Hotspots for New York's Spring Gobblers

Our top spring turkey hotspots continue to provide top-quality hunting. Here's a preview of New York's finest public-land options for 2004.

By Mike Bleech

Not so long ago, wild turkeys were a rare sight in New York, but turkeys have been reestablished in every part of the state that has suitable habitat, even in the Adirondack Mountains. Turkey hunting now ranks at No. 2 in the state, second in popularity only to deer hunting.

The Empire State is among the top in the Northeast for quality spring gobbler hunting. Turkeys are abundant, they are challenging and there are plenty of places to hunt for them.

During the last 10 years, hunters have reported taking an average of 8,775 gobblers during the spring season. Spring gobbler harvests have been relatively stable through this period, varying from a high of 10,341 during the 1996 season to a low of 7,117 last spring.

Weather during the past three years has almost certainly been the most significant influence on the annual spring hunt. Harvests declined slightly after the 1996 peak, reaching another peak of 9,274 in the 2001 season. Wet springs in 2001, 2002 and 2003 reduced nesting success, and the spring gobbler kills fell to 7,501 in 2002 following the first of the three consecutive wet springs, then to 7,117 last year after the second wet spring. With this in mind, hunters can anticipate another mild decline this spring, according to Mike Ermer, a New York Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist.

Low temperatures and rain can kill turkey eggs, he added. Though hens protect the eggs, they must leave their nests to eat, and that leaves the eggs exposed to the elements.

Photo by Mark & Sue Werner

Another factor, which might have negatively impacted the 2004 turkey population, was the harsh winter. Deep snow makes it difficult for turkeys to reach food on the ground. This can be especially critical for turkeys following a rainy spring because the hens will have later broods, and late-hatched poults then have a lesser chance of surviving the winter than early spring broods.

A slight reduction in the turkey population should not be enough to deter anyone. This spring, turkey hunters should just plan on spending more time scouting before the hunting season begins.

From harvest reports, the best spring gobbler hunting in New York takes place in the southwest corner of the state and along the Southern Tier.

Cattaraugus County led the state with an average of 444 gobblers taken by hunters during the past three spring seasons. Chautauqua County, the southwestern-most county and bordering Cattaraugus County on the west, was second with a three-year average of 443 gobblers. Erie County, which borders Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties on the north, ranks third with a three-year average of 342 spring gobblers.

With all this in mind, here's a look at some excellent spring gobbler hunts in all parts of the state.

Chautauqua County led the state last year with a spring take of 423 gobblers. Although this area gets a lot of lake-effect snow, Lake Erie moderates the weather somewhat.

The key to turkey success here is habitat. Look for a mix of cover types including forest and open areas with a variety of foods.

"Generally speaking, the best turkey hunting is usually around farms, which means private land. If you can find state land adjacent to agricultural land, that's always a good place to start."

Farms in Chautauqua County provide great winter support for turkeys. Driving through the area on a winter day, it's often possible to observe flocks of turkeys feeding on grains they find in manure that has been spread on the fields.

One of the better tracts of public land in Chautauqua County is Canadaway Creek Wildlife Management Area. This 2,180-acre section is in the north-central part of the county, near Cassadaga. From the Buffalo area, take Interstate Route 90 to the Fredonia exit, and then take New York Route 60 south to Cassadaga. From the Jamestown area, take Route 60 north to Cassadaga. From Cassadaga, follow county Route 72 eastward about four miles onto the public land.

The terrain in this wildlife management area is low hills, but with some steep slopes. Most of it is forested with hardwoods, but also with some pine plantations. There are some small wetland areas. Canadaway Creek, which flows westward into Lake Erie, drains the area, cutting a steep valley gorge.

For information about local services, contact the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 1441, Chautauqua Institution Welcome Center, Route 394, Chautauqua, NY 14722; or call (800) 242-4569.

"Usually, Hanging Bog is one of the better public lands for turkeys in the region (Region 9)," Ermer said.

