HARRISBURG – The cool spring so far throughout much of Pennsylvania may lead to increased gobbling for hunters planning to take part in the state’s spring wild turkey season.
The state’s one-day youth spring gobbler season is April 20, and will run from one-half hour before sunrise until noon. The general spring gobbler season is April 27 to May 31, with the traditional noon closure for the first two weeks – through May 11, and from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset the remainder of the season, beginning May 13. Hunters who purchase a second spring gobbler season license may harvest up to two bearded turkeys, one per day. Second tags must be purchased by April 19; they’re available from any license-issuing agent.
“Unlike last year’s warm early spring weather, which triggered an early start to gobbling, this year’s cooler-than-normal March and early April have suppressed gobbling activity,” explained Mary Jo Casalena, Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist. “The arrival of warmer temperatures will bring more gobbling activity, and just in time for the spring turkey season.
“Our research has shown that, although weather affects gobbling, it does not affect the onset of egg-laying by hen turkeys,” Casalena said. “Rather, photoperiod, the amount of daylight, triggers it. And, similar to previous years, the hen turkeys that are equipped with radio transmitters are on course to begin incubating their nests as the spring turkey season opens. We open the spring gobbler season around the peak of nest incubation to minimize hen disturbance and mistaken kills. Nesting hens are less prone to come to a hunter’s call and abandon their nests.”
Another good sign for turkey hunters is that gobblers appear to have weathered winter well. “Gobblers are in good condition this spring, despite the cold winter, because of abundant mast in most of the Commonwealth – excluding the southwest counties, Casalena noted. “That could mean those healthy males may just continue gobbling and looking for mates throughout the hunting season. That will make the coming season a very special time to be afield!”
Game Commission Game-Take Survey results show spring turkey hunting has become so popular that, since 2000, there now are more spring turkey hunters (227,000) than fall turkey hunters (158,000). Spring harvests average 34,000 to 39,000 bearded birds, while fall harvests average 14,400 to 20,200 birds of either sex.
“Pennsylvania has become a dream state for spring gobbler hunters, both for residents and out-of-staters, and not only because we manage one of the most prolific wild turkey populations in America,” noted PGC Executive Director Carl G. Roe . “The steps we have taken in recent years, such as extending the season to include Memorial Day and adding afternoon hours for the second half of the season, have been warmly received by turkey hunters everywhere. They welcome the opportunity to get afield more and their feedback and photos to the agency suggest they’re making the most of it.”
During the second half of the season, hunter participation decreases significantly and nesting hens are less prone to abandon nests, that’s why all-day hunting over the last two weeks of season is less likely to impact nesting. Moreover, the opportunity it provides to hunt woods occupied by few hunters is appreciated greatly, particularly by veteran callers and hunters who can’t get afield earlier in the day because of work or school.
The 2011 spring gobbler season was the first year of all-day hunting during the second half of the season, and the overall harvest has not increased from previous harvests. Since 2011 afternoon harvests comprise six percent of the total reported harvests and 22 percent of harvests during the all-day portion of the seasons. During the all-day portions of the seasons, 78 percent of the harvests occur by noon. For the afternoon segment, the majority of the harvest occurs between 6 and 8 p.m.
The Game Commission will continue to monitor the afternoon harvest in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge any impacts from all-day hunting. In the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, 34 have all-day hunting for all or part of the season, including Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.
Recent spring and fall harvests are: 35,392 spring gobblers and a preliminary report of 13,995 fall turkeys in 2012 (final figures available this summer); 35,465 spring gobblers and 14,383 fall turkeys in 2011; 33,876 spring gobblers and 16,059 fall turkeys in 2010; 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.
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 improves hunters’ chances, especially if they line up multiple locations for the spring season,” Casalena said. “Learning several gobblers’ favorite strutting areas also is helpful for determining the best in-season set-up. This requires early-morning, pre-season scouting, but the potential in-season reward is worth it. 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.”
Casalena also noted the importance of patience while hunting. “Last spring I wanted to move on a gobbler, but my hunting partner insisted on waiting,” she said. “Luckily I heeded his advice. Three gobblers finally came within gun range and we had a nice trophy to take home!”
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.
The Game Commission encourages all spring gobbler hunters to hunt safely, defensively and to consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing while moving and posting a fluorescent orange alert band around a nearby tree when stationary – even though it is no longer required by law. Hunters should treat every sound and movement in the forest as if it’s another hunter until they can confirm positively it’s a legal turkey. Make an informed shooting decision by waiting until the gobbler is fully visible. Then look for the beard on the chest and take the bird if it’s within range.
Legal sporting arms are: shotguns plugged to three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined; muzzleloading shotguns; and bows and crossbows with broadheads of cutting-edge design.
Shotshells must have shot size 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.”
Coyotes may be harvested by turkey hunters. However, turkey hunters who have filled their spring turkey tag or tags may not hunt coyotes during the legal shooting hours of the spring gobbler season, unless they have a furtaker license.
Successful spring gobbler hunters must properly tag their turkey and report the harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days. Hunters also are encouraged to report all leg-banded turkeys they take to assist the Game Commission in ongoing research.