Empire State turkey biologists expect another great spring hunting season in 2006. Try these top-rated hotspots for odds-on action near you. (April 2006)
Where are New York's best spring turkey hunts? They are wherever you can be on a spring morning with a shotgun in your hands and a turkey call in your pocket -- practically anywhere in the state.
The 1986 wild turkey management plan focused on completing the restoration of the species and the management of a newly re-established population. Turkeys now have been successfully re-established into all areas of the state with suitable habitat. In fact, spring gobbler hunting is allowed anywhere in the state except for wildlife management units 1A, 1C and 2A.
One aspect of the newest wild turkey management plan is a different way of calculating harvests. Rather than reporting harvest figures based only on hunter reports, the new system calculates what is considered to be a more accurate figure based on surveys of hunters after the close of the hunting season. Also, harvests going back to 1999 have been adjusted using the new calculation model. This should give biologists a better indication of what to expect from year to year.
After several years of growth, the 2004 and 2005 spring wild turkey harvests were relatively flat. Reproduction appeared to improve last year, but gobblers hatched then will be only jakes now. Over the long term, the season should be comparatively good, but based on more recent standards, the reduced stock of older gobblers might make hunting more challenging this spring.
Spring gobbler hunters tend to hunt close to home. However, with the rise in the wild turkey population comes increasing popularity. More hunters are getting involved in the spring gobbler season. More are willing, even anxious, to travel to better hunting areas, or at least hunting areas that might provide more adventure, than they can find close to home.
Here are a few of the many places to find great spring gobbler hunting adventure in New York, with a good chance of calling in a bird:
It is fitting that we first look at a Chautauqua County hunt. Wild turkeys disappeared from New York because of habitat loss and unregulated sustenance hunting in the 1840s. They began their return in the late-1940s through dispersal from Pennsylvania, first appearing in the southwestern corner of New York. In Chautauqua County, you might be hunting the descendants of the first birds returned to the state.
It would be hard to find better wild turkey habitat than the Panama Management Unit and the surrounding countryside. This gently rolling terrain is a patchwork of wood lots with mature trees for roosting, overgrown farms, wetlands and agriculture. A few steep ravines with thick hemlocks and conifer plantations provide good winter thermal cover, and numerous spring seeps provide winter feeding areas. When the snow is not too deep, manure spread on farm fields provides winter forage. With ample food and cover, turkeys can survive even severe winters, although lake-effect snowstorms can take a toll on them.
The Panama Management Unit is made up of five separate tracts, including Brokenstraw State Forest, Panama State Forest, Hill Higher State Forest, Wellman State Forest and the Watts Flats Wildlife Management Area. All are in the southwestern part of Chautauqua County near Panama.
Approaching from the Buffalo area, follow Interstate Route 90 west to the exit at Westfield. Follow state Route 394 east to Chautauqua, and then county Road 76 south to Panama. All five individual units are south of Panama.
For information about local services, contact the Chautauqua-Allegheny regional tourism office, Route 394, Main Gate Welcome Center, Chautauqua, NY 14722; or call (800) 242-4569.
ALLEGHENY STATE PARK
A turkey-farming program through the 1950s failed, but a trap-and-transfer program was successful in establishing our favorite game bird throughout the state. The first turkeys trapped and transferred were taken from Allegany State Park in 1959, so we will give this huge public hunting area the honor of our second suggestion.
Hunters will need a permit to hunt on Allegany State Park. Permits are available at park law enforcement offices. Sunday hunting is not allowed in the park; however, there are several other state lands in the vicinity where Sunday hunting is allowed. Try South Valley State Forest, which is across the Allegheny Reservoir from the park.
One of the best things about Allegany State Park is that it has 424 campsites and 375 cabin rentals, many more than any other New York state park, which is fitting for it being the state's largest such park. A group of friends can enjoy a reasonably inexpensive spring gobbler hunting vacation in a centralized hunting camp.
The park contains 65,000 acres and most of those acres are open to hunting. The terrain is steep hills, in fact, the highest land in western New York, though not nearly as high as the Catskills or Adirondacks. Most of it is covered with hardwood forest. There are several scattered open sections.
To get there from the Rochester area, take I-390 south to I-86, and then proceed east. There are exit signs directing visitors to the park.
Campsites may be reserved by phoning (800) 456-CAMP. Get more information about the park by contacting the Allegany State Park office, 2373 ASP, Route 1, Suite 3, Salamanca, NY 14779; or call (716) 354-9121.
