The Division's Turkey Restoration Project represents one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in the history of the state. By the mid-1800s, turkeys had disappeared in New Jersey due to habitat changes and killing for food. Division biologists, in cooperation with the NJ Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, reintroduced wild turkeys in 1977 with the release of 22 birds. In 1979 biologists and technicians began to live-trap and re-locate birds to establish populations throughout the state. By 1981 the population was able to support a spring hunting season, and in December, 1997, a limited fall season was initiated.
There is now an abundance of wild turkeys throughout the state with turkeys found wherever there is suitable habitat. In South Jersey, where wild turkeys had been struggling just a few years ago, intensive restoration efforts have improved population numbers significantly. The statewide population is now estimated at 20,000 - 23,000 turkeys with an annual harvest of approximately 3,000 birds.
Youth turkey hunters aged 10 to 16 with a Youth License can obtain a "Y" permit which allows them to hunt in any hunting period in the zone that they obtain a permit for during the spring season. Youth hunters aged 10 to less than 14 must be under the supervision of a licensed adult who is at least 21 years of age. The adult does not have to have a turkey permit, but they do have to have a regular license. This regulation applies until the youth takes a turkey. After taking a turkey, the youth is subject to the same hunting period and zone restrictions as an adult. There is also the special statewide Youth Turkey Hunting Day each year.
Turkey permits are awarded via a lottery followed by over-the-counter sales for both the spring and fall seasons. Lottery application periods are January 25-February 22 for the spring season and August 1-31 for the fall season.