Good spring nesting weather and a mild winter should mean excellent turkey hunting for New England sportsmen in 2009. Here's a look at what's happening in your state this season. (May 2009)
Few success stories are as impressive as that of wild turkey restoration efforts throughout New England. Considering that these big birds were wiped out through habitat loss and unrestricted hunting in the 1800s, today's amazing wild turkey numbers represent a dramatic turnaround, thanks to some very effective management by the region's wildlife agencies. Turkey numbers are up to record highs, as is hunter success. Here's a roundup of management news and best-bet public turkey-hunting areas in your state.
The wild turkey population is doing just fine in the Nutmeg State, as evidenced by its relatively long spring season (May 6 to May 30) and bag limits of three bearded birds on private lands or two on state land.
The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Deer/ Turkey Program has partnered this year with the National Wild Turkey Federation to improve wild turkey brood habitat.
According to Michael Gregonis, a DEP Wild Turkey Program biologist, eight acres of overgrown field were converted to open grassland better suited to broody turkey hens and poults at Griggs Pond in Nipmuck State Forest in Woodstock.
Nipmuck, the second oldest state forest in Connecticut, spans 8,080 acres in Union. Together with nearby Bigelow Hollow State Park, this is one of the largest unbroken forested areas in the eastern portion of the state. Both spring and fall opportunities for wild turkeys may be had here.
To access this area, take Exit 73 off Interstate Route 84. Check DeLorme's Connecticut/Rhode Island Atlas and Gazetteer, map 55, for area details.
The Roraback Wildlife Management Area's 1,975 acres in Harwinton offers more good turkey habitat. The terrain here ranges from mixed hardwood forests to open fields to wetlands. Parking is available on South Road or at the corner of Wilson Pond and Plymouth roads. Check DeLorme's CT/RIAG, map 42, for details.
Bartlett Brook WMA in Lebanon offers spring and fall wild turkey hunting on 684 acres. The land is a combination of agricultural fields and old pastures, mixed hardwood forests and hardwood swamp.
The main entrance and parking are on Goshen Hill Road off Route 16. Parking may also be had on Route 16 about one-half mile east of the Colchester-Lebanon line.
Check DeLorme's CT/RIAG, map 37 for area details.
Paugussett State Forest in Newton spans 1,947 acres of mostly mixed hardwood forest with some swampy areas. Access can be had off Route 34 along both Great Quarter Road and Stone Bridge Road. See DeLorme's CT/RIAG, map 23.
For more Connecticut hunting information, go to www.ct.gov/dep/site/ default.asp.
For general travel information, visit www.visitconnecticut.com or www.tourism.state.ct.us/.
According to Kelsey Sullivan, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Migratory and Upland Game Birds program, wild turkey management goals in the Pine Tree State are multiple. The MDIFW is aiming to increase the size and distribution of the wild turkey population everywhere that has suitable habitat, protect and enhance spring gobbler hunting opportunities, provide a limited fall hunt, and to address nuisance turkey issues.
"We monitor the harvest of turkeys during the spring and fall hunts by requiring each hunter who harvests a bird to register the bird at a tagging station," Sullivan said. "We collect biological data including sex, age, beard length and spur length. Using the harvest information we are able to generate an estimate of the turkey population by wildlife management district."
These harvest estimates are used to maintain, restrict or open districts.
"We also adjust the hunting season frameworks within open turkey hunting areas using harvest information," Sullivan said. "Depending on the level of the spring harvest, a management district may be open to a two-week bow, four-week bow, additional one-week shotgun season -- or a closure."
Another management tool used by the department is the Turkey Hunter Questionnaire. This allows hunters to comment on hunt quality, report turkey sightings and aid biologists in tracking wild turkey population trends.
The department also partners with the Maine Chapter of the NWTF to conduct annual August brood surveys to track trends and measure wild turkey production.
When an area reports nuisance birds, MDIFW often traps the unwanted turkeys and relocates them to areas where higher turkey numbers are desired. Sullivan said that currently, the northern and Down East regions could stand an increase in wild turkey numbers.
Maine's 2009 Youth Day is May 2, with the regular spring wild turkey season running from May 4 to June 6. New this spring is the elimination of the split A/B season based on hunters' birth dates. Instead, all turkey hunters may seek gobblers throughout the entire season.
Provided there isn't any extreme winter-early spring mortality, 2009 is shaping up to be a good year.
