Should spring gobbler season open a week or two earlier?

Tom VeneskyWhen the spring gobbler season opens, it will mark the end of days of scouting and signal the start of something that many turkey hunters have patiently waited for all winter. But why wait? Perhaps the spring gobbler season should start earlier, say a week or two. If we keep having mild winters and earlier springs like we did this year, moving the season up makes sense.

The gobblers have long been vocal, so an earlier start shouldn't impact opportunity. And there's another reason supporting the earlier start — one that could be a life-saver. Gene Dodge, president of the Huntington Mills United Sportsmen, favors of an earlier start from a safety standpoint.

Opening the spring season in early or mid-April, as opposed to the end of the month, would allow hunters to get into the woods before the vegetation gets thick, Dodge said. With things relatively open, hunters would have an easier time identifying their target and accidents could be reduced. It makes sense.

If the gobblers are active and it's easier to see in the woods, why not open the season a week or two earlier? Well, there's a pretty good reason for that as well. Noxen hunter Dale Butler said he believes an earlier start would result in an increased harvest. The timing of such an increase, he said, could have long-term impacts because many of the gobblers will be removed from the population before they could breed with hens.

"The way the season is set up now, it (hunting season) more or less falls after the breeding season is done," Butler said. "Right now, we could kill 90 percent of the gobblers and not hurt the population. From a management standpoint and a sport standpoint, I think the season opens on-time."

One concern that I've always had with the spring season is the potential impact it could have on nesting hens. This year, the season runs from April 28 to May 31. From May 14-31, legal hunting hours are extended all day. That's a lot of days and a lot of time for hunters to inadvertently scare a hen off its nest. And that could also carry a long-term impact.

In my opinion, more hunters are in the woods during the beginning of the season than the later weeks. By shifting the season up by a week or two, hunters wouldn't be losing any time afield and hens would be less vulnerable to disturbance during a critical nesting period later in May.

In a Pennsylvania Game Commission release, wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena reaffirms that hunter participation in the second half of the season decreases significantly and nesting hens are less prone to abandon nests. If that's the case — and I have no doubt it is — why even keep the gobbler season open until the end of May? Less hunters are out during that time and more hens are nesting, so why not just avoid it all together?

I like the idea of shifting gobbler season ahead for an earlier start, but I'm also concerned about Butler's warning about the impact such a move could have on the population. According to the Game Commission's Game-Take Survey, there are approximately 230,000 spring gobbler hunters and the average harvest falls between 38,000 and 45,000. Giving those hunters a chance to head afield a week or two earlier — before the leaves are out and while the gobblers are just hitting their peak, could very well result in an increased harvest.

But ending the season before the vegetation gets thick and the majority of hens are on nests seems like a better alternative. Such a move could very well improve opportunities for hunters, increase safety and give added protection to the nesting hens who are sitting on the future of the sport.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Tom Venesky

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