Hanging Bog Wildlife Management Area covers 4,571 acres in the town of New Hudson in Allegany County. The terrain is rolling hills. Most of it is covered by hardwood forest, but pine plantations provide good winter cover. There are also marshes, potholes and ponds.

Allegany County ranked fourth in the state last spring, with a take of 262 gobblers.

"We've also done some cutting in there, so there's quite a bit of brush. This area has more diversity of habitat than most of our state forests," Ermer said.

About 150 acres is maintained as open field. This type of habitat is important to young turkeys, which feed extensively on grasshoppers.

Two state forests are adjacent to Hanging Bog Wildlife Management Area, including Crab Hollow State Forest, with 1,154 acres along the western side; and Rush Creek State Forest, with 1,404 acres touching the northeast corner. Combined, this provides 7,129 acres of public hunting ground.

To reach Hanging Bog Wildlife Management Area from Interstate Route 86, exit at Cuba and take state Route 305 north, and then turn left onto New Hudson Road or Brown Road.

From the north, follow state Route 98 south from Arcade and turn south on state Route 243. Just past Rushford and before Rushford Lake, turn south onto Hillcrest Road (Route 49) along the west side of Rushford Lake, and then turn right onto Rush Creek Road. Rush Creek State Forest is near this last turn, and the northern boundary of Hanging Bog Wildlife Management Area is farther along the road.

For information about local services, contact the Allegany County Tourism (Chautauqua/Allegany) office, County Office Building, Room 208, 7 Court St., Belmont, NY 14813; or call (800) 836-1869 or (585) 268-9229.

Rock City State Forest is north of Interstate Route 86, situated between Salamanca and Ellicottville in Cattaraugus County. Cattaraugus County ranked second in the state last spring with a take of 392 gobblers, and had one of the greatest spring gobbler takes ever in New York in 1995, when hunters bagged 568 birds.

This is rugged hill country, with elevation variations of more than 700 feet. Several slopes are very steep. It is covered by hardwood forest. Scattered farms in the surrounding countryside add to the quality of turkey habitat in this area.

This is actually two connected state forests - Rock City, with 2,905 acres and McCarty Hill, with 3,110 acres, for a total area of 6,015 acres of public land. Take U.S. Route 219 north from I-86 at Salamanca or south from Buffalo, and then turn west onto Mutton Hollow for about two miles to reach the east side of the state forest.

To reach the western side, take state Route 353 north from Salamanca, and then turn right onto state Route 242 or Whig Street. Other side roads lead into various parts of the public land. Some gated roads provide good walking routes for bear hunters. Watch for the yellow state forest property signs.

For information about local services for both Rock City State Forest and South Valley State Forest, contact the Cattaraugus County Tourism, 303 Court St., Little Valley, NY 14755, or call (800) 331-0543.

Melondy Hill State Forest provides a variety of habitat that is good for turkeys. Most of the habitat is either hardwood forest or spruce and pine plantations with some wetland sections. Hemlocks in the valleys provide thermal cover against both winter snows and summer heat. Continued cutting assures mixed-age trees. Mast crops include acorns and beechnuts.

This state forest is actually composed of three reforestation areas in Chenango and Broome counties. Total area is 5,417 acres. Both Rochester and Syracuse are within a reasonably short drive. The forest can be reached by taking New York Route 41 either south from Afton, or north from state Route 17, and then east on county Route 39. On the south side of the Susquehanna River, follow Melondy Hill Road to the public land.

For local information, contact Broome County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 49 Court St., Metro Center, 2nd Floor, Binghamton, NY 13901, or call (800) 836-6740 or (607) 772-8860.

Bear Spring Mountain Wildlife Management Area is in the towns of Colchester and Walton in Delaware County. It covers 7,186 acres and features steep hills that are covered mainly by hardwood forest. Some openings are maintained and there are old orchards. These provide excellent turkey brood habitat.

To reach Bear Spring Mountain Wildlife Management Area from the Binghamton area, take state Route 17 east to Deposit and then state Route 10 to Walton. From Walton, take state Route 206 onto the public land. From the New York area, follow Route 17 to Roscoe and then Route 206. Or from either direction, take state Route 30 north off Route 17 at East Branch. East Trout Brook Road crosses through the center of the public land between routes 30 and 206.

