The arrival of spring is eagerly anticipated by turkey hunters anxious for the beginning of New Jersey’s Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Season. This year’s regular season kicks off today and runs for five weeks. Turkey populations are restored statewide, and hunters can enjoy some of the finest turkey hunting on the East Coast right here in the Garden State.
STATEWIDE SPRING OUTLOOK
The statewide wild turkey population is currently estimated at 20,000 to 25,000 birds, and the outlook for this spring’s turkey season is good statewide. Poult production in 2016 was fair, with 2.4 poults per hen measured during summer brood counts, but production was good in 2015, with approximately 3.2 poults per hen measured. As a result, a higher proportion of two-year-old gobblers are expected in this year’s harvest. If New Jersey experiences another year or two of weather conditions conducive to good summer productivity our turkey population should continue to rise.
The winter survival rate of poults has been excellent throughout the state, and with the mild temperatures and low snowfall amounts the Division of Fish and Wildlife has received no reports of turkey mortality due to winter weather. Even though much of the state experienced some heavy snow, which can hamper the winter movement of flocks, the snow quickly melted and turkey movement was not impeded.
LAST SPRING’S HARVEST
Spring wild turkey hunters harvested 2,906 gobblers during the five-week season that began on April 25 and ended on May 27, 2016. This total was slightly below the average harvest of the last five years.
Over the counter permits are now available and can be purchased at license agents or online at www.nj.wildlifelicense.com. Permits will be available as long as the permit supply lasts or the season ends. If you decide to use the Internet you cannot print the permits from home. They must be mailed, and can take 7 – 10 business days (additional shipping charges apply.)
An up-to-date chart of all available permits is at www.nj.wildlifelicense.com/ALS/unit_report.php.
TURKEY HUNTING AREA RECOMMENDATIONS
New Jersey’s 121 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) offer diverse landscapes and endless opportunities for turkey hunters. Nearly 348,000 acres statewide currently comprise the WMA system so hunters are sure to find a prime hunting spot to fit their needs. New properties and additions to existing properties are continually being added, so hunters should check the Fish and Wildlife website regularly for updates to the WMA system.
Many State Parks and Forests are also open to turkey hunting, as is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
A list of public lands available for turkey hunting can be found at www.njfishandwildlife.com/pdf/huntland_turkey.pdf (pdf, 50kb).
MANDATORY GOBBLER CHECK IN
All harvested gobblers must be tagged immediately with a completed transportation tag. The turkey must then be taken by the person who killed it to the nearest turkey check station before 3 p.m. on the day it is killed (7 p.m. during the last two weeks of the season). Personnel at the check station will issue a legal possession tag. Consult the list of turkey check stations at www.njfishandwildlife.com/pdf/2016/turk_chkstations16-17.pdf (pdf, 100kb) to locate one near your hunting area.
Weather can affect turkey-hunting success. Hunter success rates are lower in windy and rainy weather for several reasons, one being that many individuals do not like to hunt under these conditions. More importantly, this type of weather also affects turkey behavior and causes the birds to become more wary and less vocal.
Remember to put safety first. The National Wild Turkey Federation has issued the following turkey hunter safety tips.
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.
ALERT: There are several types of hand-held decoys and turkey tails on sticks being offered for sale recently by turkey decoy companies that allow the hunter to “sneak up” on a gobbler in a field or in the forest. These types of devices are not legal for use in stalking or sneaking up on turkeys during our turkey hunting seasons. In New Jersey, stalking of wild turkeys is illegal, both for ethical reasons and, most importantly, for reasons of personal safety.
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 inches 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.
REGULATIONS AND OTHER INFORMATION
The Turkey Hunting Booklet is no longer being published. Turkey regulations are available on pages 58-61 in the 2016-17 Hunting Digest and at www.njfishandwildlife.com/pdf/2016/turkregs16-17.pdf.
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, which includes crossbows. Hunting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to noon. One male wild turkey may be taken with each permit, but only one turkey may be taken on a given day.
Helpful turkey hunting information and tips can be accessed through the Wild Turkey in New Jersey page at www.njfishandwildlife.com/turkey_info.htm.