Fall Turkey Take by County
As described in DEC's Wild Turkey Management Plan (PDF) (283 kB), DEC has changed the way that seasonal turkey harvest is reported. In the past, DEC only summarized the number of birds actually reported by hunters. Now, the Department reports an estimated total turkey harvest based on surveys of approximately 12,000 turkey permit holders after the close of the hunting season. This results in a calculated harvest based on estimated reporting rates. This provides a more accurate harvest estimate and a more realistic assessment of the status of New York's wild turkey populations.
Estimated wild turkey harvest during fall 2013 was 3,256 birds. This is significantly lower than fall 2012 and below the five-year and ten-year averages (about 7,500 birds and 9,700 birds, respectively). The below average fall turkey harvest the past few years is likely due to fewer turkeys on the landscape, as well as fewer turkey hunters and less hunting effort during the fall season.
Of the 56 counties that had fall turkey hunting, most (75%) experienced a decrease in harvest from fall 2012 to fall 2013. The counties with the highest estimated take in fall 2013 were Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Jefferson, Steuben, and Orange. Of the roughly 25% of counties where harvest increased or was unchanged from 2012 to 2013, about 40% were in DEC Region 8 (Finger Lakes region).
There were likely fewer birds on the landscape this fall due to poor production during summer 2013. Reproductive success, as measured by the summer poult survey, was lower than in 2012 and was below the long-term average. This continues a trend of below-average productivity observed from 2009 through 2011. Poor production was confirmed by the age and sex composition of the reported harvest. About 47% of the reported harvest was comprised of juvenile birds, compared to 57% last year. In addition, there was an abundance of hard and soft mast in the woods last fall so birds did not have to roam over large areas in search of food. These conditions made turkeys less vulnerable to harvest.
The estimated number of fall turkey hunters declined about 20% from last year, continuing a downward trend in fall turkey hunting participation over the past decade (about 85,000 in 2002-03 to 43,000 in 2012-13). When we control for the number of hunters and hunter effort, we observed a decrease in take from 2.3 birds/100 days effort in fall 2012 to 1.4 birds/100 days effort in fall 2013.
Due to concerns about turkey population declines, DEC initiated a study in winter 2013 to assess wild turkey hen survival and harvest rates. Having current, accurate data on hen survival and breeding success is critical to the successful management of wild turkey populations. This research will also provide wildlife managers with estimates of the fall harvest rates of female wild turkeys statewide and for major regions of the state. The primary form of turkey population management for wildlife agencies is through the fall either-sex turkey hunting season. Currently however, fall harvest rates in New York are dated or unknown. This information is essential for estimating population abundance and for gauging the effect of fall season length and harvest on population status. This is especially important now that many indicators suggest that turkeys are not as abundant as they were 10-15 years ago.
Forecast for Fall 2014 - The good production observed in summer 2014 will likely be balanced against poor production in 2013 and harsh winter conditions in 2013-14. We anticipate that the fall 2014 harvest will be higher than last year, but still below the ten-year average. In areas with good growing conditions this spring and summer and plentiful hard mast, there will be an abundance of food available to turkeys this fall. Under these conditions birds have to roam less in search of food making them less vulnerable to hunters.