"Poult production was good (in 2008), so there were a good number of turkeys heading into the winter months," Sullivan said. "Unless we have another severe winter, I would expect the spring hunt in 2009 to be good. Rain is a major factor for turkey productivity, so we'll have to watch the weather. If spring weather is not too wet, I would expect high productivity and a quality fall hunt as well."
Maine has no shortage of excellent turkey habitat open for public hunting. Sullivan recommended several areas in regions of the state known to have high concentrations of turkeys, including Bud Leavitt WMA (6,430 acres) in Dover-Foxcroft, Atkinson, Garland and Charleston; Frye Mountain WMA (5,240 acres) in Montville, Knox and Morrill; and the Vernon S. Walker WMA (3,954 acres) in Newfield and Shapleigh.
Tagging station locations are listed on the MDIFW's Web site at www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting.
General hunting information may be had by calling (207) 287-8000 or visiting www.maine.gov/ifw/.
For travel information, call the Maine Office of Tourism at (888) 624-6345, or go to www.visitmaine.com.
There's good news for youth hunters in the Bay State, according to James Cardoza, a MassWildlife turkey biologist.
"We've implemented a Youth Turkey Hunt effective in 2009," Cardoza said. "It will be the Saturday before the spring season opens. There will be a limit of one bearded bird."
Hunters ages 12 to 17 must go through a vetting process and take a class on turkey hunter safety before being allowed to participate in the Youth Day hunt. All youth hunters must be accompanied by a licensed adult.
Cardoza said that the Bay State's wild turkey population is doing very well.
"Brood survey results suggest a poor hatch in June (2008), but production picked up in July and August after re-nesting," Cardoza said. "I think the 2009 season can be very good unless we really have a terrible patch of winter weather. As always, winter weather and weather during the hunting season are things you can't predict."
The Stafford Hill WMA consists of four parcels totaling 1,481 acres in Cheshire and Windsor. A good portion of this Western District WMA is old pastureland, now planted with of fruit-bearing shrubs. Some portions of Stafford Hill are currently in active agricultural management. Upland areas are mostly mixed hardwood and softwood forest, but some steeply sloping fields may be found. Check DeLorme's Massachusetts Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 21, for area details.
In the Connecticut Valley District, turkey hunters will want to scout out the Orange WMA in Mt. Grace and Orange. This WMA's 1,534 acres consist of open fields, overgrown fields, and tracts of both hardwood and softwood forests. See DeLorme's MAG, map 24.
Barre Falls WMA's 10,557 acres offer a vast array of habitats, including mixed hardwood and evergreen forests, open fields, steep hillsides and dense shrub swamps in MassWildlife's Central District. The WMA spans the towns of Hubbardston, Oakham, Barre and Rutland. See DeLorme's MAG, Map 37 for area details.
For more turkey-hunting information, visit the MassWildlife Web site at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw or call them at (617) 626-1590.
For general Bay State travel information, interested hunters may log onto www.massvacation.com or call (617) 973-8500.
All things turkey are going well in the Granite State, according to Ted Walski, a wildlife biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. While production over the wet spring of 2008 was down a bit, Walski said that wild turkeys numbered an estimated 40,000 strong last fall.
The spring Youth Hunt is scheduled for April 25 and 26, with the regular spring wild turkey season running from May 3 to May 31. The fall archery season on gobblers will be from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15.
New Hampshire has been testing the waters with a one-week fall firearms season across the western region of the state, set for Oct. 12-16 this year.
Also new in fall 2008, any hunter purchasing a spring permit was allowed to take one bird of either sex during the fall shotgun season in eight westerly wildlife management units. Walski said biologists were keeping a close eye on harvest numbers from this new opportunity.
"According to preliminary figures, 228 birds were taken during the fall 2008 season," Walski said. "I'm glad it wasn't 400 or more. I had some concerns because there was no special permit for the fall season. What if all 18,000 spring permit holders all went out and pressure was heavy? But the great majority of hunters in New Hampshire focus on the spring gobbler season. That's one reason there weren't a lot more taken in that five-day shotgun season -- and there were other hunting opportunities going on as well."
Walski noted that much of the state's public land is geared toward waterfowl, however, the Granite State has more than 30 parcels of public land known to support wild turkey populations. Even so, some of the best wild turkey hunting takes place on privately owned farmland.
Information about which towns and WMUs yielded the highest harvest numbers is available on the department's Web site.
