There's no other way to say it, so we'll get right to the point: New England has lots and lots of wild turkeys. This spring, the population is estimated at about 214,000 birds, one of the highest numbers in modern times and far more than are believed to have occupied the region in Colonial times.
Just consider the numbers. Maine: 50,000-60,000; New Hampshire: 40,000; Vermont: 45,000-50,000; Massachusetts and Connecticut: 35,000 each; and tiny Rhode Island: 4,000-5,000. These are impressive numbers, especially when you consider New England was void of birds until 1970 when Vermont initiated New England's first modern reintroduction program.
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During the 2012 spring season about 13,000 Maine hunters bagged 5,938 bearded birds, a preliminary count but up from 5,445 in 2011. In addition to a regular big game hunting license, hunters must purchase a spring/fall turkey permit that allows one bearded bird during the spring season and one bird of either sex during the fall season. An additional bearded bird may be killed in the spring by purchasing a second tag. In all, Maine hunters can now kill three birds annually.
The 2013 spring season will be open statewide except for the extreme northern region, where bird numbers are not yet high enough to support a hunt. That may eventually change as the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continues its trap and transfer program.
"We seem to have reach a plateau of 50,000 to 60,000 birds throughout much of the state," says Kelsey Sullivan, the state's Migratory and Upland Game Bird Biologist, "except in the north, but we're working on it, and progress is being made."
WMD 9, which extends from Greenville northeast to Baxter State Park, was opened to the spring hunt for the first time last year.
"Turkeys were first released in the Downeast Region back in 2002," Sullivan continues, "and as a result two additional wildlife management districts were opened to spring hunting in 2011 and another in 2012."
Sullivan goes on to say the 2012 production of 4.2 poults per hen was above the long term average of 3.9 and as result, and because birds are doing well there, it has been proposed WMD 27, the last Downeast district previously closed to hunting, be opened to hunting in 2013. But as always, check current regulations before you head out to hunt.
"Prime hunting opportunities will be found in every management district open to hunting," Sullivan said, "but as always preseason scouting is key and it pays to look at the numbers."
Sullivan added that Waldo County, WMD 23, "has a good number of birds as do York and Cumberland Counties in the south, WMDs 20, 21 and 23. Another good area is central Maine, WMD 17."
For public ground in these districts, hunters should check out the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area, the Vernon S. Walker WMA in Newfield and Mt. Agamenticus WMA in York and South Berwick. There are nine wildlife management areas totaling more than 21,600 acres.
In the central region the Frye Mountain WMA, covering 5,240 acres, and the Alonzo H. Garcelon WMA and its 4,343 acres, are good bets, as is the Bud Leavitt WMA. At least 20 additional WMAs have birds and room to hunt.
Granite State hunters can now pursue spring gobblers in all 10 counties or all 18 wildlife management units of the state. All WMUs except one also have a three-month fall either-sex archery season and all but six units in the northernmost regions have a fall shotgun season.
New Hampshire has one of the largest turkey populations in New England. It offers ample hunting opportunity and turkeys in general are doing well, with excellent poult production each spring. Nevertheless, the state's Turkey Project Biologist has some concerns.
"The fall shotgun season, even though it is only a five-day season, may be having an impact on the following spring turkey harvest in various wildlife management areas," Ted Walski says. Unit D2 in the Connecticut Valley, for example, has had a significant decline in recent springs. According to the biologist, the spring statewide harvest the past five years has not substantially increased either. Since 2008 the spring harvests in 2009 and 2010 had small declines, the 2011 take was the same as 2010 and 2012 saw only a 5.5-percent increase. A major factor, says Walski, could be the relatively high number of fall birds harvested of late, especially hen turkeys. As a consequence, hunters should not expect further liberalization of the hunting seasons or bag limits for the next couple years.
Historically, the highest spring gobbler harvest came from wildlife management units in the western part of the state, in particular units D2, G and H1 along the Connecticut River. While those units are still producing a fair number of birds, much of the statewide harvest in recent years had shifted to units in the southern and eastern regions of the state, Walski says.
