As the New York Southern Tier wild turkey fall season is set to open on October 21st, it will mark the 58 year anniversary of the fall season going all the way back to 1959. The spring turkey season this past spring shares a 50 year milestone with the founding of the New York Outdoor Writers Association (NYSOWA) which was celebrated this past weekend in Lake George, New York.
The first fall season held in the fall of 1959 premiered as a three-day either-sex season, limited to two southern tier counties (Allegany and Cattaraugus.) It was reported that there were two hundred and fifty successful hunters in the inaugural modern day season.
The first modern day spring turkey season in New York premiered in 1968 and was held in five Southern Tier counties (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, and Steuben.) It was reported that there were one hundred and thirty five gobblers (males, bearded) successfully tagged in the inaugural modern day season.
The anniversaries are a significant marker in the historical timeline when reviewed against the backdrop of a grand conservation story of the wild turkey and its restoration from nearing the brink of extinction, from alarming low numbers. At the turn of the century (1900’s) the logging and farm practices of the day coupled with unrestricted harvesting for individual subsistence and market hunting wreaked havoc on wild turkey flocks. These practices reduced the populations to the point it was thought they were eradicated entirely from New York. Currently, the estimated population in New York would dwarf the estimated population of the entire Continental United States a hundred years ago, dipping as low as an estimated 30,000 birds.
As modern day sportsmen/wildlife conservation practices took hold, they were adopted by state wildlife agencies and implemented across the United States. In the early 1950’s efforts were made to introduce farm raised turkeys but with little to no success due to their inability to evade predators. With the adopting of live trapping, furthered by the use of net cannons, the process of trap and transfer began coincidentally in 1959. In the years leading up to these programs, wild turkeys established flourishing populations in Pennsylvania that expanded northward into southwestern New York prompting both a three day fall season and to kick off trap and transfer operations. Since the early trap and transfer program began in Allegheny State Park, turkeys have been reintroduced to nearly every county within the Empire State and reestablished themselves with these efforts, conservation practices, and ethical hunting by sportsmen. Flocks can be found across the entire state in nearly every county including feathered sightings in Manhattan, Staten Island and well established flocks out on Long Island. New York wild turkeys were also used to help restore populations in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and the Province of Ontario.
Although the estimated peak populations are reported to have occurred in the mid to late 1990’s with some northern counties peaking five to ten years later, the peak estimates of 250,000-300,000 birds during the golden age of restoration has pulled back to estimates of 160,000- 180,000 currently. As conservation efforts and research continues, weather impact on brooding success models, land use studies, landholding capacity models, and avian (and other) disease studies are put forth to provide scientific tools for wildlife agencies to help manage populations, set seasons and bag limits to maintain healthy and flourishing populations for many years to come.
We celebrate a grand milestone in the conservation success story of the wild turkey restoration and comeback in New York. The thousands of hours of efforts of wildlife professionals, conservationists, volunteers, modern day hunting practices of ethical sportsmen, funds raised from earmarked taxation of hunting and fishing equipment purchases along with funds raised by thousands of donations, superfund dollars and grants from the National Wild Turkey Federation have made this success story in New York possible.
© 2017 Mike Joyner- Joyner Outdoor Media