During the spring 2008 season, WMU H1 gave up 353 birds, with the highest kill-per-square-mile ratio in the state at one bird per mile. Other top harvest areas included WMU J2 (499 birds), WMU K (486 birds) and WMU H2 (465 birds).
For more information about turkey-hunting opportunities in New Hampshire, interested hunters should visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
For travel planning, call (800) 386-4664 to order a vacation guidebook or (603) 271-2665 to speak to New Hampshire Department of Tourism staff, or visit www.visitnh.gov.
Wild turkey restoration efforts in the Ocean State are going well, according to Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Division of Fish and Wildlife. Tefft noted that it was passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 that made restoration of wild turkeys and other wildlife species possible in Rhode Island.
"This landmark partnership between hunters, state and federal wildlife agencies was, and still is, the best model for conserving wildlife anywhere in the world," Tefft said. "We have been very fortunate to have the funds and dedicated biologists and support staff to make wild turkey restoration possible. The future of the wild turkey looks very bright in the next century. However, we must be prepared for new challenges, such as habitat loss, that need to be addressed if we are to succeed."
While many states put federal funds toward wildlife research projects, up to 95 percent of these funds in Rhode Island go toward land acquisition in an effort to assure future habitat and land open for public use.
The spring wild turkey season will run April 30 to May 26, with Paraplegic and Youth hunts on April 25 and 26.
"The 2009 spring season is expected to be similar to the 2008 season," Tefft said. "That means just average, with the potential for a slight increase in the harvest."
Wild turkeys were harvested on 14 WMAs in 2008, including Buck Hill WMA, which spans 2,049 acres in Burrillville. The WMA is mostly forested, with some wetlands and fields devoted to agricultural operations. The DEM maintains wildlife food plots to supplement natural habitat.
Access is off Buck Hill Road. Check DeLorme's Connecticut/Rhode Island Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 64, for area details.
Woody Hill WMA's 819 acres are in Westerly. About 90 percent of the WMA is forested, with the remainder in wetlands.
Access is via the Woody Hill Road. Check DeLorme's CT/RIAG, Map 74.
For more Rhode Island hunting information, call (401) 222-6800 or visit www.dem.ri.gov.
For travel information, call (800) 556-2484 or www.visitrhodeisland.com.
Wild turkey management in the Green Mountain State consists of gathering data that is then used to set regulations and habitat management designed to benefit the big birds.
"One of our best indicators of what is going on is our summer brood survey," said Doug Blodgett, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. "That gives us a big clue on how spring productivity went. And, we rely a lot on harvest information. We conduct habitat management programs on both public and private lands. We have active NWTF chapters that are involved in a fair amount of that, too.
"We have been working on a substantial, new 10-year wild turkey management plan for the state of Vermont," he continued. Depending upon how early in 2009 the plan is adopted, some changes may go into effect this year.
Hunters have every reason to be optimistic about the 2009 spring season.
"We've set new spring records the last five years in a row, so 2008 was the highest ever," Blodgett said. "In a couple of those years we had some challenging weather, but for whatever reason, our hunters stuck right to it."
There were 5,461 turkeys taken in spring 2008, 5,024 in 2007. Those numbers include the two-day youth hunt harvests. The 2008 Youth Hunt harvest set its own record last spring with a total of 734 birds.
"I think our current harvest structure sets us up well for spring hunting," he said. "We're a little conservative in fall. That's why I think it pays us at the other end. We have a skilled, fairly steady cadre of dedicated turkey hunters as well. Their success rate is 28.5 percent consistently, which is relatively high.
"Last year we did notice a slight jump in the number of hunters we had participating in the spring, so I think what that means is that Vermont is being looked at now as a pretty consistent and quality spring hunting state," Blodgett noted.
Vermont's spring wild turkey season runs May 1-31, with the Youth Hunt the weekend before the season opener.
Blodgett said wild turkey hunting is good throughout much of the state, noting that Pond Woods WMA in Benson, Snake Mountain WMA in Addison and Roy Mountain WMA in Barnet are all worthy destinations to explore this year.
For area information about Pond Woods WMA's 2,111 acres, check DeLorme's Vermont Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 32. For Snake Mountain, see Map 38, and for Roy Mountain, check Map 42.
For more information on turkey-hunting opportunities in Vermont, call the Rutland Fish and Wildlife office at (802) 786-0040 or visit www.vtfish andwildlife.com.
For travel information, call the Vermont Department of Tourism at (802) 828-3237 or visit www.travel-vermont.com.