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Long IslandSuffolk

On opening day, LI turkeys prove hard to hunt down

Hunters Jimmy Olson, right, Ruth Olson center and

Hunters Jimmy Olson, right, Ruth Olson center and Troy Rodriguez, left, get ready in the woods before hunting for a wild turkey. (November 9, 2009) Photo Credit: Freelance/Ed Betz

James Sabino of Islip held up his arm.

"Turkeys are small this year," he said, nodding to the bird grasped in his hand.

It was a hen pheasant, not a turkey, and not what he had in mind when he and his 16-year-old son Dan set out to go wild turkey hunting more than six hours earlier.

At 5:45 a.m. Saturday, they had stamped their feet along with the dozens of other hunters dressed in camouflage who gathered before dawn in the early morning chill on the porch of the state's hunting station in Ridge to get their daily hunting permits. They, along with most of the 186 hunters who showed up at the station Saturday, had hopes of shooting their first wild turkey on Long Island.

Saturday was the first day of a five-day turkey hunting season - the first such season on Long Island in more than a century. Deer and other birds could also be hunted, but it was the big brown birds that attracted most hunters. Because of the Department of Environmental Conservation's efforts to reintroduce wild turkey, an estimated 3,000 are roosting on Long Island, from the East End to suburban Nassau.

But at the Rocky Point Natural Resource Management Area and Otis Pike Preserve, state lands in Ridge open to hunters, they were scarcer than hen's teeth.

By around 1:30 p.m., when Sabino and his son returned to the hunting station, no one had come back with a turkey. In fact, the Sabinos were the first that day to come back with any game at all.

By 5 p.m. only one hunter had returned to the station with a turkey, a 17-pound tom, according to Chip Hamilton, a DEC wildlife biologist.

"It goes to show how smart and intelligent these birds are," he said.

Most hunters were philosophical about the dearth of turkeys.

"I didn't see anything alive but I slept," said Ed Armioia of Mastic Beach. Climbing up in a tree, he had been hoping to shoot either a deer or turkey with a bow and arrow. "A bad day of hunting is better than a good day of work."

What hunters lacked in game, they made up for in theories about where the birds had gone. Chris Westend of Patchogue said he had scouted sites all week where he knew there were turkeys. "They must be smarter than we think and go to safe areas where they can't be hunted," he said.

And everyone seemed to agree that turkey hunting in the fall was a lot harder than in the spring, when the birds are interested in mating and will come toward a hunter's turkey calls.

"It's a tough time of year; it's hit or miss," said Frank Perrone of Sound Beach, who said he sees turkeys routinely parading across his backyard.

Heather Martarello of Patchogue, who had hunted turkey years ago upstate, and her son Dan, 16, on his first outing, were tantalized by the sight of a flock of about six to eight turkeys on the side of the road - where they were prohibited from shooting them. Inside the woods, they saw three deer and some turkey scratches. But no turkeys.

Dan said he was planning to come back today.

"I'm pretty patient," he said.

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