Solid up north, down in central N.Y.
Albany — Preliminary numbers show New York’s spring gobbler kill may be up slightly from last season.
That may be good news, but DEC officials are quick to note that last spring’s low harvest number wasn’t a tough act to follow.
“So far, the reported harvest statewide is up about two percent from last year,” DEC wildlife biologist Mike Schiavone said last week. “But turkey populations are down right now, so even though right now we’re 2 percent above last year, which is virtually unchanged, we’re probably going to see a below-average harvest (in comparison to those of several seasons ago).
“That’s just kind of where we are with turkey populations right now. Last spring wasn’t great, either.”
New York spring gobbler hunters last year killed just under 19,000 birds, a far cry from just over a decade ago, when the harvest topped out at nearly 45,000 birds in 2001.
Statewide, Schiavone said the success rates varied, with good reports coming in from northern New York while the kill was down in parts of central New York, notably in Oneida, Tompkins and down into Broome County.
“There are always variations throughout the state, and a lot of the places where we’re seeing increases over last year are actually in northern New York, from St. Lawrence County over to the Champlain valley,” he said. “the mild winter helped a lot, I’m sure, especially in northern New York where winter weather can depress turkey populations.”
New York’s traditional two-day youth turkey hunt for 12- to 15-year-old hunters was a rousing success this year, with the harvest up by about 30 percent. That, however, was more a product of good weather for this year’s weekend offering. Also, hunter participation was down sharply on the second day of last year’s youth hunt, which fell on Easter Sunday.
National Wild Turkey Federation wildlife biologist Doug Little, whose region includes New York, said he’s heard mixed reviews on the spring season.
“Lots of hunters I’m hearing from were successful at filling at least one tag, but they say birds were hard to find,” Little said. “But when they did locate them they stuck with it and were able to tag them. The season seemed to have started off great, particularly with the youth hunt weekend. But I’m hearing more and more about the lack of birds being seen and heard across the state, particularly in western New York.”
Little, who lives and hunts in the Catskills, said hunting action there “really tailed off” later in the season. Many hunters complained that the early warm spell had a dramatic impact on the timing of the turkeys’ breeding season.
Little’s not so sure.
“I think it had less to do with the earlier warm weather and more to do with hunters taking a good portion of the talkative birds early, and the leftovers were wary, more mature toms,” he said.
Ultimately, the most important season and the one that will set the stage for next year’s spring gobbler hunt is occurring right now: the nesting and brood-rearing season.
“We’re struggling with production right now,” Schiavone said. “Production was really poor in 2009, and that led to the harvest decline last spring (since fewer 2-year-old toms were available). Last year was improved, but still below average production-wise.”
Some late-season poult sightings were encouraging news to turkey biologists, but weather remains a concern. Wet weather – the kind much of the state has been seeing – can seriously hamper poult survival.
“May started off dry, which was good news,” Schiavone said. “But the last half of the season was kind of rainy, so I’m not really sure what to expect. We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks in terms of rainfall. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, because this (nesting success) is really what’s driving turkey populations.”
DEC’s final spring gobbler harvest figures are typically released later this year.