Pennsylvania turkey numbers stable, PGC biologist says

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania’s most avid spring turkey hunters are going all in.

With the 2018 season fast approaching – the youth only spring gobbler hunt is April 21, the regular season April 28 to May 31 – expect many to buy a second turkey tag.

That’s been the trend.

Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s turkey biologist, said sales of a second gobbler tag have increased every year they’ve been available. Last year the commission sold more than 20,500.

“And that is another record year. It just keeps going up each year,” Casalena said.

Not all of those hunters are scoring. Harvest rates for second tags are slightly below average, she noted.

But they remain popular.

That’s true even though harvests have been good, but not historic.

Pennsylvania’s record spring gobbler kill came in 2001, when hunters took 49,186. The highest take on record in the last decade was in 2009, when they got 42,478, according to commission figures.

In 2017, by comparison, they killed 36,970.

“This is pretty similar to the previous 10-year average,” Casalena said. “But it was below the previous three-year average of about 39,500.”

The downward harvest trend hasn’t really impacted participation in the season either.

“The number of spring turkey hunters has remained relatively stable since 1983, at just under a quarter million,” Casalena said.

There were roughly 215,000 spring turkey hunters in Pennsylvania in 2016. That dropped in 2017, but she believes that was a one year “anomaly.”

Better days might be ahead for those who stick with the sport, too.

Back in 2009, Pennsylvania was home to an estimated 250,000 turkeys, Casalena said. That started dropping in 2010.

“Basically we had a double whammy with our turkey population. We had an unexpected spring decline, doubled with, in 2010, we established the three-day Thanksgiving fall turkey season,” she said.

That three-day season, time has shown, is equivalent to adding an entire week to the fall seasons. And fall seasons, Casalena said, impact populations because hunters kill hens.

The good news is that the population has been climbing since, if ever so slightly, Casalena said.

And changes to fall seasons – mainly contractions in some wildlife management units – should allow that to continue, she added.

The 2016 population was estimated at 216,800 birds.

The commission’s goal is to get the population to about 240,000 birds, Casalena said.

Habitat will be the key, it seems.

The agency’s 10-year turkey management plan is currently undergoing a scheduled revision. Casalena said it will focus largely on carrying capacity, both biological and social.

“Our emphasis going forward in the next 10 years is really landscape-level habitat management,” she noted.

That means creating and managing places where the birds can thrive, she added.

The plan is to undergo review both within the agency and by National Wild Turkey Federation partners. When a final draft is ready, it will be presented to Game Commissioners for approval.