New England's wild turkey populations are on the rise, and record-setting harvests are the norm each season. Here's where to find some great spring hunting on public land near you in 2007. (May 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Wild turkey hunting is one of the fastest growing outdoor sports. Each spring, countless hunters dress up in their finest camouflage clothing, work the best turkey calls available and wait for love-stricken toms to come within shotgun range.
According to biologists in the six New England states, this spring's turkey harvest should be similar to last year's. Following is a state-by-state rundown of what hunters can expect in 2007:
When the Pilgrims landed near Cape Cod in 1620, the Bay State had a thriving wild turkey population. As settlements increased, hardwood forests were cleared, and the turkey population shrank. By the early 1800s, turkeys were rare in the state. The last known native bird was killed in 1851.
Between 1914 and 1960, the state made several unsuccessful attempts to restore wild turkeys to Massachusetts, using farm-raised birds. Then, in 1972, biologists trapped 37 wild birds in New York and released them in southern Berkshire County. Within six years, the turkey population had expanded to about 1,000 birds.
The restoration efforts fulfilled the goals of re-establishing a native turkey population in the state. A limited spring hunting season was opened in 1980. Ten years later, MassWildlife established a fall hunting season as well.
Today, turkey hunting is allowed throughout most of the state. According to James E. Cardoza, a wildlife biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), the state's estimated turkey population now exceeds 20,000 birds.
Turkey hunting success is partly dependent on weather conditions during the previous spring, when hens were raising their chicks. Last spring was very wet and cold. Thus, the 2006 breeding season was not as productive as in past years, though there are still plenty of birds available.
Cardoza believes that this spring's hunting season harvest will probably be similar to 2006's, when hunters took 2,266 birds during that 24-day spring season. This year, the main difference is that hunters will find a lower number of one-year-old jakes because of the reduced brood success during the rainy 2006 spring.
During the six-day fall season of 2005, hunters took 163 birds.
Turkey hunting is allowed in 13 of the state's 15 wildlife management zones. For much of the state, the spring season runs from the last Monday in April and ends on the fourth Saturday following the season opener. The season limit is two bearded wild turkeys.
Hunters have plenty of opportunities to take turkeys on state-owned lands. Based on past harvest information, hunters will fare best in the Berkshire Mountain range in western Massachusetts. State-land turkey- hunting options include Beartown State Forest off Route 23 east of Great Barrington, Sandisfield State Forest along Route 8 south of Otis, and October Mountain State Forest off Route 20/7 south of Pittsfield.
For more information on Massachusetts' 2007 turkey-hunting seasons and licensing, call the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife at (508) 792-7270, or visit MassWildLife.org.
For lodging and travel information, call the Massachusetts tourism department at 1-800-227-6277.
According to Doug Blodgett, a Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department biologist and Turkey Project leader, the Green Mountain State has one of the strongest wild turkey populations in the Northeast, with a population of about 40,000 birds that produced record turkey harvests in both 2005 and 2006.
Last spring, hunters took home 4,677 bearded wild turkeys, topping the previous spring turkey season record of 4,649 birds. The 2006 tally also includes 532 birds taken during the special youth turkey-hunting season. Hunters also fared well during the fall of 2005, with a harvest of 991 birds.
Each year, some 14,000 hunters purchase spring turkey licenses in Vermont. Again, spring weather plays a significant role in their harvest. Despite enduring some wet weather during the past spring hunting season, success rates were rather high -- pushing 26 percent -- as hunters set the harvest record.
"We had a period of poor weather in May, including nearly two straight weeks of rain," Blodgett said. "That Vermont turkey hunters could still produce a record season under such challenging hunting conditions not only speaks well of Vermont's robust turkey population, but also to the tenacity and skill of its hunters. Who knows what the record may have been without all that bad weather?"
Adult toms comprised about 52 percent of the harvest in Vermont. Jakes made up the remaining 48 percent. As a result, Vermont hunters may see a slight swing toward more adult birds this spring.
Counties with the highest harvest rates last spring were Rutland, Addison and Windsor. These counties have a unique blend of farm and forestlands that attracts and holds turkeys. Within these counties, hunters can look within the southern section of the Green Mountain National Forest along Route 7 between Wallingford and Manchester, the Blueberry Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA) along Route 4 west of Rutland, the central section of the Green Mountain National Forest along Route 100 between Stockbridge and Granville, and the Ottauquechee WMA along Route 4 west of Bridgewater.
