Just gotta love October...the harvest month that keeps on giving!

Archery deer season is in full swing, as are the rabbit, squirrel and railbird seasons, and there are still a few days remaining in the first portion of the South Zone duck season.

And this Saturday, the fall wild turkey season opens and runs through next Saturday. Permits are still available, and, unlike the weeks-long spring season, hens can be harvested.

The autumn season was instituted in 1997, and the first few years, interest was high, relatively speaking. The four-week spring season started in 1981 after a successful reintroduction of wild turkeys obtained from another state has a harvest figure averaging 2900-3000 gobblers.

By contrast, the fall season either-sex harvest figures can be low (96 in 2020 and 77 in 2019), averaging out to approximately 150 since the inception of the autumn hunt. In 2000 there were 239 birds tagged, with 2001 having the highest figure at 258.

TSM, Tom P.
TSM, Tom P.

Why the huge difference? Factor #1 is that there is so much happening in October between the aforementioned hunting seasons, and the hot-and-getting-hotter salt and fresh water fishing that who has time for turkeys? Factor #2 is that many died-in-the-fantail hunters view the spring as the “true” turkey season when calling in an always wary gobbler within shooting range represents one of hunting’s biggest challenges.

Fall turkeys? You walk ‘em up, scatter a flock that will consist of hens, mature gobblers, and jakes (“teenagers”), note where some of the birds flew, settle in and, after a wait of 20 minutes or so, start to call, hoping one or more of the gregarious in the flock respond and work their way back to you.

Sometimes it’s an opportunistic encounter that’s happened to us more than a few times while slowly walking through the woods and along field edges, while squirrel hunting and then coming upon a flock momentarily more interested in pecking and scratching than being aware of the surroundings.


TSM, Tom P.
TSM, Tom P.

Some employ specially trained dogs to locate and bust up a flock and give a brief chase. We’ve had occasion to partake in such a hunt and it’s thrilling to watch the dog work and then after the birds have scattered to return to the chosen sitting spot where it lays down and waits patiently for the remainder of the hunt to unfold.

The limit is one bird per permit, but only one turkey can be harvested per day. Hunting hours are half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset. Artificial decoys can be used, and a turkey call must be in possession. A harvested bird must be immediately tagged and reported via the Automated Harvest Reporting System. Permits ($21) are still available at license issuing agents or at njfishandwildlife.com. The turkey hunting area (THA) map is on page 51 in the Hunting & Trapping Digest. In South Jersey, THAs are Nos. 14, 15, 16, 20-22. Lots of land and lots of birds, for sure.

Would be cool to nail down the main course for the Thanksgiving feast, yes?!

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