High hopes for Pennsylvania spring gobbler seasons
Excitement is starting to build for the start of spring gobbler hunting seasons.
Properly licensed junior hunters and mentored youth can head afield Saturday, April 22 to participate in Pennsylvania’s annual youth spring turkey hunt. A week later, on April 29, all hunters can head into Penn’s Woods in pursuit of spring gobblers.
There’s good reason for the increasing interest among hunters, said Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wild turkey biologist.
A light turkey harvest last fall and a mild winter have set the stage for what could be a fast-starting spring gobbler season.
“Fall mast last year was spotty and turkeys responded by moving to those food sources, which in some cases meant they moved away from areas frequented by hunters,” Casalena said. “The fall turkey harvest dropped as a consequence. And while that might have been bad news for fall turkey hunters, it’s likely good news for spring turkey hunters because unfilled fall turkey tags typically lead to increased availability in the spring.
“Add to that the fact that mild winters, like the one we’re coming off, are easier on turkeys and help prepare them for spring breeding,” Casalena said. “That should lead to a healthier turkey population and might put gobblers on a timeline to be exceptionally fired up when the season begins.”
Last spring, hunters took 35,966 spring turkeys in Pennsylvania, which is lower than the previous two spring harvests of about 41,200 each.
But the 2016 harvest still was similar to spring harvests from 2010 to 2013.
Casalena said poor weather through much of the season, including nagging drizzle on many mornings, played a part in the reduced harvest last spring.
“Warm weather also set gobblers on fire early,” Casalena said. “But then the weather turned nasty again and hens struggled, with many losing their first nest attempts. Their renewed availability at the start of the season led to gobblers chasing hens, instead of coming in to hunters’ calls.”
About 67 percent of turkeys in the 2016 spring harvest were adult gobblers, 23 percent were jakes, 2 percent were bearded hens and 7 percent were males of unknown age.
It compares with the previous long-term average of 71 percent adult gobblers, 19 percent jakes, 4 percent bearded hens and 7 percent unknown-aged males.
Pennsylvania also sold a record 19,796 second spring gobbler licenses in 2016. It’s a 10 percent increase over the previous record of 18,085 licenses sold in 2014, Casalena said.
The license led to the harvest of 3,841 bearded turkeys last spring. That’s the second-highest total since the license first was offered in 2006. In 2014, the license accounted for the harvest of 4,314 turkeys.
Hunters should note the second spring gobbler license only is on sale prior to the start of the season. Once April 29 rolls around, it’s too late to purchase one.
“So hunters who want to ensure their best opportunity to hunt as many days of the season as they can need to buy the license soon,” Casalena said. “There’s promise for a great season.”
All participants in the youth hunt must be accompanied by adults as required by law. A complete list of regulations applying to mentored youth and junior hunters can be found in the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is issued at the time hunting licenses are purchased and is also available online at www.pgc.pa.gov.
Hunting hours during the youth hunt end at noon. Junior hunters and mentored youth may also participate in the statewide spring gobbler season.
Hunting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at noon for the first two weeks of the statewide season (April 29 through May 13). Hunters are asked to be out of the woods by 1 p.m. when hunting hours end at noon. This is to minimize disturbance of nesting hens.
From May 15 through May 31, hunting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. The all-day season allows more opportunity at the point in the season when hunting pressure is lower and nesting hens are less likely to abandon nests.
Licensing and other regulations
During the spring gobbler season, hunters may use manually operated or semi-automatic shotguns limited to a three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined. Muzzleloading shotguns, crossbows and long, recurve and compound bows also are permitted. For a complete list of regulations, consult Page 42 of the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.
Only bearded birds may be harvested during the spring season, and hunting is permitted by calling only. The stalking of turkeys is unlawful and unsafe.
There is no requirement for hunters to wear fluorescent orange during the spring turkey season, though it is recommended that orange be worn while moving.
Blinds used while turkey hunting must be manufactured with manmade materials of sufficient density to block movement within the blind from an observer outside the blind. Blinds must completely enclose the hunter on all four sides and from above. It is unlawful to hunt turkeys from blinds made of natural materials such as logs, tree branches and piled rocks.
Blinds that represent the fanned tail of a gobbler do not hide all hunter movement, and therefore are unlawful to use in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania hunters again this year are able to purchase a license to harvest a second gobbler in the spring season, but only one gobbler may be taken per day. This license must be purchased no later than April 28 – before the statewide season begins.
The $21.90 license ($41.90 for nonresidents) may be purchased online, but cannot be printed at home. Therefore if a hunter expects to need the license early in the season, purchasing it directly from an issuing agent might be better. General hunting licenses purchased online also are sent by mail.
Successful turkey hunters must immediately and properly tag the bird before moving the bird from the harvest site, and are required by law to report the harvest to the Game Commission.
For most hunters, harvests must be reported within 10 days. Mentored youth hunters must report harvests within five days.
Reporting harvests enables the Game Commission to more accurately estimate harvest and population totals, and is important to effective management.
There are three ways harvests can be reported. Hunters can visit www.pgc.pa.gov, click the blue “Report a Harvest” button along the right side of the home page, then fill out a form and submit. Alternately, hunters can fill out and mail in the tear-out harvest report cards that are inserted into the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, or report the harvest by phone at 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681).
In all cases, it is helpful to have your license with you, as well as the tag you used in the field after harvesting the bird.
“Even though the Game Commission is not currently conducting any large-scale turkey research, there are still leg-banded turkeys remaining throughout the state from recently completed projects,” Casalena said. “If you are lucky enough to harvest a leg-banded turkey please call the toll-free number on the band and we will provide details of when and where the bird was tagged.”