Sportsman’s Corner: Mass. to consider changes in turkey regulations

  • Staff File Photo/Dan Little Staff File Photo/Dan Little

Published: 2/21/2019 3:34:19 PM
Modified: 2/21/2019 3:34:28 PM

At the request of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Board, and in response to a request submitted by the National Wild Turkey Federation, MassWildlife initiated a review of wild turkey hunting regulations to evaluate potential changes that create new hunting opportunities and increase participation. Turkeys are abundant across the state and harvest numbers have been stable in recent years. All data indicate turkey populations will remain robust statewide with increased harvest limits and expanded seasons. MassWildlife staff suggested several preliminary proposals and hosted two informational meetings this month to provide the public with an opportunity to give feedback.

MassWildlife Turkey Biologist Dave Scarpitti made a short presentation on the turkey hunting review and regulation proposals at each, followed by a Q&A session for the public to give feedback. The meeting dates were Thursday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. at MassWildlife Field Headquarters in Westborough and Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Palmer Public Library. Both were attended by about 20 people and this writer attended the Palmer session. Those in attendance at each session were allowed to ask questions but it was made very clear that these were not public hearings but rather a gesture to reach out to interested people as the process goes forward.

That process will begin with a presentation of the proposed changes at a regular monthly meeting of the Fish and Wildlife Board. The Board may at that time call for a public hearing to allow comment on the proposed regulatory changes. After that has taken place, the Board will consider the changes at the following meeting. It is important to note that, given the lead time required for this process, the earliest any changes would take place would be for the 2020 hunting seasons.

The first change presented at the sessions would be to increase the annual limit to three birds (2 bearded turkeys in the spring and 1 of either sex in the fall). Currently, hunters may harvest either two bearded birds in the spring with no fall birds or one bearded bird in the spring and one bird of either sex in the fall, for an annual limit of two birds. At this time, 20% of successful spring turkey hunters harvest their season limit of two bearded birds and therefore cannot hunt turkeys during the fall season. The proposed change would allow all hunters to take two bearded birds in the spring and an additional turkey of either sex in the fall, increasing the annual bag limit to three birds. Given the overall high population of turkeys, increasing the annual limit will not impact turkey abundance in the state.

Next was a proposal to increase the daily bag limit to two per day during the spring season. Currently, turkey hunters may harvest one turkey per day during the spring season. Increasing the daily bag limit to two will allow hunters to take their spring season limit in a more efficient manner.

Looking at the fall turkey hunting season, biologists have proposed that MassWildlife expand the fall season (FOR ARCHERY HUNTERS ONLY) to coincide with the archery deer season. Currently, the fall turkey hunting season begins the second to last Monday in October and ends the second Saturday thereafter, during which hunters may use a shotgun, muzzleloader, or archery equipment. This proposed change would allow turkey hunters to harvest turkeys with archery equipment during the entire duration of the archery deer season (6 to 8 weeks depending on zone). Turkey hunters would continue to be permitted to use shotgun, muzzleloader, or archery equipment during the traditional 2-week season from the second to last Monday in October through the second Saturday thereafter. In recent years, there has been an increase in fall turkey permits and the number of turkeys harvested with archery equipment; this change will increase opportunity for turkey bowhunters and those deer bowhunters who may have enhanced opportunity to take a turkey while deer hunting.

Other proposals include changes to the Youth Day Turkey Hunt hours and permits. The suggested change would expand Youth Day turkey hunting hours to run from ½ hour before sunrise until 5 p.m. The Youth Turkey Hunt Day occurs on only a single day the Saturday before the last Monday in April; approximately 250 to 285 young adults ages 12-17 participate each spring. This provides young hunters the opportunity to hunt on a special day before the start of the regular spring hunting season. Currently, hunting hours begin one half hour before sunrise and end at noon, providing a limited window of opportunity for young adult hunters. Due to the relatively low participation on Youth Day, expansion of the hunting hours will greatly increase the total time available for hunting and will not result in any impact on turkeys or other constituents.  Last among the proposed turkey hunting season changes would be to allow Youth Turkey permits issued to youth aged 12-14 to be used in the fall turkey hunting seasons. At this time, youth 12-14 years old who successfully complete the mandatory training program for the Youth Day are issued a free Youth Turkey Permit with two turkey tags and must always hunt with a licensed adult mentor hunter. These tags are currently only valid on the Youth Day and the remainder of the regular spring turkey hunting season. When hunting turkeys in the fall, these young hunters must currently use their accompanying mentor’s turkey tags and license. Because young adults who complete the mandatory training workshop for the Youth Day demonstrate significant initiative to earn the Youth Turkey Permit and must always hunt with a mentor, it is unnecessary to restrict the use of their tags to the spring season only. This change will provide additional opportunity for young hunters with the Youth Turkey Permit to use their own tag during the fall season by providing them with 2 spring tags and 1 fall tag. (Note: Under current regulations, youth aged 15-17 are required to have their own hunting license and turkey permit, which allows them to hunt in the spring or fall seasons.)

As stated earlier, any changes voted by the Board would not take place at least until the 2020 hunting seasons.

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