Should New York re-evaluate turkey season?
Spring turkey season in the Empire State is now over. Under the current regulations, hunters may harvest two bearded birds during the 31-day season that runs the entire month of May. Legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until noon. However, is it time to re-evaluate and consider changes to the current spring season as we have come to know it?
“Many of the seasoned and advanced turkey hunters I know in this state are crying for help and asking for changes to the current seasons,” says Ryan O’Neill of Orchard Park. “We are worried about turkey populations. We are in big trouble.” He also operates Buffalo Wingz Waterfowl and Charters.
O’Neill started to rattle off some of the things that he would like to see changed in New York.
“One bird is a must for the year,” insists O’Neill. “You should get one tag and then choose how and when to use it. We should also shorten the season. We should not allow the shooting of hens in the fall. We should not allow jakes to be taken by adult hunters, at least temporarily.”
O’Neill agreed that nest predation was a huge concern. “Nest predation is surely our deepest problem. Every turkey born is a success story. Trapping should be promoted more and a small bounty on fur by the state would help. Why close the coyote season? We should open the season more on fisher.”
O’Neill loves his turkey hunting. This year he tagged birds in New York, Florida, Maine, Illinois, and Michigan. “Michigan went from one of the worst turkey states to one of the best in just a few years,” said O’Neill. “They went to one bird. It appears everyone is making changes but New York.”
Instead, New York is talking about extending the hunting hours beyond the current noon closure in the spring, possibly impacting turkey populations even further. The Department of Environmental Conservation is still in the discussion stage for that possible change.
Some hunters have mixed feelings about extending the shooting hours, especially when there are concerns about turkey abundance. In a recent survey of turkey hunters, 60 percent of those surveyed were in favor of allowing turkey time to extend into the afternoon. It dropped to 55 percent when asked if they would be in favor of a sunset ending time.
Biggest concerns regarding the extended hours change includes chasing hens off the nest in the afternoon and hunters possibly shooting turkeys off the roost at the end of the day.
There are other tradeoffs between increasing hunting and harvest opportunity, as well as the potential effects on the turkey population or the age structure of the population. Biologists and resource managers must examine the complete picture when considering a significant change like this one. More hunting opportunity could mean more harvest. Pushing harvest rates higher could ultimately affect the age structure of the population and negatively impact hunter satisfaction in the long run, in certain areas of the state.
According to O’Neill, evening hunting is almost not even a challenge if it were to go that late in the day.
Wet springs have also had a negative impact on population numbers, decreasing poult survival when they do occur.
“We have had wet springs two of the last three years,” said Mike Schiavone, head of the Game Management Section for DEC. “Cold, wet springs affect productivity. Over the long term, New York’s landscape doesn’t produce turkeys like they used to. There have been large scale changes to habitat. Turkeys reach their highest densities with a mix of young forest and old yield, as well as mature timber and agriculture. We also have a more robust predator community.”
As we mentioned earlier, predation is a big problem. While many veteran outdoorsmen point the finger at animals like fox and coyote, a bigger problem is with nesting and brood success due to invasions by raccoons, opossums, and skunks according to Schiavone. The first 10 days after egg hatching is critical, too, because it’s before the poults can fly, making them more vulnerable to other predators.
“You can’t control Mother Nature, but you can control what happens with humans,” says O’Neill.