Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are reporting turkey hunters should expect to find exciting opportunities afield as they head out for both the youth and regular spring season openers.
“Wild turkeys continue to be the second most popular game species in Pennsylvania,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “Spring turkey hunting has become so popular that there now are more spring turkey hunters (232,000) than fall turkey hunters (172,000), according to our annual Game-Take Survey. Spring harvests average 41,000 bearded birds, while fall harvests average 24,000 birds of either sex.”
The state’s one-day youth spring gobbler season is April 23, and will run from one-half hour before sunrise until noon. The general spring gobbler season is April 30-May 31, but hunters will notice new hunting hours based on a change approved by the Board of Game Commissioners.
Under the change, legal hunting hours from the opening day of the spring gobbler season through the third Saturday (April 30-May 14) will retain the current one-half hour before sunrise until noon timeframe. However, the remainder of the season (May 16-31) will be expanded to run all day, from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.
“Although all-day hunting will increase disturbance of nesting hens, the impact will be minimal because all-day hours will only cover the last two weeks of the season,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. “By then, hunting pressure decreases and most hens are in their later stages of nest incubation, at which point they are less likely to abandon their nest if disturbed.
“We anticipate the many benefits will far outweigh the minor disturbance of hens, particularly the increased hunting opportunity for all hunters, such as youth and adults who attend school or work during the morning who now will have the option of a late afternoon hunt.”
Casalena noted that the Game Commission will monitor the afternoon harvest in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge the impact of all-day hunting. Of the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, 34 have all-day hunting for all or part of the season, including Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.
To further expand opportunity, the Board extended the spring gobbler season through May 31. This change was implemented to provide additional recreational hunting without impacting the resource because disturbance of hens would be minimal since most hens would be in their later stages of nest incubation.
Hunters who have purchased a second spring gobbler season license may harvest up to two bearded turkeys, one per day. (See second article about availability of second spring gobbler license.)
In 1968, the first spring gobbler season started on a Monday and ran only six days so biologists could get a pulse on hunter success and the season’s impact on the more than 60,000 wild turkeys inhabiting about half of Pennsylvania’s forestland at the time. It worked! More hunters were afield on the last day of the season – a Saturday – than the opener, and hunters took a total of 1,636 turkeys in the new season.
Comparatively, in 2010 preliminary harvests show hunters took 44,788 bearded wild turkeys in the spring gobbler seasons (43,201 first harvests and 1,587 second harvests via the special spring gobbler license) from an estimated statewide spring population of about 360,000.
“The status of wild turkeys has improved dramatically over the past 40 years. Nationwide, the 2009 estimated population of eastern wild turkeys was almost 5 million, and is the most abundant of the five subspecies of wild turkeys,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. She noted that populations of the other subspecies are: Rio Grande, 1.1 million; Merriam’s, 336,000; Gould’s, 1,100; and Florida, or Osceola, no population estimate is available.”
Today, Pennsylvania manages one of the most prolific wild turkey populations in America. It is an accomplishment that is directly related to both previous and ongoing research and management practices, the state’s outstanding tapestry of turkey-friendly habitats and the resiliency of Pennsylvania’s wild turkeys.
“The Keystone State continues to boast more wild turkey hunters, on average, than any other state (232,000 spring hunters; 172,000 fall hunters) and the highest harvests (41,000 spring; 24,000 fall)”, Casalena said. “The preliminary 2010 spring gobbler harvest surpassed 2009 as the fourth highest preliminary harvest on record. It is eight percent above the previous three-year average, and five percent above the previous 10-year average, which included a period when Pennsylvania logged five consecutive harvests of more than 40,000 gobblers. We may approach that level again because the 2011 harvest is expected to be between 40,000 and 42,000 bearded birds.”
Recent spring and fall harvests are: 44,639 spring gobblers and 20,934 fall turkeys in 2009; 42,437 spring gobblers and 24,288 fall turkeys in 2008; 37,992 spring gobblers and 25,369 fall turkeys in 2007; and 39,339 spring gobblers and 24,482 fall turkeys in 2006. While the final 2010 harvest estimates won’t be available until this summer, the preliminary 2010 spring gobbler harvest was 44,788 and the preliminary fall turkey harvest was 18,000.
“The reason for the optimist outlook is due to the excellent summer reproduction in 2008 and 2009, which has provided for a higher proportion of adult (two- and three-year-old) gobblers in the population,” Casalena said. “Reproduction last spring was below average, so that may impact next year’s spring harvest.”
Although Casalena does not expect the exceptional harvest of last spring, she still expects an excellent, above-average harvest because there still is an abundance of three-year-old gobblers in the population due to excellent spring reproduction in 2008. Also, the plentiful crop of acorns last fall sustained the population well during this past winter, so birds are coming into the spring season in excellent physical condition.
“From our four-year gobbler study that just ended, we learned hunters select older ‘long-beards’ over juveniles, or ‘jakes,’” Casalena said. “These adult birds gobble the most and come in readily to hunters’ calls, so they are more prone to being harvested. The older age classes usually are much more wary, and there just aren’t many in the population. So, because of the above-average number of two- and three-year-olds in this year’s flocks, I believe there will be an excellent spring turkey season for Pennsylvania hunters.”