Since 2010, Unit K (covering much of Hillsboro County) has led the state, followed by Units J2, H2, L and M. Units K, M, L and J2 have also been top producers during the fall archery and shotgun seasons, something hunters should keep in mind this year.
And there is plenty of public hunting ground in these units and about the state. Any of the 100 wildlife management areas are worth exploring. A list along with maps, description and access information will by found on the New Hampshire Fish and Game web site, but hunters should not overlook the numerous state forests and state parks open to hunting. Combined there are about 140 of them. Many hold good numbers of birds and are not overly hunted. Most of the state's 63 flood control areas and conservation easement also hold turkeys and are open to hunting
Among the top producing WMUs, the Russell-Abbott SF in Wilton and Annett SF in Sharon and Rindge are good examples. Bear Brook State Park just east of Suncook, and Pawtuckaway SP in Nottingham, are other good locations.
For more information hunters can visit the Division of Forest and Lands or the Divison of Parks and Recreation web site.
For more information on hunting season dates, regulations and wildlife management areas visit the state website.
Hunters should also remember the New Hampshire turkey license is now good for the year and allows a gobbler in the spring and one bird of either sex in the fall. Also, the allowable shot sized changed in 2012 from sizes 2 through size 6 to size 2 and smaller, thus allowing the use of modern, heavier-than-lead loads.
"For the past three years our brood surveys have indicated lower than average poult production per hen, slightly lower numbers of overall turkey observations as well as lower number of birds observed per mile during our Department and public surveys," said Forrest Hammond, the biologist in charge of the state's turkey program. "And (...) anecdotal and preliminary reports suggest the 2012 survey will not be more than average."
Still, with nearly 50,000 birds going into last winter overall, turkeys are doing well in the Green Mountain State.
"Vermont considers its restoration efforts complete," Hammond said, "and turkeys have expanded their range into most suitable habitats in the state." No trap and transfer operations have occurred anywhere in Vermont since 1995 and, "No research for wild turkeys was conducted during 2011-2012," Hammond said.
This year, as last, turkeys can be hunted in all 24 WMUs during the spring season in May and all but three northern WMUs during the fall shotgun season in October. The fall archery season was expanded statewide back in 2010. The bag limit remains two bearded birds in the spring and one bird of either sex in the fall.
Finding prime turkey hunting areas in Vermont is not difficult, but if harvest figures mean anything Windsor, Rutland, Caledonia, Franklin and Addison Counties are perennial top producers. Hunters will find a good selection of public hunting areas including the lower elevations of the Green Mountain National Forest that sprawls over several of these counties.
Other spots to consider should include the Arthur Davis and Les Newell WMAs and Coolidge State Forest in Windsor County, Bird Mountain and Blueberry Hill WMAs in Rutland County and the Roy Mountain WMA and Groton SF in Caledonia County. The Pine Mountain WMA in Groton, in the southeast corner of the county is another good spot.
Turkey hunting continues to be highly popular in the Bay State.
"We sold 20,000 turkey permits for the first time in 2012," says David Scarpitti, the commonwealth's Wild Turkey and Upland Game Project Leader. "Essentially, every year for the past decade has set a new record for turkey permits."
Because of the increasing interest in turkey hunting, Scarpetti says a new electronic/online harvest reporting system will be introduced in 2013 that will provide some added convenience to turkey hunters who previously had to drive a considerable distance to a check station.
Indeed, with between 30,000 and 35,000 birds and respectable success rates, Massachusetts hunters should be excited.
"In 2012 the spring harvest was 2,720, just over 2,800 including the Youth Season, a slight decrease from 2011and not the 3,000 in 2009, but on par with recent years," Scarpitti noted.
When asked which regions offer the best hunting opportunities, Scarpetti was quick to say, "In general, they are very good everywhere in the state. Some counties have higher levels of development, making finding good hunting locations a challenge, but it isn't for a lack of birds."
With that said, the biologist suggests if hunters do not have access to private land, any of the wildlife management areas or state forests in Worcester, Franklin, Berkshire, Hampshire or Plymouth Counties should be given priority. "Not necessarily in that order," Scarpetti noted, "but these five counties consistently give up the vast majority of birds each spring." In 2012 they produced 1,907 bearded birds, about two-thirds of the spring total.
