Finally, NH has a bunch of turkeys

The state’s most successful wildlife-restoration program, which brought back wild turkeys after they had been gone for a century, gets a back-handed vote of confidence this month: New Hampshire has made it easier to hunt them.

The autumn turkey season, instituted three years ago when it became clear that the birds’ population was healthy, no longer requires an extra permit. All that is needed this year to hunt the birds with a shotgun is the regular turkey license purchased for the spring season, which is much more popular.

“There will be quite a few more (hunters), potentially,” said Ted Walski of New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, who has been involved with the project since turkeys were first brought back to the state in the 1970s.

The fall shotgun season is still quite small, running just five weekdays: Monday through Friday, Oct. 13-17, and not covering the entire state. The archery season runs through December.

The spring gobbler season, which occurs statewide in May, is far more popular. Hunters killed a record 4,098 turkeys this spring, compared with 343 turkeys during last year’s autumn season.

Only male birds can be taken in the spring, but any adult can be shot in the fall.

Hunting wiped out New Hampshire’s turkeys before the Civil War. In 1975, a restoration project began with 25 birds brought in from out of state and released near Keene; after they flourished, more birds were brought in and the population exploded.

New Hampshire now has an estimated 35,000-40,000 wild turkeys.

The autumn turkey season covers most of the state, including the Monadnock region and the Souhegan Valley west of Route 13 and north of Route 101, but not the Nashua area and the Seacoast.

This means in Amherst, Brookline and Milford, the fall shotgun season is legal only in half the town, while it isn’t legal at all in Merrimack, Hollis or points east.

That might change in coming years, however, as the wild population grows here.

As motorists who regularly encounter turkeys crossing roads can attest, the number of birds is increasing, perhaps to the point where biologists say it can support an autumn hunting season.

“We established them in the lower Connecticut River Valley, figuring they’d like dairy falls and fields, but apparently they’re finding it to their liking over your way,” Walksi said.

“If this holds in the next year or so, we’ll allow some (fall hunting) farther east.”

Turkey hunting in the fall is different than spring hunting.

Spring is mating season, so hunters lure male turkeys by using calls that mimic mating cries.

In autumn, by contrast, birds “flock up” – gathering together to feed, as they are preparing for winter.

One method of hunting turkeys in the fall is to rush a flock, sending them flying, then hide and kill the selected bird as it regroups.