For more information on turkey hunting seasons and licensing, call the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700, or you can visit the department's Web site at VTFishAndWildlife.com.
For lodging and travel information, call the Vermont tourism department at 1-800-837-6668.
Maine has one of the largest concentrations of wild turkeys in New England.
According to information provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), the state's turkey population is between 40,000 and 60,000 birds. The core of Maine's turkey population is in the southern and south-central parts of the state, with the heaviest concentrations of birds in the agricultural and old-field habitats along the Interstate Route 95 corridor. But the bi
rds are expanding north and east through natural dispersal and the department's effective trap-and-transfer program.
Over the past four years, hunter interest and participation in turkey hunting has grown each year. In the fall archery season, nearly 3,000 hunters purchased licenses and registered a harvest of 157 birds. The autumn archery success rate of hunters is low, but the spring season boasts much more hunter-friendly results.
The 2006 spring season was the first year that hunters did not need to enter a lottery in order to hunt wild turkeys. Bird numbers are such that everyone now has a chance to harvest a spring gobbler.
Maine's spring season consists of two overlapping three-week sessions. This two-season concept was instituted to allow greater participation in spring turkey hunting and to keep the sport safe by limiting the number of hunters in the field. Last spring, 18,845 hunters purchased licenses and harvested 5,603 birds.
According to Michael Schummer, Ph.D., a wildlife biologist for the MDIFW, two consecutive years of poor nesting conditions could result in fewer young birds available to hunters this year. Even worse, brood surveys indicated a nesting and brooding failure in southern Maine during the 2006 spring breeding season, due to devastating spring floods.
The resulting lack of young birds could translate to lower success rates because the number of older, "educated" birds in the population has likely increased.
Maine has over 1,300 public land in the form of wildlife management areas and public reserve lands, many of which offer public hunting opportunities. Approximately 94 percent of the state's land area is privately owned. However, more than 10 million acres of working farms and forestry operations are open to public hunting.
In most cases, land not specifically posted against trespassing is open to hunters, although some landowners may require permits for certain activities. Hunters are advised to make every effort to get permission to hunt on private lands prior to the season opener.
During the spring season, the towns yielding the greatest number of turkeys were in Auburn at Exit 13 off I-495; in Brunswick at Exit 22 off I-95; in Limerick at Exit 5 off I-95; in Sanford at Exit 2 off I-95; in Windham at Exit 8 off I-95; and in Windsor on Route 105 east of Augusta. These same areas should produce good hunting again this spring.
For more information on Maine's turkey-hunting seasons, call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000 or visit the department's Web site at State.ME.US/IFW.
For more information on Maine's public lands, contact the Maine Bureau of Public Lands at (207) 287-3061.
For lodging and travel information, call the Maine tourism department at 1-888-624-6345.
Connecticut's wild turkey population has grown steadily since the birds were re-introduced in 1975. Today, the birds in some areas have actually become a nuisance by destroying gardens and farm crops.
According to Michael Gregonis, turkey and deer biologist in the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Wildlife Division, the state's wild turkey population consists of approximately 40,000 birds. In spite of this thriving population, last year hunters had a rather low success rate of only about 20 percent, popularly blamed on poor spring weather.
Hunters harvested 1,760 turkeys in May of 2006 and about 200 birds during the autumn archery and shotgun seasons. But Gregonis said the outlook for the 2007 season is good because the turkey population is healthy and continues to expand.
In fact, because the turkey population is doing well, the Wildlife Division has no special programs in place to enhance turkey hunting or to promote the turkey population, though few years ago, the division did increase the spring harvest limit from one bird to two.
Department land managers have also been working on several projects to clear-cut small blocks of forest to improve ruffed grouse habitat. White-tailed deer, turkeys and many other wildlife species reap the benefits of these projects.
Private-land hunters tend to harvest the most turkeys in Connecticut, especially in the towns of Woodstock, Union, Lebanon, Lyme, Warren and Newtown, which had the highest harvests last spring.
