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2010 Turkey Season Opens April 26
Youth Day is April 24

April 19, 2010

Spring has officially arrived, which means it's nearly time for New Jersey's Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Season to begin. This year the regular season starts on April 26 and runs for five weeks. Garden State hunters can enjoy some of the finest turkey hunting on the East Coast right here in the Garden State.

There may be no better way to experience the sights, sounds and smells of spring than turkey hunting. The pre-dawn and early morning forest comes alive in spring with animal movement, bird song and sprouting plants and flowers. Add the adrenaline surge caused by turkeys gobbling from the roost and on the ground and it's easy to see why spring turkey hunting is the fastest growing hunting pursuit in the nation. If you've never tried spring turkey hunting or have been away from it, make this the year you get hooked on the experience

Father and son with turkey

YOUTH DAY SCHEDULED FOR APRIL 24 In addition to the regular season and prior to its opening, youth hunters will get the chance to harvest a bird on their own Special Youth Turkey Hunting Day scheduled for April 24. Youth hunters with a valid Youth License who have obtained a turkey permit may begin their spring turkey season on this day. Direct supervision of the youth hunter by an adult 21 years or older who also possesses a valid New Jersey hunting license is required.

MANAGEMENT UPDATES

There are many factors that contribute to changes in the wild turkey population, and very few of these factors (spring rainfall, for example) can be controlled by wildlife managers. One factor that can be controlled by wildlife managers is the length and timing of hunting seasons. Spring gobbler hunting seasons are usually set to coincide with the time when hens begin to incubate their eggs. In New Jersey, this occurs in late April.

Starting a spring season too early may be detrimental to turkey populations because hens will abandon nests more readily if they are disturbed before they start to incubate. In addition, illegal take of hens occurs more frequently if a spring season starts before incubation, when hens are still mobile. The second peak in gobbling activity occurs at the start of incubation as well, when nesting hens are no longer available to gobblers. The spring season is best timed to better coincide with this peak in gobbling activity.

Local and regional data on wild turkey hens showed New Jersey's spring season start date was not optimally timed to match gobbling activity and to help prevent nest abandonment and illegal take of hens. Therefore, New Jersey's spring gobbler season has been reformatted to begin later in April. This new season structure will favor the success of nesting hens, and will more closely match peaks in gobbling activity.

SPRING OUTLOOK

The statewide wild turkey population is currently estimated at more than 20,000 birds, and the outlook for this spring's turkey season is fair statewide. Poult production in 2009 was poor in northern and central parts of the state and less than optimal in southern areas. However, production in southern parts of New Jersey has been good during most recent years, so the season outlook is good there. A lower proportion of juveniles (jakes) is expected in the harvest due to the poor production in 2009.

The winter survival rate of poults has been good throughout the state, and there have been no reports of turkey mortality due to winter weather. Snowfall totals this past winter were quite high, especially in southern counties, but this did not seem to have an impact on turkey survival. Conditions with powdery snow did not last long, and a crust formed quickly, allowing birds to walk to favored feeding areas.

Two years ago, biologists viewed long term trends in harvest data. Every township statewide was analyzed for the past 10 years to determine which areas had a spring harvest that was increasing, decreasing, or stable. The data received from the fifty-one statewide mandatory checking stations was critically important for this study, and it continues to be a huge asset to managing wild turkeys in New Jersey.

The results of the analysis showed that townships in far northern New Jersey, including Turkey Hunting Areas 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7, had fairly stable harvests over the past few years. Townships in north-central New Jersey have experienced large declines in spring harvest during the same time period. The areas with declining harvests include Turkey Hunting Areas 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Areas of Pennsylvania directly across the Delaware River from these Turkey Hunting Areas are also experiencing declines in spring harvest according to Pennsylvania biologists. Reasons for this decline may include poor summer weather conditions for young poults, and loss of turkey habitat.

In southern New Jersey most Turkey Hunting Areas experienced stable or increasing spring harvests over the past several years. These areas include Turkey Hunting Areas 14, 15, 16, 20, 21 and 22.

LAST SPRING'S HARVEST

Spring wild turkey hunters harvested 3,387 gobblers during the six-week season that began on April 13 and ended on May 22, 2009. It was the fourth largest harvest since the spring turkey season was established in 1981, and was slightly above the average harvest of the last five years.

