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 2012 was 6,422 birds. This is significantly higher than fall 2011, but still below the five-year and ten-year averages (about 8,800 birds and 10,300 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 (68%) experienced an increase in harvest from fall 2011 to fall 2012. The counties with the highest estimated take in fall 2012 were Delaware, Otsego, Chenango, Chautauqua, and Schoharie. Of the roughly 32% of counties where harvest was unchanged or declined from 2011 to 2012, half were in DEC Region 8.
There were likely more birds on the landscape last fall due to a mild winter in 2011-12, and good production during summer 2012. Reproductive success, as measured by the summer poult survey, was better than in 2011 and was close to the long-term average after three consecutive years with below-average productivity. Improved production was confirmed by the age and sex composition of the reported harvest. About 55% of the reported harvest was comprised of juvenile birds, the highest proportion of young-of-the-year since 2005. In addition, due to an early green up, followed by a late frost in the spring and a dry summer, there was a lack of hard and soft mast in the woods last fall causing birds to have to roam farther in search of food. These conditions made turkeys more vulnerable to harvest.
The estimated number of fall turkey hunters declined about 2% from last year, continuing a downward trend in fall turkey hunting participation over the past decade (about 77,000 in 2001-02 to 49,000 in 2011-12). When we control for the number of hunters and hunter effort, we observed an increase in take from 1.6 birds/100 days effort in fall 2011 to 2.3 birds/100 days effort in fall 2012.
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 Spring 2013 - Based on brood surveys the last two years and a mild winter during 2012, the spring 2013 harvest will likely be similar to or slightly above spring 2012 and below the five-year average spring harvest (about 26,000 birds). There is a lot of variation among regions of the state and even within a region, so predicting harvest at small geographic scales (e.g., counties and towns) is difficult.
The tenth annual Youth Turkey Hunt was held on April 20-21, 2013. The youth-only hunt is an excellent opportunity for youths ages 12-15 to spend time afield with experienced adult hunters gaining the necessary knowledge and skills to become safe and responsible members of the hunting community. We look forward to the great stories and pictures we receive from young hunters and their adult mentors.