Information about this area is available from the Region 4 sub-office at Stamford at (607) 652-7367. For information about local services, contact the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, 114 Main St., Delhi, NY 13753, or call (607) 746-2281.

Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area is in Pharsalia in Chenango County. This is a forested area that is surrounded by open farmland, a perfect situation for turkey hunters. It covers an area of 4,625 acres. Most of the habitat is hardwoods of various ages, with some pine plantations, brush, a couple of ponds and wetland.

Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area is in the northern part of Chenango County about 10 miles northwest of Norwich. From the Syracuse area, take Interstate Route 81 south to Cortland, and then take state Route 41 east to state Route 26 east and state Route 23, which is close to the west and south sides of the public land and intersects with smaller access roads in the North Pharsalia area. From the Binghamton area, follow state Route 12 north to Norwich and then Route 23 west to the wildlife management area.

For information on local services, contact the Chenango County Chamber of Commerce, 19 Eaton Ave., Norwich, NY 13815; call (800) 556-8596 or (607) 334-1400.

Dutchess County leads the southeast corner of New York with a three-year average take of 245 spring gobblers. Last spring, the reported take of 228 gobblers led the area and ranked eighth in the state, which is impressive for an area that is just an hour north of New York City.

Old gobblers in this county are not common, and the ones that are there are well educated. Often, you can expect to be in competition with other hunters calling the same bird. A high level of skill is necessary, obviously, but beyond that, hunters who do something different will have the best chance of scoring.

Public lands in Dutchess County are relatively small. The largest is the Taconic-Hereford Multiple Use Area, at 909 acres. The terrain consists of rolling hills covered primarily by hardwood forest in the town of Pleasant Valley east of the Taconic State Parkway in the center of the county. Parking areas are along the parkway, on a dirt access road off Tyrell Road and at the end of Pond Gut Road, which leads off state Route 82.

Wassaic Multiple Use Area is in the town of Amenia, about three miles north from Dover Plains in the east-central part of the county. Parking is available along state Route 22 and Tower Hill Road. This 487-acre area has mixed forest with some openings.

Depot Hill Multiple Use Area is in the southern part of the county in the town of Beckman. Follow state Route 216 west from state Route 55 to Depot Hill Road. Most of the habitat on this 260-acre section is hardwood forest.

Roeliff-Jansen Kill Multiple Use Area, Stissing Mountain Multiple Use Area and Lafayetteville Multiple Use Area are clustered in the north-central part of the county, not far from Pine Plains. Lafayetteville MUA contains 718 acres in a mix of open and forest habitat. State Route 199 bisects it between the Taconic State Parkway and state Route 82.

Stissing Mountain MUA provides 451 acres of rolling hills covered by brush to mixed hardwoods. It is about three miles south from Route 199 on Hicks Hill Road.


n Kill MUA has 125 acres of mixed forest and overgrown fields. It can be accessed from a pull-off on the east side of the Taconic State Parkway.

For local information, contact Dutchess County Tourism, 3 Neptune Rd., Poughkeepsie, NY 12601; call (800) 445-3131 or (914) 463-4000.

Although spring gobbler harvests in northern counties in regions 5 and 6, are well below the best Southern Tier counties, this does not mean there is a lack of good hunting.

St. Lawrence County spring gobbler hunters have taken an average of 222 birds during the past three years, with Oneida County's 224 gobblers and Jefferson County's 192 birds. In these counties, hunters should look first at public lands that are closest to working farmlands.

For more about turkey hunting in New York, including the 2004 hunting regulations, contact the NYSDEC, 50 Wolf Rd., Albany, NY 12233-4754; call (518) 457-4480.

For more about travel in New York, contact the New York State Division of Tourism (North America Group Travel), Empire State Development, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, Room 110, Albany, NY 12223; call (800) CAL-LNYS, Ext. 47624.

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