Chautauqua County and Cattaraugus County have the highest average spring gobbler harvests in the state, both around 1,000 birds per year, so a closer look at these neighboring counties is in order. (Average spring gobbler harvests are for the years 1999 through 2004.) Both counties contain ideal wild turkey habitat.
Also a good indicator, these two counties lead the state in fall turkey harvests by a margin of about 30 percent more than the third-best county and better than 2 1/2 times more than the average for all counties.
Just pick a tract of public land in the southeastern corner of New York and start scouting for turkeys. Chances are very good that you will find birds if you know what you are doing.
EAST OTTO STATE FOREST
East Otto State Forest contains 1,354 acres of state forestland in northern Cattaraugus County. Flat to gently rolling terrain is mostly forested, including many conifer plantations, but there are ample openings and wetlands as well as patchwork habitat in the surrounding area.
East Otto SF is southwest of Springville. Take U.S. Route 219 south and then turn wes
t on county Road 12. The state forestland is between county Route 12 and county Road 11. Access is provided by Traffic Street and Kriedeman Forest Road.
For information about local services, contact the Cattaraugus County tourism office, 303 Court St., Little Valley, New York 14755; or call (800) 331-0543 or (716) 938-9111.
Harvest figures make it glaringly obvious that turkey-hunting success declines through the central counties moving northward. Rochester-area gobbler hunters who are willing to travel should look to that southwestern corner to hunt the densest turkey populations. However, there are still good places to go closer to home.
HI TOR WMA
Hi Tor Wildlife Management Area covers about 6,100 acres at the southern end of Canandaigua Lake in Yates and Ontario counties. Get there from the Rochester area by traveling east on I-90 to state Route 322, south to Canandaigua and then south on state Route 21 to Naples. From the Syracuse area, take I-90 West to Route 21 south. The main entrance is at the south end, but there are several parking areas around the perimeter to provide good access.
Hi Tor WMA features three separate tracts. The main block of 3,400 acres consists of a large hill visible east of Naples. The western slope is very steep. Steep cuts provide protection for turkeys during winter.
The habitat here is mostly hardwood forest with some conifers and a few apple orchards. There are some openings and timbered areas. Wide fire lanes make good calling setups. Maintenance roads closed to public vehicle traffic provide foot access to the interior.
Two tracts to the north are a 1,700-acre marsh along West River and Naples Creek at the southern tip of Canandaigua Lake, and another 1,000-acre tract called South Hill, which consists of overgrown fields and steep, wooded hillsides.
Information about local services in this area is available through the Finger Lakes Tourism office, 309 Lake Street, Penn Yan, NY 14527, or by phone at (800) 548-4386 or (315) 536-7488.
Chenango County ranks 11th in the state in spring gobbler harvests. Skinner Hill State Forest is a good place to start scouting for gobblers in this part of the state.
Skinner Hill SF covers 1,666 acres. Habitat is a mix of conifer plantations, hardwood forest, wetlands and open fields. Staying within its boundaries can be difficult because it has an irregular shape and is narrow everywhere. Several roads cross the property. To get there, take New Berlin along county Road 29 (King Settlement Road). New Berlin is along state Route 8 between Interstate Route 88 at Bainbridge and U.S. Route 20 at Bridgewater.
Information about local accommodations may be obtained from the Chenango County Chamber of Commerce, 19 Eaton Ave., Norwich, NY 13815; or call (800) 556-8596. Or try the Chenango County Chamber of Commerce, 19 Eaton Ave., Norwich, NY 13815; or call (800) 556-8596.
Oswego County north of Syracuse is one of the leading counties in the state for spring gobbler harvests, ranking 12th statewide. Bordering it on the north, Jefferson County ranks eighth.
Look for your 2006 spring gobbler on Littlejohn Wildlife Management Area or to the west at the Winona State Forest. The total area is about 17,253 acres (8,020 acres at Littlejohn and 9,233 acres at Winona).
Both the state forest and the wildlife management area straddle the Oswego-Jefferson county border about an hour north of Syracuse on I-81 to Lacona and then east on Smartville Road to the southern ends of both areas. Traveling east from the next three exits will also provide access.
Littlejohn WMA is better managed for turkeys, with mast-producing trees and forest openings. There are trails to make it easier to access the more remote sections. It is roughly two miles wide (west to east) and about 3 1/2 miles long.
