This fall season, wild turkey hunters in the Old Line State and the Garden State have lots to look forward to. Here's the latest on what you can expect.
Photo by John Pennoyer
Long before the first white man set foot on this continent, the turkey had already become a major food source.
This was especially true along the East Coast, and particularly in what are now the Mid-Atlantic States.
When you consider that not too long ago, wild turkeys were all but gone from our region of the country, it's amazing how they have recovered over the last 20 years.
Now that turkey hunting has made some impressive inroads, here's what gobbler chasers in Maryland and New Jersey can expect to see this fall.
The biggest news for wild turkey hunters is that crossbows are now legal for hunting turkeys in Maryland during both the spring and fall seasons. Recently passed legislation approved the use of the crossbow, and this fits in nicely with the upsurge in archers who hunt for turkeys.
In recent years, one item that has improved archery hunters' chances is the modern portable turkey blind. What makes a difference is that in these blinds, there's plenty of room for the bowhunter to shoot comfortably. This will be even more the case for crossbow hunters.
To say that Maryland's wild turkey population has been a boon for hunters would be an understatement. In the 1960s and '70s, populations hit an all-time low, with only a few hundred wild birds being observed throughout the state. The last several decades saw an ambitious rebuilding program that combined habitat preservation and enhancement with bird stockings.
The result is one of the great success stories in wildlife management -- not only in this state, but along the entire East Coast as well.
Most recent estimates show that around 30,000 birds are now available for hunters and with each year, that number continues to increase. Thus it comes as no surprise that there are now more than 16,000 wild turkey hunters in the state, as the pursuit has really caught on in Maryland.
Because of weather problems in recent years, the state's turkey population has seen mixed results. But the most recent surveys show that of the state's 23 counties, only three -- Allegany, Calvert and Garrett -- show declines in their wild turkey populations. The other 20 counties either have stable numbers or show an increase in their populations.
What's interesting is that both Allegany County (with 335 birds) and Garrett County (with 437) have the highest 10-year averages in the state.
The last several years have seen poor conditions in the breeding season, as well as during the spring and fall hunting seasons. Most biologists believe that with some more favorable conditions, the numbers in those counties will improve.
When it comes to the best counties in Maryland for hunters, Washington and the previously mentioned Garrett and Allegany form the heart of fall turkey hunting. All three counties are mountainous in nature and are interlaced, with plenty of farms that make for excellent fall hunting. All three also contain lots of public land, many of which are open to turkey hunting.
In Allegany County, Warrior Mountain and Billmeyer-Belle Grove wildlife management areas are two of the top public lands.
In Garrett County, Mt. Nebo WMA and Garrett State Forest lands are some top choices, while your top choices in Washington County are Indian Springs, Prather's Neck, and Sideling Hill WMAs.
In addition, all three counties have large state forests that are also open to hunting during the fall season.
The 2008 fall turkey season will take place from Oct. 25 through November in Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties. It is illegal to bait for fall turkeys, use recorded or electronically amplified calls, or motorized or electronic turkey decoys.
By law, any area is considered to be still baited for 10 days after removal of the bait.
Fall turkey hunters may use rifles, handguns, shotguns (loaded with No. 4, 5, 6s, or a solid single projectile), crossbows and vertical bows.
The Garden State utilizes a lottery system for turkey permits. For this year's fall season, hunters had to submit their applications for the between Aug. 1 and Sept. 7. Those picked have already been notified.
This year's season will run from Monday, Oct. 27 through Saturday, Nov. 1. Hunters may harvest a bird of either sex.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife divides the state into 22 hunting zones and issues a certain number of permits for each zone, based on what that zone's turkey population can handle. This system also lets hunters get a look at which zones traditionally produce the best harvest. (Results of each spring and fall hunt are posted on the DFW's Web site.) This enables you to pick a zone that offers you the best chance for success.
There's no doubt that the spring season turkey is more popular than the fall season, mainly because of the fall deer season and all of the other types of hunting available to hunters in autumn. For the past 11 years, New Jersey has offered a fall turkey season, but it's been slow to catch on with hunters, mainly for the reasons just mentioned.
The record fall harvest occurred in 2001, when hunters downed 258 birds -- a total well above the 173 turkeys that hunters have averaged since 1997, when the fall season began.
One thing for sure is that there's no lack of turkeys in the Garden State. According to DFW statistics, the state's 10-year average shows more than 21,000 birds available to hunters for this fall season.
This is a real success story when you consider that wild turkeys were reintroduced through a cooperative project between the National Wild Turkey Federation and the New Jersey DFW, which transplanted 22 birds into the state in 1977.
In 1979, biologists and technicians began to live-trap and relocate birds to establish populations throughout New Jersey. In 1985 -- the first year the state started keeping statistical information -- the statewide wild turkey population was estimated to be only 6,287 birds.
By 1981, the population was able to support a spring hunting season, and in December 1997, a limited fall sea
son was initiated.
Turkey hunting in New Jersey is a really diversified situation. Out of the state's three top zones, the first two -- zones 6 and 7 -- are located in the far north-central portion of the state, in Passaic, Sussex, Bergen and Morris counties. The third, Zone 20, is located in the southwestern portion of the state along the Delaware River in Salem County.
In zones 6 and 7, the terrain is mountainous, interlaced with farms and small towns. Zone 20, on the other hand, is flat land with sandy soil, located along the edges of the Pine Barrens and interlaced with farms and small towns.
In fact, turkey hunting in the lower part of the state has really caught on in recent years, as the birds have really taken to the Pine Barrens' scrub pine, swamp oak and sandy soil, as well as to the lower counties' rich farmland.
Zones 20, 21 and 15 are all located on the southwestern side of the state along the Delaware River, and all are in the top five zones for producing wild turkeys.
Another trend that's becoming prevalent in the Garden State is an increase in the number of turkey hunters with bows, especially during the fall season.
Some of the modern ground blinds offer plenty of room for bowhunters, and they're becoming increasingly popular as archers are taking more and more birds each year.'‚'‚'‚