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Spring Turkey Season Outlook 2021

 

April 23, 2021

The arrival of spring is eagerly anticipated by turkey hunters anxious for the beginning of the Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Season. This year's regular season kicks off Monday, April 26 and runs for five weeks. Turkey populations are healthy statewide, and hunters can enjoy some of the finest turkey hunting on the East Coast right here in the Garden State. The season kicks off with the Youth Turkey Hunt tomorrow,Satuday, April 24.

STATEWIDE SPRING OUTLOOK

The statewide wild turkey population is currently estimated at 20,000 to 25,000 birds, and the outlook for this spring's turkey season is good statewide. Poult production in 2020 was slightly lower than in 2019, with 2.33 poults per hen measured during 2020 summer brood counts.

Production was slightly higher the previous two years, with 2.90 poults per hen measured in 2019 and approximately 2.53 poults per hen measured in 2018, so there should be a large number of two-year-old and three-year-old gobblers on the landscape. Last year's rainfall amounts did not create optimal conditions for poult production, however, if New Jersey experiences a year or two of weather conditions conducive to good summer productivity our turkey population should rise.

The winter survival rate of poults has been excellent throughout the state, and even with the snow and cold temperatures we've experienced the Division of Fish and Wildlife has received no reports of turkey mortality due to winter weather. Even though much of the state experienced snow, which can hamper the winter movement of flocks, the snow was not deep nor long lasting enough for turkey movement to be impeded.

LAST SPRING'S HARVEST

Spring wild turkey hunters harvested 2,850 gobblers during the five-week season that began on April 18 and ended on May 22, 2020. This total was slightly lower the average harvest of the last five years.

MANDATORY TURKEY HARVEST REPORTING

All harvested gobblers must be tagged immediately with a completed Turkey Report Card that is part of the turkey hunting permit. All hunters are now required to report a harvested turkey on the day killed using the Automated Harvest Report System.

Record the turkey's sex, age and take measurements of the beard and longer spur, if applicable. Measure BEFORE starting the harvest report process to have your answers ready. See sexing, aging and measuring wild turkeys at www.njfishandwildlife.com/turkey_reporting.htm. Use the ˝ inch ruler provided on your Turkey Report Card to determine if the longest spur is less than, equal to, or greater than ˝ inch. Measure the spur from the very base where it meets the leg scales to the very tip. Use a ruler or tape measure, or a dollar bill (which is six (6) inches in length) to determine if the beard is less than, equal to, or greater than six (6) inches in length. Measure the beard from the skin at its base to the end of the longest filament.

Report your harvest via the Automated Harvest Reporting System (by phone or online as printed on every hunting license and permit). During the fall season, a turkey harvest must be reported by 7:00 p.m. During Youth Turkey Hunting Day, hunting periods A, B, C and the first three Saturdays of hunting period E, the turkey harvest must be reported by 3 p.m. During hunting period D and the last Saturday of hunting period E, the turkey harvest must be reported by 9:00 p.m.

Finally, record your assigned Confirmation Number on your Turkey Report Card. Retain your Confirmation Number as long as the turkey or its parts are in possession.

PERMIT INFORMATION

Over the counter permits are now available and can be purchased at license agents or online. Permits will be available as long as the permit supply lasts or the season ends. Permits purchased online cannot be printed at home; they are mailed and can take 7 - 10 business days to arrive (additional shipping charges apply) so hunters need to plan accordingly.

See the Area/Period Availability Report for a listing of available permits.

TURKEY HUNTING AREA RECOMMENDATIONS

New Jersey's 121 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) offer diverse landscapes and endless opportunities for turkey hunters. More than 350,000 acres statewide currently comprise the WMA system so hunters are sure to find a prime hunting spot to fit their needs. New properties and additions to existing properties are continually being added, so hunters should check the Fish and Wildlife website regularly for updates to the WMA system.

Many State Parks and Forests are also open to turkey hunting, as is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

A list of public lands available for turkey hunting can be found on the Public Turkey Hunting Land page (pdf, 280kb). Hunter should also consult the new Hunting and Trapping Explorer for hunting area information.

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.

ALERT: There are several types of hand-held decoys and turkey tails on sticks being offered for sale recently by turkey decoy companies that allow the hunter to "sneak up" on a gobbler in a field or in the forest. These types of devices are not legal for use in stalking or sneaking up on turkeys during our turkey hunting seasons. In New Jersey, stalking of wild turkeys is illegal, both for ethical reasons and, most importantly, for reasons of personal safety.

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 two (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

Turkey regulations and information are available on pages 53-55 in the 2020-21 Hunting Digest and in the Turkey Regulations (pdf, 785kb).

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, which includes crossbows. 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 on a given day.

Helpful turkey hunting information and tips can be accessed through the Wild Turkey in New Jersey page.

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Last Updated: April 23, 2021