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Turkey Hunting

New York State has both spring and fall hunting seasons. The most successful turkey hunters use a variety of calls (e.g., box calls, slate calls, mouth calls) to bring a bird within gun range (usually 30 yards or less). Head-to-toe camouflage helps hunters to stay undetected prior to the shot. Movement must only occur when the bird is behind a tree or other obstacle. Few hunting experiences can rival the excitement as a turkey approaches a hunter. Turkey hunters need to be extremely careful, however, before taking a shot.

The excitement of a turkey hunt should sharpen the hunter's awareness of key safety rules: Always identify the target before shooting, and be sure that no other person is in harm's way. Some people are tempted to try to stalk a wild turkey. Forget it! First, it is extremely difficult to approach a turkey undetected. You will be much more successful calling the bird to you. Second, stalking turkeys puts both you and other hunters at risk. Let the bird do the walking.

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Changes to Fall Turkey Seasons Beginning 2015

DEC adopted new regulations to modify fall turkey hunting seasons across the state starting in fall 2015. The new fall seasons are two weeks long with a statewide season bag limit of one bird of either sex. Season dates vary regionally with the season in the Northern Zone running October 1-14, the Southern Zone running October 17-30, and Suffolk County (Long Island) running November 21-December 4.

The regulatory proposal to implement these changes was published on May 13, 2015 and during the 45-day public comment period the department received over 100 comments. See the Assessment of Public Comment (PDF) (26 kB) to view a summary of the comments submitted and DEC's response.

Almost all of the comments received on the regulatory proposal expressed concern over the decline in wild turkey populations over the past 15 years. Many were supportive of DEC's efforts to modify the fall hunting season to accommodate changing turkey populations and environmental conditions.

The new regulations are part of a multi-year study to understand and respond to long-term declines in turkey populations and to ensure that harvest opportunities are sustainable. The new fall hunting season structure is based on the results of research conducted by DEC and its partners on ecological and social factors that influence turkey populations and management. This included:

  • A study of how weather and landscape-scale habitat features interact and influence the number of turkeys found in different parts of the state;
  • Surveys of turkey hunters to identify what they value in terms of turkey populations, a high quality hunting experience, and the trade-offs they are willing to make between hunting opportunity and turkey abundance; and
  • Field research where more than 450 hen turkeys are banded annually, some with satellite radios, so biologists can determine their survival and fall harvest rates.

Based on those studies, DEC concluded that the best way to enhance turkey populations while maintaining some fall hunting opportunity was to offer a two-week season in all areas of the state, with a seasonal limit of one bird of either sex. Season dates are staggered among three broad regions, which will provide more avid hunters the chance to hunt turkeys for more than just two weeks. This represents a reduced season length in most of the state and a modest increase in season length for Long Island.

The new fall hunting season changes will be evaluated as part of a four-year research program. DEC staff continued to band and track hens in 2015 and 2016 to help evaluate the effects of fall season changes on hen harvest and survival. This information will be used along with information on turkey abundance, productivity, and hunter activity and harvest data collected annually. This will determine future fall harvest opportunities that are sustainable based on current environmental conditions and trends in turkey populations.

Here are some tips for a successful and safe turkey hunting season.

  • Don't stalk. More than half of turkey hunting injuries happen when one hunter stalks another.
  • Always assume any call or footsteps you hear are from another hunter. Don't shoot until you clearly see the whole turkey and know its sex.
  • If you see another hunter, talk to him or her clearly, and don't move. Never wave or use a turkey call to alert another hunter.
  • Turkeys are tough. You need to be close (30 yards or less is best). You need to get a clear head and neck shot. Do not try to shoot them in the body or when they are flying.
  • Smaller shot, no. 4, 5, and 6, work better than larger shot, due to denser shot patterns.
  • When calling, sit still with your back against a big tree, to hide you from turkeys and stalkers.
  • Never wear turkey colors -- red, white, or blue.
  • Wear hunter orange when going in or out of the woods and when walking around.
  • When sitting still waiting for a turkey, put hunter orange on a tree near you.
  • If you take a turkey or carry a decoy, wrap it in hunter orange.
Turkey hunter with decoy and blaze orange
An orange marker on a
nearby tree identifies a
camouflaged hunter to others.

Here are some rules you need to know:

  • You will need a hunting license and a turkey permit.
  • You may hunt with a bow or crossbow, but you may not hunt turkey with a crossbow in the fall in the Northern Zone if you are using dogs. A crossbow may not be used in Westchester or Suffolk counties.
  • You may hunt with a shotgun or handgun only when using shot no larger than #2 and no smaller than #8.
  • You may not take a turkey with a rifle, or with a handgun firing a bullet.
  • You must fill out the tag which comes with your permit and attach it to any turkey you shoot immediately.

Be sure to consult your hunting regulations guide for other rules.

Watch a clip about youth turkey hunting and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

More about Turkey Hunting: