Spring Turkey Season Prospects
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife reminds hunters that the 2004 Spring Gobbler Season is scheduled to begin, Monday, April 19 and will continue for six weeks (note that a special youth day is scheduled for Saturday, April 17). Again this year, New Jersey will host one of the longest spring gobbler seasons in the Northeast.
THIS YEAR’S OUTLOOK
The outlook for the season is fair; however, biologists do not predict a record harvest this year due to poor reproduction in both 2002 and 2003. In fact, reproduction during 2003 was the poorest on record due to the wettest spring and summer weather encountered since the species was reintroduced in 1977.
This year’s wild turkey population is estimated at more than 22,000 birds and as of this writing, the winter survival rate has been good throughout the state. Winter snows have not remained too deep or too soft for any length of time, so the birds were able to move around and find food. In many cases, a crust quickly formed over the snow enabling the birds to walk uninhibited.
LAST YEAR’S HARVEST
The six-week 2003 spring gobbler hunting season ended on May 23 with 3,528 gobblers harvested, about 7% less than in 2002. Nonetheless, the 2003 total represented the second highest New Jersey gobbler harvest in the 23 seasons since the spring turkey season was established in 1981.
Several factors played a key role in the 2003 season’s decreased harvest. Wildlife biologists felt that poor reproduction over the past several years and rainy weather during the turkey season contributed to the lower gobbler take.
Approximately 20,346 spring turkey hunting permits were issued for the 2003 season. The success rate among permit holders was 17%.
This year, the upcoming spring season quota will again be 29,250 permits. All permit applications must be postmarked on or before February 23, 2004. Although the lottery has not been conducted yet, the Division expects permits to be left over and an over-the-counter sale has been tentatively scheduled for Saturday, April 3 between 9 a.m. and 12 noon at five Division field offices. As long as the supply lasts, they will continue to be sold Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 - 4 p.m. at the same five Division field offices and the Trenton office beginning Monday, April 5. Hunters can call the Division’s Permit Hotline at 609-292-9192 after March 26 for information on leftover permit sales.
RESTORATION EFFORTS The Division’s Turkey Restoration Project represents one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in the history of the state. In the mid-1800s, turkeys had disappeared in New Jersey due to habitat changes and over-exploitation. However, in 1977 biologists and technicians began to live-trap and re-locate birds to establish populations in 20 New Jersey counties. To date, nearly 1,700 birds have been trapped and re-located, resulting in an abundance of wild turkeys throughout the state. Even in South Jersey (parts of Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties) where wild turkeys had been struggling just a few years ago, intensive restoration efforts have improved population numbers significantly.
Spring gobbler hunting in New Jersey was initiated in 1981. The season was three weeks long with 900 permits available and hunting was limited to portions of Sussex and Warren counties. In 1985, the season length was increased to five weeks. In 1997, the entire state was opened to spring gobbler hunting. Since the beginning, several record gobbler harvests have been taken in each season indicating continued growth in turkey numbers.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS TO TRY
Division Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) offer excellent hunting opportunities throughout the state. Public land hunters may want to try Hamburg Mountain, Wanaque and Sparta Mountain WMAs in the north; Assunpink in the center of the state; and Peaslee and Bevans down south. Other good areas include: the Newark Watershed, Stokes State Forest and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. For a statewide list of public land open for turkey hunting, check the 2004 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information and Permit Application booklet available at license agents and Division offices or visit the Division’s website at www.njfishandwildlife.com.
CHECKING YOUR GOBBLER IS MANDATORY
All harvested gobblers must be tagged immediately with a completed transportation tag. Turkey must be taken by the person who killed it, on the day killed to the nearest turkey check station before 3 p.m. during the spring gobbler season. Staff at the check station will issue a legal possession tag. Consult the 2004 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information and Permit Application booklet for a listing of official turkey check stations to locate one nearest your hunting area.
OUTSTANDING GARDEN STATE GOBBLER RECORDS PROGRAM
The Outstanding Garden State Gobbler Records Program is administered by the New Jersey Chapter of the Wild Turkey Federation. For more information, contact your local or state chapter representative at 856-785-0455.
