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WOODS ‘N’ WATER: Connecticut’s turkey restoration a wild success story

WOODS ‘N’ WATER: Connecticut’s turkey restoration a wild success story

Quite a number of years ago I was making one of my weekend runs up into the northwestern part of Connecticut during the early morning hours.

I was still working for the L. Suzio Concrete Company, so the trips were relegated to the weekends.

I was going down one of the back roads when I saw an unbelievable sight: a small flock of wild turkeys feeding in a field!

I could not believe my eyes. Wild turkeys? Here in Connecticut?

At that time, I was unaware that the Connecticut DEEP Wildlife Division had started up a wild turkey restoration during the winter of 1974-75. The restoration was accomplished with just 22 wild turkeys trapped in New York and transported to Connecticut for release.

There were 17 females and 5 males in that first release.

I was excited by that sighting and later found out about the start of the wild turkey restoration program by the DEEP Wildlife Division. There were some that doubted that the restoration would work because the wild turkey had been absent from Connecticut for many years.

For the next couple of years, I began to see more flocks of wild turkeys in my trips to the area and even had some sightings in areas further away from the first release. It looked like the wild turkey population in Connecticut would become a reality, but no one envisioned the scope of that success in the years to come.

Today, we even have wild turkeys right here in Meriden and all of our surrounding towns.

A couple of years ago, a flock of them even made the headlines in the Meriden Record-Journal when they began hanging out on Parker Avenue North. Just a couple of days ago, I spotted a small flock over by the Meriden Dog Park.

But back to the original release ... In the winter of 1977-78, DEEP Wildlife biologists began trapping turkeys that came from the original release and transferred them to other areas of the state. According to the DEEP Wildlife Division information, by 1981 Connecticut’s wild turkey population had increased to around 2,500.

Between 1977-1992, 356 turkeys were trapped and relocated. If there was ever any doubt about the project, by 2000 Connecticut’s wild turkey population was estimated at over 30,000 birds!

In May 1981, wild turkey hunting was permitted in Connecticut for the first time in 170 years. The spring hunt allowed only the taking of mature male turkeys, known as toms, and younger males (jakes) with a minimum three-inch beard. The beards are a hairy growth that protrudes from the breast of the male turkeys and, every once in a while, even on the female turkeys.

During the first season, 21 turkeys were harvested. By the fifth season, 126 wild turkeys found their way to the freezers of Connecticut sportsmen.

Then, in 1983, the DEEP Wildlife Division allowed bowhunters to take a turkey of either sex during the fall in the northwest corner of the state. Two wild turkeys were reported taken by archers that first autumn.

The season was expanded statewide in 1990 and a fall firearms season was initiated in northwestern Connecticut. The wild turkey population in Connecticut was flourishing faster than anyone could have imagined.

I was one of the Connecticut outdoorsmen who became hooked on turkey hunting, although it took a few years before I began to have any success.

The first area I hunted for wild turkey was Skiff Mountain Wildlife Management Area up in Sharon. To say it was a ”learning experience” would be an understatement.

I did attend a couple of seminars on what to do and what not to do while turkey hunting. Still, there is nothing that compares to getting out into the great outdoors and learning for yourself, and that I did.

I made the early morning trips to Skiff Mountain with all kinds of enthusiasm because I had seen wild turkeys in the area. I then I found out there was more to it than just sitting in the woods and using a turkey call, although I know that some hunters might disagree with me.

Granted, my calling presented no problem in getting a resounding “gobble’ from a male turkey, but it did not produce a male I could put a tag on. It was like I was pleading with him to come to me and the tom was telling me to get my butt down to where he was pronto, or at least I think that was what he was trying to tell me.

My first couple of trips to Skiff Mountain did not produce a wild turkey to put a tag on, but it did help teach me a few more things about turkey hunting and, in later years, helped me to become quite proficient at hunting the wild turkey both here in Connecticut and New York State. Between the two states, I have harvested over 50 wild turkeys, most of them males, although I did tag a couple of hens in the fall. One of the hens even sported a beard.

Odd as it might seem, my very first Connecticut wild turkey was taken during the fall archery season while on a private land hunt in Colchester. I was after deer, but had my turkey permit just in case. A flock of wild turkeys came into bow range and I was able to put a tag on a jake with a three-inch beard.

As luck would have it, that same year I tagged my first wild turkey in New York while using a shotgun. After that, there was no stopping me. I became a turkey hunting fanatic, and have some other goodies to share with you in another column or two.

FYI: Here in Connecticut, this year’s spring season for male wild turkeys begins April 29 and ends May 30. The season will feature a five bearded-bird limit for both state and private land or a combination of both. More on that next week.

See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops and first responders wherever they may be serving to protect us.

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