PERMIT INFORMATION

The upcoming spring season quota is 25,825 permits. The Lottery was held and the over the counter sale of all leftover and unclaimed permits began on Tuesday, March 31, 2010. Many of the more popular zone and period combinations have already sold out. Leftover permits can be purchased at license agents and/or via the Internet at www.wildlifelicense.com/nj/. Permits will be available as long as the permit supply lasts or the season ends.

If you decide to use the Internet you cannot print the permits from home. They must be mailed, and can take 7 - 10 business days (additional shipping charges apply.) An up to date chart of all leftover permits is available at www.wildlifelicense.com/nj/. Follow the link that says "Check Permit Availability" or to purchase a permit or license.

TURKEY HUNTING AREA RECOMMENDATIONS

New Jersey's Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) offer excellent hunting opportunities. Presently there are more than 325,000 acres in 120 areas, and new properties and additions to existing properties are continually being added. This acreage represents more than 44% of New Jersey's state-owned public open space.

In northern New Jersey, rugged mountainous regions containing vast areas of unbroken forest provide hunters excellent opportunities for harvesting a gobbler. In southern New Jersey, abundant public land and a low density of hunters makes for great turkey hunting.

For a statewide list of public land open for turkey hunting, check the 2010 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information booklet available at license agents and Division of Fish and Wildlife offices or visit the Fish and Wildlife Web site at www.njfishandwildlife.comwww.njfishandwildlife.com.

MANDATORY GOBBLER CHECK IN

All harvested gobblers must be tagged immediately with a completed transportation tag. The turkey must then be taken by the person who killed it to the nearest turkey check station before 3 p.m. on the day it is killed. Staff at the check station will issue a legal possession tag. Consult the 2010 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information booklet (pdf, 420kb) for a listing of official turkey check stations to locate one near your hunting area.

WEATHER

Weather can affect turkey-hunting success. Hunter success rates are lower in windy and rainy weather for several reasons, one being that many individuals do not like to hunt under these conditions. More importantly, this type of weather also affects turkey behavior and causes the birds to become more wary and less vocal.

SAFETY TIPS

Remember to put safety first. The National Wild Turkey Federation has issued the following turkey hunter safety tips.

Before the Hunt:

  • Check with your doctor if you have any medical concerns.
  • Hunt within your physical limitations.
  • Let your hunting partners know if you have physical limitations.
  • Let someone know where you are hunting and when you expect to return.
  • Work to have a basic understanding of first aid.
During the hunt:
  • Set up against a tree that is greater in diameter than the width of your shoulders and taller than your head whenever possible for maximum safety.
  • Should you see other hunters (especially close to your line of sight) call out to them in a loud, clear voice. Their presence has already compromised your location and a soft call may only confuse them instead of alerting them to your presence.

KNOW YOUR BIRD

Before you shoot, be sure the bird is a gobbler. Don’t depend on the beard to determine the turkey’s sex since some hens do have beards. The beard of a wild turkey is a group of hair-like feathers ranging from 2 inches to 12 inches in length located on the center of the breast. Bearded hens are not legal game during the spring season.

During the spring breeding season, toms or gobblers are not difficult to distinguish from hens. Look closely at the head of the bird as it comes to your calling. Gobblers’ heads are naked and very colorful. Their heads are a brilliant red, white and blue. The head of a wild turkey hen is blue-gray in color and may have a line of feathers up the back of the neck. Hens are not as colorful as gobblers.

After checking the head color, look at the color of the breast feathers. Dark black feathers indicate a tom, while the hen appears to be dark brown. If the head of the turkey is naked and colorful, the breast is black and the bird has a beard, you may be confident it is a gobbler. If you have any doubts, simply don’t shoot.

REGULATIONS AND OTHER INFORMATION

Hunters should familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations for spring turkey hunting in the Garden State. New Jersey spring gobbler hunters are limited to the use of shotguns or bows and arrows. Hunting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to noon. One male wild turkey may be taken with each permit, but only one turkey may be taken in a given day.

Helpful turkey hunting information and tips can be accessed through the Wild Turkey in New Jersey page at www.njfishandwildlife.com/turkey_info.htm. Additional turkey hunting regulations and other information can be found in the 2010 NJ Wild Turkey Hunting Season Information booklet (pdf, 420kb).

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Last Updated: April 19, 2010