WEATHER PLAYS A ROLE
Often hunters are curious about how the weather can affect turkey hunting success. Indeed, windy and rainy weather diminishes hunter success rates for the simple fact that many individuals don’t like to hunt under these conditions. In addition, this type of weather affects turkey behavior and causes the birds to become more wary and less vocal.
A research project designed to provide information on wild turkey gobbler survival in the northwestern part of the state was initiated during the winter of 2000 and will continue through 2004. The purpose of the study is to determine through radio-tracking, factors that are affecting the survival of gobblers in the study area.
That first winter, 51 gobblers were radio-tagged and tracked throughout the year. This winter, the Division will tag several more birds to maintain a sample size of approximately 50 birds.
So far, preliminary results of the study indicate that predation and hunting are both significant mortality sources for gobblers. In the spring of 2003, 36-percent of the birds were taken by hunters.
SAFETY Remember to put safety first. Turkey hunting safety tips courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation include:
Before the hunt:
*Check with your doctor if you have any medical concerns.
*Hunt within your physical limitations.
*Let your hunting partners know if you have physical limitations.
*Let someone know where you are hunting and when you expect to return.
*Work to have a basic understanding of first aid.
During the hunt:
*Set up against a tree that is greater in diameter than the width of your shoulders and taller than your head whenever possible for maximum safety.
*Should you see other hunters (especially close to your line of sight) call out to them in a loud, clear voice. Their presence has already compromised your location and a soft call may only confuse them instead of alerting them to your presence.
KNOW YOUR BIRD
Before you shoot, be sure the bird is a gobbler. Don’t depend on the beard to determine the turkey’s sex since some hens do have beards. The beard of a wild turkey is a group of hair-like feathers ranging from 2 to 12 inches in length located on the center of the breast. Bearded hens are not legal game during the spring season.
During the spring breeding season, toms or gobblers are not difficult to distinguish from hens. Look closely at the head of the bird as it comes to your calling. Gobblers’ heads are naked and very colorful. Their heads are a brilliant red, white and blue. The head of a wild turkey hen is blue-gray in color and may have a line of feathers up the back of the neck. Hens are not as colorful as gobblers.
After checking the head color, look at the color of the breast feathers. Dark black feathers indicate a tom, while the hen appears to be dark brown. If the head of the turkey is naked and colorful, the breast is black and the bird has a beard, you may be confident it is a gobbler. If you have any doubts, simply don’t shoot.
The Division and the New Jersey Chapter of the Wild Turkey Federation (NJWTF) will host several free seminars on wild turkeys and turkey hunting in late February and March. Hunting techniques, turkey calling, natural history and hunting safety will be covered. While it is not mandatory to attend a seminar, all turkey hunters are encouraged to go to one.
Locations and dates for the workshops are as follows:
NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife
Southern Region Office
220 Blue Anchor Rd.
Sicklerville, Camden County
Sunday, February 22 at 1 p.m. and Sunday, March 14 at 1 p.m.
For more information, call 856-629-0090
NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife
Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center
Rt. 46 (nine miles west of Hackettstown)
Oxford, Warren County
Saturday, March 20 at 1 p.m.
For more information, call 908-637-4125
* NJWTF members will conduct a turkey calling clinic immediately following this seminar. Various calls will be demonstrated and participants will be able to try their luck with box, slate, and air-operated turkey calls. Registration is required for the calling clinic.
REGULATIONS AND OTHER INFORMATION
Hunters should familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations for spring turkey hunting in the Garden State. New Jersey spring gobbler hunters are limited to the use of shotguns or bows and arrows. Hunting hours run from a half-hour prior to sunrise until 12 noon. One male wild turkey may be taken with each permit but only one turkey may be taken in a given day. Helpful turkey hunting information and tips can be accessed through the hunting page on the Division’s website at the previously stated address. Additional turkey hunting regulations and other information can be found in the 2004 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information and Permit Application booklet.