First the bad news: In its report, “Spring Turkey Take by County,” the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that last year’s statewide turkey harvest was roughly 25,800 birds, well below the 10 year average of 34,000.
Now the good news: although the state’s overall harvest was down 25 percent from the year before, Oswego is one of only five counties to boast a higher take in 2010 than in 2009. And from the looks of it, the trend is stretching into this year.
Now, a cynic might say these figures result from more hunters in Oswego County, or that the county somehow managed to avoid the harsh winter weather that did a number on the fowl’s population in the rest of the state.
I’m here to tell ya that Oswego County has about the same amount of hunters per capita as the rest of the state, and gets more than its fair share of snow. In fact, a big portion of the county, including some primo turkey range, is in the area known for “lake effect,” a measure meteorologists from around the country use to judge a region’s snowiness.
Truth is Oswego County is exceptionally good to turkeys. Lance Clark, a Senior Wildlife Biologist with the NYSDEC claims “Oswego County ’s turkey population has been building for the past couple of years.”
Most surprising of all, the growing number isn’t exclusive to the southern part of the county, where most of the farms are found. Indeed, a lot of the birds were taken in the Littlejohn, Deer Creek Marsh, and Happy Valley Wildlife Management Areas, vast tracts of undeveloped land.
You see, while turkeys do well in agricultural areas, they can do just as good in deep woods. All they need is mast bearing hardwoods–oak, beechnut, hickory, stuff like that–and openings that provide seeds, insects, and fruits like berries and apples.
Since WMAs are run to enhance wildlife habitat, DEC conducts patch/clear-cutting in heavily forested areas regularly to increase early successional habitats; the dense cover required by broods and the insects they feed on. Happy Valley WMA is the DEC’s most recent recipient of this management tool.
Marshy areas are also great turkey habitat. Two of the state’s finest are Oswego County’s Deer Creek Marsh and Three Mile Bay/Big Bay WMAs. In fact, anglers fishing for crappie and panfish in Toad Harbor this time of year are always scattering turkeys while walking to fishing spots.
And don’t go thinking the last half of the season is the least productive. Most hunters only go out the first week. After about a few days of being relatively unmolested, most toms go back to doing what they like best: talking to the ladies.
So head out to one of the WMAs mentioned above, set up a hen decoy and start talking turkey. With a little bit of luck and a lot of patience, you’ll be eating wild fowl in no time.