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March 22, 2001


For more information contact:
Bob Eriksen at 908-735-8793


The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife reminds turkey hunters that the 2001 Spring Gobbler Season is scheduled to begin Monday, April 23 and will continue for five weeks. The outlook for the season is excellent with biologists estimating this year's wild turkey population between 22,000 and 24,000 birds.

The winter survival rate is good in most areas of the state, although biologists are concerned about Passaic and Morris counties where there has been extensive snow cover since the holidays. Wild turkey reproduction during 2000 was only average due to extremely cold and wet weather, but since 1999 was an excellent hatching year, numerous gobblers should be available. In fact, these juveniles should be even more "callable" than their more mature and experienced counterparts.


Division Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) offer excellent hunting opportunities throughout the state. Public land hunters may want to try Hamburg Mountain, Wanaque and Sparta Mountain WMAs in the north; Assunpink in the center of the state; and Peaslee and Bevans down south.


Overall, 5,200 spring season general (public land) permits and 16,420 private land permits are available this year. That's an increase of 6,470 permits statewide over last year. Although the lottery has not been conducted yet, leftover permits will be available for over-the-counter sale on Saturday, April 14, 2001, between 9 a.m. and 12 noon. As long as the supply lasts, they will continue to be sold Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 1-4 p.m. at five Division field offices and the Trenton office beginning Monday, April 16, 2001. Hunters can call the Division's Permit Hotline at 609-292-9192 after April 9, 2001 for information on leftover permit sales, and check this Website for news releases.


Often hunters are curious about how the weather can affect turkey hunting success. Indeed, windy and rainy weather diminishes hunter success rates for the simple fact that many individuals don't like to hunt under these conditions. In addition, this type of weather affects turkey behavior and causes the birds to become more wary and less vocal. In New Jersey, the average turkey hunting success rate is 18-percent which is excellent for the northeastern United States.


A research project designed to provide information on wild turkey gobbler survival in the northwestern part of the state was initiated during the winter of 2000 and is still continuing. The purpose of the study is to determine through radio-tracking, factors that are affecting the survival of gobblers in the study area.

The research is a cooperative effort between the Division, the New Jersey Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and East Stroudsburg University. The study is scheduled for at least one more year, though plans are being developed to extend the research for a total of four years.

That first winter, 51 gobblers were radio-tagged and tracked throughout the year. Though this is only the beginning of the second year of the study, preliminary results indicate that predators are the major cause for mortality and that hunters contribute very little to wild turkey gobbler mortality. In fact, only three birds were lost to hunters. The Division tagged several more birds this winter to keep its sampling size consistent.


The Division's Turkey Restoration Project represents one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in the history of the state. In the mid-1800s, turkeys had disappeared in New Jersey due to habitat changes and over-exploitation. However, in 1979 biologists and technicians began to live-trap and re-locate birds to establish populations in 20 New Jersey counties. To date, more than 1,500 birds have been trapped and re-located, resulting in an abundance of wild turkeys throughout the state. Even in South Jersey (parts of Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties) where wild turkeys had been struggling just a few years ago, intensive restoration efforts have improved population numbers significantly.


Spring gobbler hunting in New Jersey was initiated in 1981. The season was three weeks long with 900 permits available. Hunting was limited to portions of Sussex and Warren counties. In 1985, the season length was increased to five weeks. In 1997, the entire state was opened to spring gobbler hunting. Since the beginning, record gobbler harvests have been taken in each season indicating continued growth in turkey numbers.


Remember to put safety first. Turkey hunting safety tips courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation include:

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.


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 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.


For more information on turkeys and turkey hunting in the Garden State, visit the Division's website at and the turkey information available there.