A list of wildlife management areas will be found on the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife web site.
According to Mike Gregonis, a Turkey Program biologist with a Connecticut's Wildlife Division, turkeys have an estimated statewide population of 35,000 to 40,000.
"Turkeys presently occupy about 3,750 miles of range throughout the state," Gregonis said, "and birds have been documented in all 169 towns." Connecticut hunters can now partake of a spring season starting in late April and running to the end of May, and statewide archery and firearms seasons. The bag limit is two bearded birds in the spring on state land.
During the 2012 spring season, over 8,600 turkey permits were sold and 1,364 birds were harvested, for a success rate of just over 15 percent.
"Permit issuance and success rates increased between spring 2011 and 2012, but the 2012 harvest decreased by just over 4 percent," Gregonis says.
Last seasons decrease, however, may simply have been due to wet and less-than-ideal weather conditions that kept many hunters out of the woods during the early days weeks of the season. Given good conditions, the harvest this year should be on par with recent years, somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500 bearded birds.
In 2010 Connecticut's spring turkey season was lengthened by one week, actually starting a week earlier than it had previously, and that should not change in 2013.
Typically, Gregonis says, hunters on private land take the majority of birds each year but the various state lands also produce their share. In recent years places like Cockaponset State Forest in Haddam, Natchaug SF in Chaplin, Pauchaug SF in Voluntown, Naugatuck SF in Naugatuck and Tunis SF in Hartland have been producing the most birds on state land. Peoples SF in Barkhamsted is another good spot.
For the highest number of birds taken per square mile, Quinnipiac State Park, Lebanon Cooperative Management Area, and Eight Mile River, Houstaonic River, Aldo Leopold and Zemko WMAs have been topping the list.
For exact hunting dates as well as maps of public properties open to turkey hunting hunters should visit the Connecticut DEEP web site at www.ct.gov/dep.
Over the past few years turkeys in the Ocean State have had a tough go of it. Poor brood production from 2006 through 2009 resulted in lower young-per-adult ratios. Production improved to 4.0 young per adult in 2010 and 2011, bringing some improvement. Summer surveys also showed another improvement: in 2011 only 87 percent of hens had broods, but in 2012 that figure improved 86 percent of all hens had broods, compared to just 76 percent the year before. The statewide population is now estimated at about 3,500 birds, according to Brian Tefft, the state's Principal Wildlife Biologist.
"Restoration efforts were completed in 1996 and turkeys are presently found in all suitable habitats," Tefft continues, "but populations are below carrying capacity in many areas and there is available habitat and areas for expansion of the flock."
During the 2012 spring season just 1045 birds were killed, a 31-percent decrease from 2011, and hunter success was just 13 percent. Turkeys were harvested in 20 of 39 towns, with Exeter, Richmond, Foster, Coventry and Hopkinton leading the way. Of the various state lands open to hunting Arcadia WMA in Exeter topped the list, and is a perennial top producer. At nearly 14,000 acres, Arcadia is the largest wildlife management area in the state. It is dominated by forest, offers good turkey habitat and lots of room to hunt.
Some other potential hotspots include Durfee WMA in Glocester, 8,300-acre Big River WMA in East and West Greenwich and Nicholas Farm WMA in Coventry.
This year, Rhode Island's spring season will commence April 25 and end May 21, including Sundays. The bag limit will remain one bearded bird. The special junior and paraplegic hunts will take place April 20 and 21, and the eight-week fall archery season will open October 1 through November 28, with a one bird of either sex limit.
Arkansas turkey hunting is still on life support, but it's showing remarkable signs of improvement. After a record year in 2003, Arkansas fell to 9,000 birds harvested in 2012 — 11,000 less birds in a 10-year span. The state has responded by cutting back on hunting opportunities, and it feels confident numbers will slowly rise.
