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BigOutdoors
08-30-2010, 06:34 PM
Hunters gobble up turkeys
By DAVID BROOKS Staff Writer

The state’s most visible wildlife restoration program, a project that returned wild turkeys to New Hampshire after they had been gone for a century, has proved so successful that this October, you can hunt them right here in the Nashua region.

The decision to expand the fall shotgun season for turkeys to this region, and virtually all areas east of Route 101 and Interstate 93 clear to the Seacoast and the Maine border, is a reflection of the success hunters had in the springtime turkey hunt, which is longer and more established than the autumn hunt.

“There are certain thresholds that allow us to open an area – essentially, it is 0.5 gobblers per square mile taken in spring. … That has historically typified our strongest populations,” said Mark Ellingwood, wildlife biologist for New Hampshire Fish and Game.

This year’s spring hunt, which ran from May 3-31, surprised biologists because 300 gobblers, about 8 percent of the statewide total, were taken in the built-up Southeast region.

Known to hunters as Wildlife Management Unit M, the region extends east from Route 13 in Milford clear to the Seacoast, south of Route 101.

This success convinced the state that enough wild birds exist throughout this region to withstand a fall hunt, which has more effect on populations because females, as well as males, can be killed.

Turkeys were wiped out from New Hampshire by hunting before the Civil War.

Small populations were reintroduced into the Keene area in the mid-1970s and took hold, leading to the creation of a springtime turkey hunting season a decade ago and then a smaller fall season more recently.

The state now has an estimated 40,000 or more turkeys. In a few places, they’re numerous enough to have become something of a pest for farmers, damaging berry crops or eating silage.

The population has expanded slowly to the Nashua region, however.

“For years, the turkey population (in the Southeast) seemed to lack growth. That left us scratching our heads,” Ellingwood said. “But the numbers finally seem to be there.”

The fall shotgun season has also been expanded through the Lakes Region to the Maine border, an indication that wild turkeys have returned to almost all of their historic New Hampshire range. They’re unlikely to thrive in the White Mountains or north of the Notches, Ellingwood said, because of heavier snows and colder winters.

The fall turkey season is a staple of hunting throughout much of the country, featuring the appeal of getting your own wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. New Hampshire Fish and Game has long wanted to add it to the state’s hunting calendar.

The short fall shotgun season – just five weekdays, no weekends – was launched in 2006 in the Connecticut River Valley, where turkeys are most common, and has slowly been expanded since. There is also an archery component.

The two turkey seasons are quite different.

In the springtime, hunters can take only males, known as toms, which are relatively vulnerable as they search the woods for mates. Hunters generally use turkey calls to lure the toms.

In fall, when both males and females can be taken, calls don’t work well. Birds must be stalked as they gather to feed in preparation for winter.

Although drivers on New Hampshire’s back roads may think hunting wild turkeys is easy – it has become common to slow down in order to avoid hitting turkey families wandering along the edges of woods and fields – they’re actually a wily prey, Ellingwood said.

“In woodlands, their degree of wariness is incredible. … I can tell you, in the woods if you blink at the wrong time, the birds will blast off,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine unless you experience it.

“They have a keen, keen sense of hearing, and their vision is spectacular.”

The success rate for turkey hunters even in springtime is only about 15-20 percent, he said, adding that the effort is worth it.

“The birds are excellent to eat, especially the breast meat,” Ellingwood said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com (dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com)