Casalena encourages spring gobbler hunters to spend time scouting, which always plays an important role in hunter success, especially for those experienced older toms.
“Scouting can improve hunters’ chances, especially if they line up multiple locations for the spring season,” Casalena said. “Prior to the season, however, hunters should consider not using turkey calls to locate gobblers, because it will educate birds and cause them to be less inclined to respond to the early-morning calls of in-season hunters.
“If you’re trying to locate a gobbler, it’s best to head out at first light to listen for calls. Now is a great time! On a still morning, a gobbler’s call often can be detected up to a half-mile away.”
Hunters are reminded that it is illegal to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds in the spring gobbler season. Given the wild turkey’s keen senses, it’s not a wise move anyway, but more importantly, it makes a tremendous difference for the personal safety of everyone afield. Every year, hunters are shot in mistake for game while approaching a hunter calling for turkeys, and/or callers are shot in mistake for game by stalking hunters.
“Safety must be the foremost consideration of every turkey hunter,” emphasized Keith Snyder, Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education division chief. “If every hunter followed the state’s hunting regulations and positively identified his or her target as legal game before squeezing the trigger, we could nearly eliminate hunting-related shooting incidents during the spring gobbler season. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.
“The Game Commission encourages all spring gobbler hunters to hunt safely and defensively. Consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing at all times – even though it is no longer required by law – and treat every sound and movement in the forest as if it is another hunter until you can positively confirm it is a legal turkey. Be patient. Wait until the bird is fully visible before you squeeze the trigger.”
Legal sporting arms are: shotguns plugged to three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined; muzzleloading shotguns; and crossbows and bows with broadhead bolts or arrows of cutting-edge design.
Shot size must be no larger than No. 4 lead, bismuth-tin and tungsten-iron, or No. 2 steel. Rifle-shotgun combinations also may be used, but no single-projectile ammunition may be used or carried.
Carrying or using rifles, handguns, dogs, electronic callers, drives and live decoys is unlawful. The use of blinds is legal so long as it is an “artificial or manufactured turkey blind consisting of all manmade materials of sufficient density to block the detection of movement within the blind from an observer located outside the blind.”
While not required by law, hunters are encouraged to wear fluorescent orange material when moving through the woods, especially during the overlap with groundhog hunting season. Agency officials also recommend that hunters wrap an orange alert band around a nearby tree when stationary, especially when calling and/or using decoys.
Coyotes may be harvested by turkey hunters. However, turkey hunters who have filled their spring turkey tag or tags may not hunt coyotes prior to noon Monday through Saturday during the spring gobbler season, unless they have a furtaker license.
Woodchuck hunting is not allowed during spring gobbler season shooting hours. However, the Board is considering a proposal to allow groundhog hunting during spring gobbler season beginning with the 2012 spring gobbler season. Under the proposal, which must be finalized at the Board’s upcoming meeting on April 12 before taking effect in 2012, hunters also would be able to hunt starlings, English sparrows, opossums, skunks, porcupines and weasels during legal hunting hours of the spring gobbler season. The Game Commission staff noted that this change will increase opportunities for hunters pursuing these species without creating unacceptable conflicts with spring gobbler hunters.
Successful spring gobbler hunters must properly tag their turkey and report the harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days, using the postage-paid report card provided with their Digest, or through the Pennsylvania Automated License System. Information to be reported includes the hunter’s name and address; date and location of kill (WMU, county, township) time of kill and sporting arm used.
Hunters also are encouraged to report all leg-banded turkeys they take to assist the Game Commission in ongoing research, by calling the toll-free number listed on the leg band. Hunters may keep the band; the agency just needs the information on the band.
Junior hunters who participate in the youth spring gobbler day (April 23) are required to have a junior hunting license. On this one-day hunt, junior license holders under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult, who cannot carry a sporting arm. Accompanying adults may only provide guidance, such as calling or scouting. All other hunting regulations are the same as those for the general spring gobbler season, including the hunting hours of one-half hour before sunrise until noon and only bearded turkeys may be taken.
Youths under the age of 12 years may participate in the spring gobbler seasons through the Game Commission’s Mentored Youth Hunting Program. They can hunt with a mentor during either the one-day youth or general spring gobbler season. Mentored youths need to obtain a permit ($2.70), and must be accompanied by an adult mentor who is a properly licensed and at least 21 years of age. A field harvest tag is provided with the mentored youth hunting program permit. Mentored youths also are required to report their harvest to the Game Commission either online or by using one of the report card inserts that are part of the Digest.
For additional information about the Game Commission’s Mentored Youth Hunting Program, visit the agency’s website at www.pgc.state.pa.us, put your cursor over “HUNT/TRAP” in the menu bar under the banner, click on “Hunting” in the drop-down menu listing then choose “Mentored Youth Hunting Program FAQs” in the “Related Links” section, or consult pages 15 of the Digest.
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