For more information about turkey hunting in Arkansas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The turkey population in most areas is robust this year and hunter success should be high. As usual, several factors will come into play, including the timing of breeding phases and inclement weather. The turkeys are there and the trick is to persist until you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
For more information about turkey hunting in California, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With the ability to hunt two species of wild turkey in the same state, Florida hunters definitely have an edge. Although Florida doesn't do statewide turkey assessments, officials believe numbers will be as strong and impressive as last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Florida, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey populations for 2013 are estimated to be around 335,000, which has remained steady since 2010. The numbers are very solid — even more impressive when you consider they were around 17,000 in 1973. Much like last year, hunters in Georgia can expect a great chance at a turkey again in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Georgia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
It's hard to conceive of a better place to hunt turkeys than the Great Plains region. You can buy multiple permits across states, seasons are liberal in length and you can hunt Rios, Easterns and Merriam's in the same state. It doesn't get much better than that.
In Nebraska, 32,520 permits were issued and 21,419 turkeys were harvested in 2012 — that's a 62 percent success rate, well above the national average (25 percent).
For more information about turkey hunting in the Great Plains region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast for Kansas , Nebraska
, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Illinois turkey numbers in 2012 grew to 15,121, which was better than an already impressive showing in 2011. Will the same trend prove true in 2013? According to biologists, turkey numbers are still strong, but the state DNR is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Northern Illinois typically provides the best harvest numbers, with 8,935 turkeys taken in 2012. The southern part of the state was still at an impressive 7,006 turkeys harvested. Biologists in Illinois predict that turkey numbers in 2013 will be the same, or slightly improved, from last year, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Illinois, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Despite warmer conditions in 2012, hunters killed 12,655 turkeys in Indiana, which made for a solid year. Does that mean 2013 is set up to be a great year? Biologists in Indiana are hesitant to make that bold of a prediction, especially since brood numbers haven't been that great in recent years. This has mainly affected the number of jakes harvested.
Even with some of these concerns, state biologists are optimistic about turkey production in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Indiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey harvest numbers were up slightly in 2012 from the year prior — a positive trend for turkey hunters in Iowa. With a robust youth season and strong adult harvest numbers the last couple of years, state officials think 2013 is going to be a strong year as well.
For more information about turkey hunting in Iowa, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With strong survival and nesting numbers in 2012, officials in Kentucky are predicting another solid year in 2013. Despite two years of odd weather, Kentucky has maintained strong numbers all around. Officials also believe a dry spell actually helped more than it hurt.
For more information about turkey hunting in Kentucky, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to biologists, this spring's hunting in Louisiana should be a bit tougher than last year's. In some areas the birds had a hard time in the spring of 2011, resulting in both poor nesting success and adult bird mortality. That doesn't mean the turkey population is in trouble, but it does mean hunters may be in for a couple of years of more challenging hunting.
For more information about turkey hunting in Louisiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Michigan has not had a banner turkey hatch in several years, but it looks like 2012 may provide just that. As a result, Joe Robison of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources predicts 2013 will be a fantastic year for turkey hunters.
With an already impressive population of right at 200,000 birds in 2012, Robison predicts that number will increase this year. Also, Michigan has a high success rate — 36 percent — which should make for an exciting turkey hunting season.
For more information about turkey hunting in Michigan, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Minnesota had a great spring for nesting in 2012, something that should bring great turkey hunting this year. While in the past hunters had to traverse to the southern part of the state if they wanted to bag a turkey, numbers have rapidly expanded all across the state.
"I'm thrilled with what turkeys are doing in Minnesota," Tom Glines, National Wild Turkey Federation regional director, said. According to Glines, lottery tags are up 10 percent in many areas, and 20 percent in others. All that means lots of opportunity in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Minnesota, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Mississippi boasts one of the largest wild turkey populations in the country. And with over a quarter million of these birds scattered from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico, hunters should have no problem finding a gobbler to chase on opening morning.
For more information about turkey hunting in Mississippi, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates the state's current spring turkey population is at around 300,000 birds. Unfortunately, poor production in recent times has caused a decline in the turkey population, due to abnormally wet periods during nesting and hatching periods. However, because the last two years were so good in terms of production, it is likely 2013 will be a high water mark, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Missouri, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
There are no two ways about it — New England is stocked full of turkeys, which is great news for hunters in 2013. With an estimated turkey population of 214,000, hunters have great chances to tag a bird. Maine has the highest numbers, while New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are not far behind.
