By Spider Rybaak, for Oswego County’s Department of Promotion and Tourism
New York’s spring hunting season for one of America’s most popular game birds, the wild turkey, runs the month of May. And while this delicious fowl is known to reside in all but a handful of counties, a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation study suggests Oswego County is one of your best bets for bagging a gobbler.
According to the study “Spring Turkey Take by County,” last year’s state-wide harvest was roughly 25,800 birds, well below the 10-year average of 34,000. And although the count was down 25 percent, Oswego is one of only five counties to boast a higher take in 2010 than in 2009.
In fact, 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.”
Where To Go –
Still, turkey distribution isn’t equal throughout the county. Although they can live in deep forests containing stands of nut-bearing hardwoods (oak, hickory and beechnut), and even in swamps spotted with islands cropped in brush and trees, they’re partial to edges and openings, thriving best in woodlots surrounded by agricultural fields where they have easy access to a variety of foods like corn, soybeans, cereals, berries, apples, insects, and seeds.
In other words, farm country. And most of Oswego County’s agriculture takes place west of US Route 11. In fact, the highway marks such an important transition in habitats that it serves as the county’s longest division between the Northern and Southern hunting zones.
Most of the primo habitat is on private land. One way to gain access is to knock on the owner’s door, or call (landlord’s names and phone numbers are often written on their posted signs), cross your fingers, and ask for permission to hunt.
If you fear rejection, or just don’t like asking for things, there are a lot of places that’ll let you hunt for a fee: K&G Resort (800-346-6533; www.kglodge.com), Douglaston Salmon Run (try their “Cast and Blast” program—hunt turkey and fish for steelies the same day – ( 315-298-6672, www.douglastonsalmonrun.com); Deer Creek Motel and Pheasant Shooting Preserve (315-298-3730, www.deercreekmotel.com) and Hidden Acres Lodge (315-298-FISH, www.hiddenacreslodge.com).
If you’d rather do things yourself, Oswego County offers loads of public lands, almost 48,000 acres, in four wildlife management areas and 13 state forests and reforestation areas. While none is managed specifically for turkey, DEC practices fowl habitat enhancements which involve restoring and maintaining forest openings, particularly in the Littlejohn, Happy Valley, Deer Creek Marsh and Three Mile Bay/Big Bay WMAs. Since WMAs are dedicated to providing wildlife habitat, while state forests are managed for growing forest products, WMAs are generally better hunting grounds.
For example, recent patch/clear-cutting done at Happy Valley WMA enhances the spot’s early successional habitats; the dense cover required by broods and the insects they feed on.
And that’s the spring turkey season’s most important consideration. You see, t’is the season to breed, and the more early successional habitats you have, the more hens you’ll find; and you know that’s where the toms will be hanging out.
A guide containing all the information you’ll need to plan a spring turkey hunting trip is the free “Oswego County Fishing and Hunting Guide” published by the County Tourism Office. It contains a map showing the locations of all public hunting grounds, and a list of guides who make a living leading clients on world-class turkey shoots.
For a copy, contact the Oswego County Tourism Office, 46 E. Bridge Street, Oswego, NY 13126; 800-248-4FUN (4386). It’s also available online at: www.visitoswegocounty.com. Click on Fishing and Hunting.
Spider Rybaak is an award-winning outdoor writer who has been published in more than 20 periodicals. He is the author of “Fishing Eastern New York” and “Fishing Western New York” guide books that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him at [email protected]. Check out his blog at http://fishingandhuntinginoswego.blogspot.com/