Understand, however, that you will probably find more turkeys in these counties by seeking access to private agricultural lands to the west on lower ground, which receives somewhat less snow and has more diverse habitat.
For tourism information, contact the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism, County Office Building, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126; or call (315) 349-8322.
Wild turkeys were not native to the Adirondack Mountains, at least not in large numbers, yet the modern population has somehow found a niche there. This was partly due to changes in the habitat brought about by human development. More fields and a better variety of foods, thanks to the efforts of small agricultural holdings, persist in the Adirondack region and work to the birds' advantage. Grassy fields are especially important in the development of young turkeys because of their abundant insect life, which provides more protein than vegetation.
A series of relatively mild winters could have played an important role, too. Turkeys have wandered into the lower elevations but within sight of the high peaks. An Adirondack spring gobbler hunt with some chance for success is possible, but unless you live there and watch the birds daily, your best bet for scoring is probably in the fringes of the Adirondack Park, such as on the Black River Wild Forest. Still, this region is probably not a good place to hunt following harsh winters. Even so, Herkimer County, which gets right into the heart of the Adirondacks, ranks a respectable 16th in the state for average spring gobbler harvests.
The Black River Wild Forest is at the southwestern corner of the Adirondack Park, not too far from Albany or Syracuse. Exit from I-90, the New York Thruway, at Utica and follow Route 12 north. Turn right onto Route 28, and then turn right again toward Forestport Station. Follow North Lake Road east out of Forestport Station and into the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.
The terrain here is low mountains and valleys with ponds and wetlands. It is covered with conifers and birches in the lowlands and mostly hardwoods along the ridges.
New York's spring gobbler season is a great time for camping. This is the perfect area for hunters who like to rough it. Plastic discs mark established but undeveloped campsites. There are some sites along the roads and along the southwest shore of North Lake. Turn left just before crossing the dam that creates North Lake Reservoir. These sites even have outhouses.
Information about local services is available from the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council, P.O. Box 2149, Plattsburgh, NY 12901; call (518) 846-8016, or check the agency's Web site at wwwadk.com.
Washington County ranks 15th in spring gobbler average harvests. Region 5, which includes the eastern Adirondacks extending north to the St. Lawrence Valley, has just one standout spring gobbler county. There is one major public land with good wild turkey prospects here: Batten Kill State Forest.
This 983-acre area features steep terrain covered by mostly hardwoods forest. It is about an hour from the Albany area by way of Route 7 east, Route 22 north, and then northeast along Route 313 from Cambridge.
Information about local services is available from the Washington County Information and Tourism Office, County Municipal Center, 383 Broadway, Fort Edward, NY 12828; call (888) 203-8622, (518) 747-5343, or e-mail the office at email@example.com.
Otsego and Delaware counties rank fourth and fifth in annual spring gobbler kills. In Delaware County, Bear Spring Mountain Wildlife Management Area has 7,186 acres of hilly forest with a good mix of habitat for wild turkeys.
Approaching from the Albany area, take I-88 west to Oneonta, state Route 357 west to Franklin, county Road 21 south to Walton, and then state Route 206 south three miles to the wildlife management area.
Visiting hunters can get local information from the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, 114 Main St., Delhi, NY 13753; call (800) 642-4443; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Dutchess County leads the Region 3 counties in average spring gobbler harvests, ranking ninth in the state followed by Orange County. Ulster and Sullivan counties have respectable spring gobbler takes. Certainly the best hunting is on private land. Expect a lot of hunting pressure on most public lands. Check out the Neversink Unique Area for a, well, unique experience. It is in southeastern Sullivan County, south of state Route 17 along County Road 101 (Cold Spring Road).
The terrain in this 6,596-acre area includes a steep gorge and two large waterfalls. Best known for its remote trout fishing, the area also has a decent wild turkey population.
Several special rules must be followed. Parking is allowed only at designated parking areas. Access is allowed only from a one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. Camping and fires are not allowed.
Before hunting here, send for a brochure with a map and other rules from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 3 office, 21 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561-1696.
For more about turkey hunting in New York, including regulations, contact the NYSDEC, 50 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12233-4754; or call (51) 457-4480.
For more about travel in New York, contact the NYS Division of Tourism (N. America Group Travel), Empire State Development, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, Room 110, Albany, NY 12223; or call (800) CAL-LNYS, Ext. 47624.