Mayday! Gobbler take may dip

Albany – New York’s spring gobbler hunters had a great season in
2009, recording one of the highest harvest totals in the past six
years.

But back-to-back poor nesting seasons across much of the state
have potentially set the stage for a tougher May this year, DEC
biologists are predicting.

“Our five-year average (turkey harvest) has been between 30,000
and 31,000,” DEC_wildlife biologist Mike Schiavone said. “We think
the harvest will be a little below that this year because of two
poor production years in a row.”

The wet nesting seasons of 2008 and 2009 essentially mean there
will likely be fewer 2-year-old longbeards (from the 2008 hatch)
and also fewer jakes (yearling birds hatched last season). Jakes
and 2-year-olds comprise the bulk of the statewide tom take each
year.

Schiavone said last year’s nesting season was particularly
challenging for turkeys, with record wet weather in many areas of
New York.

“We had below-average production in 2008, but the spring and
early summer of 2009 was a very, very wet one – one of the poorest
production years we’ve seen,” he said.

Among the hardest hit regions were portions of the Hudson
Valley, parts of the Otsego-Delaware hills north of the Catskills,
the Champlain Valley and the eastern Ontario plains south of the
St. Lawrence Valley. “Even parts of western New York saw poor
production last year,” Schiavone said.

Still, DEC biologists say there remains some good numbers of
gobblers in many areas of the state, particularly where there’s a
good mix of agricultural activity and timber.

Too, the birds weathered a relatively mild winter, where
temperatures were generally above normal and although some regions
saw heavy snowfall, it came late in the winter.

“Overall the birds fared pretty well because it was relatively
mild and the snows came late,”_Schiavone said.

New York hunters killed 34,664 gobblers last spring, according
to DEC estimates. That was the second highest tally in the past six
years and was nearly 2,000 toms above the previous spring’s take.
It was, however, below the 2007 total of 35,625 – a solid harvest
fueled by a good nesting season two years earlier that left a lot
of 2-year-old longbeards gobbling across the state.

New York’s record high gobbler harvest of 44,400 occurred in
2001, and four of the top six harvests ever in the state came
between 2000 and 2003.

Chautauqua County in western New York, for the seventh straight
year, led all counties in 2009 with 2,012 gobblers harvested during
the May 1-31 season, in addition to a two-day youth season the
weekend preceding the regular-season opener.

Other top tom-producing counties last year included Cattaraugus
(1,432), Steuben (1,414), Oneida (1,225), Otsego (1,215), Delaware
(1,182), Jefferson (1,158) and Onondaga (1,024).

DEC officials said the greatest increases in gobbler take last
year occurred in regions 4, 5 and 6; regions 5 and 6 are primarily
comprised of Northern Zone counties, where pockets can be found
with good numbers of turkeys, notably in St. Lawrence County where
the most agricultural activity occurs.

And despite the poor nesting season last year, there remains
some optimism among hunters and wildlife biologists.

“We did see a lot of small poults last year, which indicates
there were some late hatches,”_DEC_Region 5 wildlife biologist
Melissa Neely said. “They (hens) will re-nest a couple of
times.”

As a result of the above-average nesting success in 2007 and a
poor nesting season the following year, a smaller number – about 32
percent – of last year’s gobbler harvest was comprised of jakes. A
year earlier, about 40 percent of the total take was made up of
yearling gobblers.

The regular season again runs from May 1-31, preceded by the
popular two-day youth turkey hunt opportunity April 24-25. Hunters
ages 12-15 took about 1,700 gobblers during the youth hunt last
year; DEC_officials estimated 9,700 youth participated.

“Weather always drives participation (in the youth hunt), and
we’re hoping for good weather again this year,”_Schiavone said.

The 2009 youth take was down about 23 percent from the previous
year, numbers DEC officials attributed to fewer jakes being
available due to below-average production the previous year, and
record warm temperatures during the two-day hunt.

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