Wild turkey counts are stable statewide, with the estimated population at 23,000 birds. Last spring’s harvest was 2,850 gobblers. Numbers are especially strong in the southern tier counties, and those with gobbler permits for Turkey Hunting Areas (THAs) 14, 15, 16, 20, 21 and 22 encompassing the counties of Ocean, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland and Cape May should experience good to excellent opportunities for putting a longbeard on the ground.

This is a five week permit season, and a youth day (tomorrow) that is designated by Monday-Friday segments, except Period E which is Saturdays, including May 1, 8, 15 and 22. Period D is 10 days (May 17-21 and May 24-28); Period A is April 26-30; B is May 3-7; and Period C is May 10-14. The “Y” period is for youth hunters.

Hunting hours are half hour before sunrise to noon, except during Period D and the final Saturday of E, when it’s a half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

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Spring turkey hunting is especially challenging as the hunter is trying to entice the male from doing something totally against his natural instincts. During this springtime mating season, the tom turkey will sound off with a series of hair raising, thunderous gobbles before flying down from his roost in a tree. Hens will begin calling and he’ll respond with more gobbling, thus giving them direction where to find him.

In the hunting situation, the trick is to get the gobbler to come to you by enticing him with a series of seductive hen calls. This is totally against his natural game plan. However, it is mating season, and there is plenty of competition not only from other mature gobblers, but jakes, those year-old boy toms beginning to feel the sexual urges.

Tom Pagliaroli
Tom Pagliaroli

He’ll be cautious, of course, this inherent wariness compounded by the fact that a turkey’s eyesight is second to none in the avian world. Even if on the run (we’ve had that happen) ready for a tryst and he spies any unnatural movement, color that gobbler gone.

The use of a decoy or two, usually a hen or a hen and a jake, will get him zeroed on the task at hand, and is a hedge against a screw up.

If all goes according to plan, the gobbler will come in, and in a display to get the hen to show herself (or in the case of a decoy, show him some attention), he’ll go into a full strut with his huge tail fanned, wingtips dragging the ground, and his head lit up with reds, whites and blues. It is a mind blowing, heart pounding scene.

Shotgun (10, 12 and 20 gauges/shot #4 to 7-1/2) or bow (long, recurve, compound with a 35-lb. minimum draw, or a crossbow with a 75-lb. minimum) are the legal means.

While there are loads leftover permits available for purchase ($22) in several of the northern THAs, it’s pretty much a sell total sell out in the aforementioned southern zones, the exceptions being, as you read this, 82 available in THA 20 for C week, and plenty of youth permits for all THAs. If you want to get a THA 20 permit, or secure a permit for a youth hunter, visit www.njfishandwildlife.com and go to the license/permit section dead center on the website page, then click and go the permit availability link at the top of the page.

Any gobbler harvested must be tagged and then reported via the automated system (see page 54 of the Hunting Digest).

The youth hunt is today, the restrictions being that the licensed youngster be accompanied by a properly licensed non-hunting adult 21 years or older. If the youth does not bag a gobbler today, hunting will be allowed in the chosen THA the remainder of the season until the one gobbler is harvested.

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