According to Gregonis, three of the best state-owned forests supporting turkeys are Cockaponset State Forest between exits 7 and 8 off Route 9 in Haddam; Naugatuck State Forest at Exit 24 off Route 8 in Beacon Falls and Oxford; and Natchaug State Forest along Route 198, in between Eastford and Chaplin.
Other good options include the MDC Colebrook/Hogback Dam hunting area off Route 20 north of Riverton and the Pease Brook Wildlife Management Area in Gilman at Exit 22 off Route 2.
For more information on turkey- hunting seasons and licensing, call the Connecticut Wildlife Division at (860) 424-3011, or visit the division's Web site at Dep.State.CT.US.
For lodging and travel information, call the Connecticut tourism department at 1-800-282-6863.
During surveys conducted last August, the Granite State's wild turkey population was estimated to be about 33,000 birds. Turkey flocks continue to expand in the more northern and eastern areas of the state. But the southwestern portion of New Hampshire, where the original re-introduction occurred in 1975, holds the largest population.
New Hampshire hunters enjoyed a record harvest during spring 2006 with a total of 3,559 turkeys taken in the month-long season. This represented an increase of 516 turkeys, or a whopping 17-percent jump from the previous year. The harvest was comprised of 1,229 jakes (about 35 percent) and 2,303 adult toms (at 65 percent). During the fall of 2005, archers tallied 168 hens and 129 gobblers, for a total of 297 turkeys.
In many towns, according to Theodore Walski, Turkey Project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the number of gobblers harvested continues to increase. The 2007 season should be similar to last year's, especially in the towns of Bath, Haverhill, Plainfield, Weare, Claremont, Concord, Cornish, Alton, Walpole and Westmoreland, which had the highest gobbler harvests last spring.
Most of these towns lie in the western half of Grafton County, which borders the Ammonoosuc River Valley, or within the Connecticut River valley. The smallest turkey harvests are in the White Mountains, where turkey habitat is marginal.
Hunters have roughly 265,000 acres of public lands available. But Walski said the best turkey hunting opportuniti
es are on private land, particularly around the fields and forest edges associated with farmland. Walski did say that hunters could have good luck in the various U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood-control areas such as the Hopkinton-Everett Lake Project on Exit 5 off I-89 in Henniker; the Blackwater Dam Project along Route 127 in Webster; and the Franklin Falls Dam Project along Route 3A between Bristol and Franklin.
For more information on New Hampshire's turkey-hunting seasons and licensing, call the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3511, or visit their Web site at NHFishAndWildlife.com.
For lodging and travel information, call the New Hampshire tourism office at 1-800-386-4664.
Last year, Rhode Island held its 21st spring turkey-hunting season. During the month-long season, turkey hunters harvested 234 birds -- a 13- percent increase over the 207 birds taken during the 2005 season. This harvest includes six birds shot during the early junior hunter and paraplegic hunter seasons held in April. Thus, the hunter success rate was about 20 percent.
The harvest consisted of 82 jakes (35 percent of the take) and 152 adult toms (65 percent of harvest). Hunters can expect similar results in 2007.
According to Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist at the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife, the restoration of the wild turkey continues to be a major success story. Turkeys were harvested in 20 of the 39 towns around the state. The top five towns were Exeter, Burrillville, Scituate, Glocester and Richmond.
Private lands accounted for most of the harvested birds. But according to information from the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife, birds were also taken in 12 different state wildlife management areas. Arcadia WMA along Route 165 between exits 4 and 5 off I-95 in Exeter and the Carolina WMA along Route 112 at Exit 3 off I-95 in Richmond were hotspots for state-land hunting.
Several large gobblers were harvested last spring, including 71 birds -- 30 percent of those taken -- weighing over 20 pounds. The average live weight for a Rhode Island jake was 14.5 pounds, and the average live weight for an adult tom was 21.4 pounds.
The largest bird checked in last spring weighed 24.5 pounds and had 1-inch spurs and an 11-inch beard.
For more information on turkey-hunting seasons and licensing, call the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife at (401) 789-3094, or visit their Web site at Dem.RI.Gov.
For lodging and travel information, call the Rhode Island tourism department at 1-800-556-2484.
Find more about New England fishing and hunting at: NewEnglandGameandFish.com