New Turkey Standard

The 2009 Massachusetts spring turkey harvest did indeed break 3,000 for the first time on record.

The final harvest of 3,072 includes 45 during the inaugural pre-season Youth Hunt. The preliminary harvest released in early June was 3,090, 43 by youths. Discrepancies between preliminary and official harvest are common. The preliminary figure is the fruit of a quick, inexact MassWildlife telephone survey of district offices and checking stations.

Turkey Project Leader Jim Cardoza credited the record harvest to “excellent weather during the first week of the season and an increase in hunter numbers.” Always humble, Cardoza should also take a bow for a job well done. Soon to be retired, he has overseen the program since Day 1.

This year’s record topped the 2008 record of 2,689. We have not experienced a sub-2,000 harvest this millennium and will likely never slip below that number in the future. In fact, 3,000 will probably become the standard, one that may grow to 4,000 if the hunting-pressure remains stable, which is never a given in these days of diminishing hunters.

Preliminary harvests are broken down by the district where birds are checked, which gives you a general idea of the breakdown regionally. The final numbers are fine-tuned by the county in which birds are killed, which pins it down more precisely. The 2009 leader was Worcester County with 780, followed by Berkshire (489), Franklin (434), Plymouth (303), Hampshire (284), Hampden (215), Middlesex (164), Bristol (140), Essex (107), Norfolk (83), Barnstable (25), and Dukes (3) counties.

Non-resident hunters from 12 states took 216 birds.

The production in our Franklin County is interesting, with a third-best total of 434? Throw in Hampshire and Hampden counties, and the Pioneer Valley numbers are quite impressive, 933 to be exact, clearly the best region in which to hunt turkeys. The Hampshire County numbers are probably deceiving because, given the anti-hunting predisposition in such Northeastern academic communities, hunting pressure there is likely thinner than in Franklin County. My educated guess is that there are as many turkeys in Hampshire County as there are here, just fewer hunters and kills. Still, 933 for the valley is pretty damn good, 153 better than Worcester County and a whopping 444 more than Berkshire County, our two bookends, both of which encompas areas spanning from the Vermont to Connecticut borders. Franklin County is the northernmost of three Connecticut Valley counties that consume about the same area. Historically, the entire area was Hampshire County.

Another interesting harvest is 303 in Plymouth County, where the first Thanksgiving elevated turkeys to a higher place among American symbols than baseball and apple pie. The fact that more than 300 birds were taken there this spring is a tribute to Cardoza, his team and our successful restoration project, which focused on southeastern Massachusetts last, during this millennium. Expect the numbers there and on the North Shore to continue on an upward trend for maybe a decade, pushing the annual harvest toward the once unimaginable 4,000 mark.

Take it to the bank: it’s coming.

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