estimated harvest were Chautauqua, with 1,096 birds harvested, followed by Dutchess (954), Erie (921), Cattaraugus (888), and Steuben (786) counties.
Other counties with harvests over 700 birds last year were Otsego (787) Chenango (736), Jefferson (937), Orange (731), St. Lawrence (785) and Wayne (749) counties.
An increase in harvests was observed in about 40 percent of the counties open to spring hunting, but decreases were noted in about one-third of the counties. Harvest numbers remained relatively unchanged in about 25 percent of the counties where spring turkey hunting is allowed.
New York’s 2014 spring turkey season will be open in all of upstate New York north of the Bronx-Westchester county boundary from May 1 to May 31. The season bag limit is two bearded turkeys (one bird may be taken per day). The spring Youth Hunt will be held from April 26-27 in the same regular spring season area plus Suffolk County (Wildlife Management Unit 1C). Youth ages 12 to 15 may participate in the hunt, and the bag limit is one bearded turkey per hunter.
For more information on New York’s spring turkey-hunting season, licenses, hunting hours and other regulations and restrictions, log onto www.dec.ny.gov.
WHERE TO FIND THEM
The DEC estimates that there are approximately 250,000 wild turkeys in the state. Densities vary from region to region, however, with higher numbers of birds occurring in the western half of the state, where more agricultural lands are found. Turkeys are found in the “wilds” of Suffolk County all the way into the Adirondack wilderness, and even though no birds were observed in the Neversink-Mongaup Hills region of south-eastern New York, biologists say that this does not suggest that there are no turkeys in this area — they are just not as visible to observers!
Because turkey-hunting success is linked to turkey numbers, it makes sense for spring 2014 hunters to focus on last year’s top counties, most of which are in the western portion of the state.
However, “good hunting” is a relative term. Any hunter who can successfully roost a vociferous gobbler in the evening and is on hand to call to that bird the following morning should have good luck even if turkey numbers in that area are well below the 10-year average. A lusty gobbler that responds to yelps and clucks is worth 100 that do not, as any experienced hunter will attest.
To help hunters get the most out of their 2014 spring turkey hunt, the following is a sampling of public hunting areas where spring turkey harvest numbers are traditionally the highest each season.
In Allegheny County, the 1,100 acre Allegheny Reservoir Wildlife Management Area is in the town of South Valley along the west shore of Allegheny Reservoir. Its two managed parcels are located along Bone Run Road and State Line Road which intersect off of Onoville Road (West Perimeter Road). Onoville Road may be accessed south from exit 17 (Steamburg) off the Route 17 expressway.
Also in Allegheny County, the 900-acre Conawango Swamp WMA is located in the town of Conewango approximately 1 mile north of the village of Randolph and borders Swamp Road and state Route 241. Randolph is off Exit 16 on the Route 17 expressway.
In Chautauqua County, the 818-acre Alder Bottom WMA is located in the towns of Sherman and Clymer. It can be reached by taking Exit 6 (Sherman) off the Route 17 expressway, and then Route 76 south to the intersection of county Route 4 (Idora Road). The area borders Route 76 and Idora Road.
Canadaway Creek WMA contains 2,080 acres in the town of Arkwright, four miles northeast of the Village of Cassadaga and six miles southeast of the village of Fredonia. It borders county routes 312 (Bard Road) and 629 (Center Road).
Also in Chautauqua County, Watts Flats WMA covers 1,382 acres in the town of Harmony approximately 8 miles southwest of the city of Jamestown and three miles southeast of the village of Panama along county routes 305 (Button Valley Road), 304 and Swede Road.
In Jefferson County, the Perch River WMA contains 7,862 acres that are open to hunting. To get there from Watertown, take Interstate Route 81 north to Exit 47. Turn left onto Route 12 north. Travel about six miles to the WMA.
Also in Jefferson County, the Lakeview WMA covers 3,461 acres. From Syracuse, take I-81 north to Exit 36 (Pulaski). Turn left onto Route 13 west to Route 3. Turn right onto Route 3 and travel north about 10 miles to signs and parking areas.
The Ashland Flats WMA, another Jefferson County public hunting area, covers 2,037 acres. From Watertown, take Route 12F west to Route 12E. Travel on Route 12E west about 9 miles. After crossing the Chaumont River, take the second right onto the Millens Bay Road. Travel 5 miles to the area.
French Creek WMA contains 2,265 acres of upland and wetland habitat. From Watertown, take Route 12 north through Depauville. Turn left onto Route 9 (St. Lawrence Corners Road). About four miles down Route 9, turn right onto French Creek Road which leads to the WMA.
In Steuben County, the Erwin Wildlife Management Area, covers 2,490 acres in the town of Erwin approximately five miles west of the city of Corning. From the north the WMA may be accessed from Smith Hill Road off the Coopers Plains exit of Route 17. From the south the area may be accessed from Weaver Hollow Road off the Gang Mills exit of Route 15. Erwin WMA was purchased in 1928 by New York State. Since that time management projects creating wildlife openings, marsh ponds, and tree and shrub plantations have enhanced the area’s wildlife habitat. Vegetation is primarily second growth hardwoods with softwoods and other species intermixed.
This is just a sampling of WMAs that are open to spring turkey hunting in 2014. There are also a number of state forests, parks and forest preserve lands throughout the state where turkey hunting is allowed. For a complete list of public lands open to hunting this season, current regulations, licensing information, maps and other details, log onto www.dec.ny.gov.
PUBLIC LAND TURKEY TACTICS
Mention “public lands” to most hunters and the reply is a groan or a wry, “Yeah, right!” Even though New York’s public hunting areas often cover thousands of acres, hunters tend to think that these lands are over-hunted or there is no game on them. While this may be true of the areas that are near roads and are most convenient to casual hunters, every WMA contains pockets of under-hunted habitat that see little or no activity during the spring turkey season.
To make the most of these areas, hunters should resolve to walk farther, hunt longer and be more patient. Feeding turkeys may cover several miles per day in search of food, and birds that roosted on one ridge last night may decide to roost elsewhere after being called or shot at immediately after flying down at sunrise. Any high hardwood ridge intermixed with pines or hemlocks can provide good roosting sites and most of New York’s WMAs abound with this type of cover.
Also, certainly plan to hunt the high ground at first light and be on hand when the birds begin gobbling at sunrise, but make it a point to hunt till noon. Many WMA hunters leave the area after 10 a.m., just about the time gobblers are getting their second wind and begin searching for hens they missed that morning. Stay longer, hunt harder and you will increase your odds for success on state-owned WMAs and other public lands.
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