New York Turkey Season Has Begun

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New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis announced the dates for New York's spring turkey hunting seasons. The spring season for all hunters opened on May 1, 2007.

"Spring turkey season is one of the most popular hunting activities in New York, and I'm sure that people are already feeling a great sense of anticipation," Grannis said. "DEC has embarked on many new initiatives in support of sound, scientific management of our wild turkey resource. The Department is pleased to report on many of these new management efforts as hunters look forward to another season in pursuit of this outstanding game bird."

New York is one of the premier states in the country for wild turkey hunting and this was another exciting year for wild turkey management and research in New York. In 2006, DEC staff initiated a new winter flock survey and began the first major assessment of turkey survival since the 1970s. The spring season saw the highest harvest in 3 years, followed by a challenging nesting season where cool, wet weather negatively impacted nest success. This decline in productivity was reflected in the fall hunting season where harvest figures were the lowest since 1992. What follows are some highlights of wild turkey research and management from 2006 and a forecast for the Spring 2007 season.

Wild Turkey Banding Study - In January 2006, DEC began a four-year wild turkey banding project designed to estimate harvest and survival rates of male wild turkeys (gobblers) in New York. This study is being done in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, researchers from Pennsylvania State University, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. In winter 2006, DEC banded 296 gobblers and 81 (27%) were reported taken by hunters during the 2006 spring season. Several birds were taken more than 20 miles from their winter capture location.

In winter 2007, DEC staff and volunteers banded another 381 gobblers, far exceeding the annual statewide goal of 300 birds. Returns from the spring 2007 hunting season will be analyzed by researchers at Pennsylvania State University to further examine harvest rates, harvest reporting rates, and movements of birds across the state landscape. DEC thanks all of the volunteers and cooperating landowners for their invaluable assistance in the field. This project would not be possible without them.

Spring Harvest 2006 - The estimated statewide turkey harvest in spring 2006 was approximately 27,750 birds, the highest since 2003. The ratio of jakes (juvenile males) to toms (adult males) in the spring harvest was approximately 1:1. This is the highest proportion of young turkeys relative to adult birds since 1995, and likely a reflection of excellent production in summer 2005 and a mild winter in 2005-06.

Youth Hunt 2006 - DEC established a special youth hunt for turkeys in 2004. More than 5,000 junior hunters have taken to the woods each year with their adult companions to take advantage of this special opportunity. In spring 2006, despite rainy weather on both days of the youth hunt, over 6,000 junior hunters harvested about 1,300 birds. This was the highest harvest since the youth hunt was established. Results of a post-hunt survey conducted by DEC indicated that the hunt was once again very well received by the junior hunters and their adult mentors.

Summer Productivity 2006 - the Department conducts a special survey annually during the month of August to estimate the average number of wild turkey poults (young of the year) per hen statewide and among major geographic regions of the state. This index allows the Department to gauge reproductive success in a given year and predict fall harvest potential. Weather, predation, and habitat conditions during the breeding and brood-rearing seasons can all significantly impact nest success, hen survival, and poult survival.

In 2006, the number of flocks reported was lower than in 2005, and the average number of poults per hen was down 27% from 2005 (2.7 vs. 3.7 in 2005). This was well below the 10-year average (1996-2005) of 3.3 for this index. Spring and early summer 2006 were cool and relatively wet in most of the state, and results of the August Survey indicated production was down from last year, probably due to those adverse weather conditions.

Fall Harvest 2006 - As anticipated based on the below-average productivity, turkey harvest during the 2006 fall season declined about 6% from 2005 to 2006 to 9,202 birds. This is the third straight year of declines in fall harvest despite above-average production in 2005 and a mild winter in 2005-06. Low reproductive success from 2002-04 and again in 2006 likely contributed to declines in fall harvest. Another factor might be a decreasing number of participants. The number of fall turkey hunters has decreased about 29% over the last five years, while the harvest rate remained relatively stable at about 3 birds/100 day's effort.

Forecast for 2007 - Based on the poor productivity observed during the 2006 breeding season, we anticipate that turkey harvest will be down slightly this spring. The good news is that with the excellent production during spring 2005 and the relatively mild 2005-06 winter across much of the state, we expect a larger proportion of 2+ year old birds in the population than last year. These adult birds will test the skills of new and experienced turkey hunters alike and will provide for an exciting spring season.

The regular spring season opened on Tuesday, May 1 and continues through Thursday, May 31, as it has for more than a decade. Other details of the 2007 spring turkey hunting season are as follows:

  • * Hunting is permitted in most areas of the state, except for New York City and Long Island;
  • * Hunters must have a turkey permit in addition to their small game hunting or sportsman license;
  • * Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to noon each day;
  • * Hunters may take 2 bearded turkeys during the spring season, but only 1 bird per day;
  • * Hunters may not use rifles or handguns. Hunters may hunt only with a shotgun and shot sizes no larger than # 2 or smaller than # 8, or with a bow and arrow;
  • * Successful hunters must fill out the tag which comes with their turkey permit and immediately attach it to any turkey shot; and
  • * Successful hunters must call 1-866-426-3778 (1-866 GAMERPT) within 48 hours to report any turkey shot.
  • * Hunters who take a bird with a leg band, in addition to reporting the bird via DECALS, are encouraged to call the 800 number listed on the band. The information you provide helps DEC staff estimate harvest rates and better manage the wild turkey resource.

For more information, see the 2006-07 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Guide or go to the DEC website at: www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/wildlife/guide/turkhunt.html.

Turkey Hunter Safety - New York has an extremely safety-conscious generation of hunters, largely due to the annual efforts of over 3,000 dedicated volunteer Sportsman Education instructors. While hunter numbers have declined in New York over the past decade, the decline in hunting related shooting incidents is primarily attributable to improved hunter safety. The rate of hunting incidents (incidents per 100,000 hunters) is declining much faster than the number of hunters. During the 1960s, the incident rate was 19 incidents per 100,000 hunters. Since 2000, the incident rate is one-third of that, averaging 6.3 incidents per 100,000 hunters.

With only 35 hunting related shooting incidents, 2006 was the 4th safest year since such records have been maintained. Of this total, 5 were related to turkey hunting (4 during the spring season, 1 during the fall season). This is below the five-year average for turkey hunting-related shooting incidents. Turkey hunting is unique in that hunters are usually dressed in full camouflage, are located on the ground, some hunters use decoys, and hunters use calls to make turkey sounds. For these reasons, be sure to identify your target and beyond.