For more information about turkey hunting in New England, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
While turkey hunting numbers should remain somewhat steady, early data in North Carolina suggests the downward trend of turkey populations may continue into the 2013 season. Almost 20 percent of turkeys harvested in 2012 were jakes, which means less mature turkeys this year. State officials also recommend hunting federal lands, though permits are required for these particular hot spots.
For more information about turkey hunting in North Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Ohio looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey hunting season, with great populations of birds across the state. Officials estimate 2013 and 2014 will both be great years, with harvest rates predicted to be around 18,000 birds.
For more information about turkey hunting in Ohio, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Depending on what happens with the drought, Oklahoma officials predict the 2013 turkey season will be a mirror of what happened last year. The state had solid numbers, despite obviously dry conditions. That said, the drought definitely had a negative impact on overall turkey numbers state wide. Numbers are still strong — 55,747 turkeys in the western region alone — but down 9 percent from last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Oklahoma, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
States like Oregon and Washington, both in the Pacific Northwest, have an optimistic turkey outlook for 2013. The southwest corner of Oregon is the state's typical hot spot for turkey hunting, and it looks good this year as well. Since 2011, the Melrose unit in southwest Oregon has a 51 percent success rate, which is well above the national average.
Washington figures not to be far behind, with a success rate of 36 percent last year and a harvest of 5,600 birds. The hottest areas are in northeast part of the state.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Pennsylvania turkey numbers have continued to rise and fall over the last few years, but the good news is results have been consistently stable. According to officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, population numbers have dropped off a little, but that was after a roaring boom in the 2000's. They also predict a solid year for turkeys in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
When most sportsmen think of Colorado, Wyoming and much of the Rocky Mountain region, they think of monster mulies and bugling elk. And for good reason. But with a turkey hunting success rate of 25 percent in Colorado — on par with the national average — and 70 percent for non-residents in Wyoming, it's also a great place to track down a turkey.
For those hunters lucky enough to draw a limited tag, there is usually a success rate of 55 percent. Hunting Rio Grandes is a bit tougher, as the tag usually takes about 3 to 4 years to acquire.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Rocky Mountain region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
After two productive years for wild turkeys, South Carolina looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey season. According to state officials, some of the best places to hunt are public land areas like those in the Sumer National Forest. With good production since 2010, these areas are full of 2-year-old gobblers.
For more information about turkey hunting in South Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Coming off great turkey harvest years in 2010 and 2012 — with 37,000 and 33,789 birds harvested, respectively — things look good again for Tennessee in 2013. Amazingly, Tennessee harvested 30,000 birds every year for the last decade, which says a lot about its ability to produce great turkey hunting year after year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Tennessee, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Virginia state officials believe the state is in the midst of a leveling off period, which means consistent turkey harvest rates statewide. Turkey populations have dropped by about 1.2 percent over the last decade, but harvest numbers have remained strong.
For more information about turkey hunting in Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
In 2012, West Virginia saw a fairly substantial decline in turkey harvest numbers, which was probably affected by low brood numbers dating back to 2009. Likewise, state officials believe a strong hatch in 2011 should translate into much improved harvest numbers for 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in West Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Wisconsin has consistently been rising in turkey production each year, and this year it looks like it has reached a place of dynamic stability — turkeys are present everywhere in hearty numbers. In 2012, 42,612 turkeys were harvested — a 6 percent increase over the previous year.
Likewise, a mild winter and early spring appear to have helped turkeys pull off successful broods, according to the state DNR. With 82 percent of broods consisting of toms last year, biologists say hunting should be great in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Wisconsin, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
State officials in Alabama say 2012 was a solid year for turkey hunters across the state. They predict 2013 will be much of the same, with good poult production to show for the last couple of years. As is the case in many states, quality turkey production in Alabama has come as a result of good habitat management.
Private land in Alabama offers some of the best hunting options, though a $16 permit gives you access to Wildlife Management Area lands that are also prime hunting grounds for turkeys.
For more information about turkey hunting in Alabama, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to state officials, there are around 500,000 Rio Grande turkeys living in Texas, meaning there are lots of opportunities for hunters across the state. The state also had above average survival rates, which should make for a great season in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Texas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.