Spring Turkey Season Prospects
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife reminds hunters that the 2005 Spring Gobbler Season is scheduled to begin, Monday, April 18 and will continue for six weeks. Additionally, the Special Youth Turkey Hunting Day is scheduled for Saturday, April 16. Again this year, New Jersey will host one of the longest spring gobbler seasons in the Northeast.
THIS SPRING’S OUTLOOK
The outlook for this season is fair, as biologists do not predict a record harvest this year. Poult production in 2004 was much better than in 2003, but it still was not optimal. Biologists expect that this year’s harvest will have a higher proportion of juvenile males (jakes) than in 2002 and 2003. Also, since production in 2003 was so poor, there will be few two-year-old birds available for harvest this year (two-year-old gobblers are the age class most susceptible to spring harvest).
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 SPRING’S HARVEST
Spring wild turkey hunters harvested 3,059 gobblers during the six-week season that ended on May 28, 2004. It was the fourth largest harvest since the spring turkey season was established in 1981, but was below the recent average. The Division issued approximately 22,261 spring turkey hunting permits for the 2004 season with hunters achieving a success rate of 14%.
The lower harvest was anticipated by Division wildlife biologists based on biological information gathered previously. In fact, most states in the Northeast reported similar decreased harvests of spring gobblers. This was primarily due to the cold and rainy spring weather in 2003 that resulted in poor reproduction. Similar conditions also caused poor productivity in 2002.
In addition to poor productivity, other factors played a role in last spring’s reduced harvest. The hot and sunny weather that prevailed throughout most of the season caused trees to leaf out earlier which may have played a role in reducing hunter visibility as well as sound (full foliage can muffle the sound of distant gobbles). The balmy temperatures may have also suppressed gobbling activity to some extent.
This year, the upcoming spring season quota will again be 29,250 permits. The Division expects permits to be left over and an over-the-counter sale has been scheduled for Saturday, April 2 between 9 a.m. and 12 noon at five Division field offices (Pequest, Northern Region, Central Region, Nacote Creek and Southern Region). 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 four Division field offices (all of the above EXCEPT Nacote Creek) and the Trenton office beginning Monday, April 4. Hunters can call the Division’s Permit Hotline at 609-292-9192 after March 23 for information on leftover permit sales.
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, indicating a healthy and growing turkey population.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS TO TRY
Division Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) 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 2005 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information and Permit Application booklet available at license agents and Division offices or visit the Division’s Web site at www.njfishandwildlife.com.
CHECKING YOUR GOBBLER IS MANDATORY
All harvested gobblers must be tagged immediately with a completed transportation tag. The 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 2005 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information and Permit Application (pdf, 920kb) 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. Minimum weight is 20 pounds. The minimum score for a typical entry is 60; non-typical (multiple beards or spurs) is 80.
To calculate the score, add the weight plus two times the beard length plus 10 times the combined spur lengths. For example, a 19-pound gobbler with a 9-inch beard and one-inch spurs would score 57 points. A wild turkey that scores more than 50 points is considered an outstanding bird. For more information, contact a 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 end in March of 2005. 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. Every winter thereafter, the Division has tagged enough birds to maintain a sample size of approximately 50 gobblers.
So far, preliminary results of the study indicate that predation and hunting are the most common forms of mortality for gobblers. Although hunting accounts for about a quarter of the mortality experienced by gobblers, this rate of mortality does not appear to be a detriment to the stability of the population. The data from this five-year project is scheduled to be analyzed shortly.
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 two 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 will host a free seminar on wild turkeys and turkey hunting in April. 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.
Location and date for the upcoming workshop is as follows:
NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife
Southern Region Office
220 Blue Anchor Rd.
Sicklerville, Camden County
Sunday, April 3 at 1 p.m.
For more information, call 856-629-0090
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 are one half-hour before sunrise to 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 Web site. Additional turkey hunting regulations and other information can be found in the 2005 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information and Permit Application (pdf, 920kb) booklet.