The approach of spring gobbler season has Pennsylvania hunters eager to get afield. That they’ll be participating in the state’s 50th anniversary spring-gobbler hunt further sweetens the pot.
Properly licensed junior hunters and mentored youth can head afield Saturday, April 21 to participate in Pennsylvania’s annual youth spring turkey hunt. A week later, on April 28, all hunters can head into Penn’s Woods in pursuit of spring gobblers.
The forecast for the coming season is a statewide turkey population numbering between 210,000 to 220,000 birds, said Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wild turkey biologist.
“Pennsylvania’s turkey population will provide plenty of excitement for those who choose to head afield for the Commonwealth’s golden anniversary spring turkey hunt,” Casalena said. “Make no mistake, Pennsylvania remains one of America’s premier turkey-hunting destinations.”
Turkeys are coming through a relatively mild winter, and they again had a tremendous acorn crop last fall to help them with winter survival. A light fall harvest – preliminarily estimated at 11,780 – sparked by greater supplies of fall foods and fewer hunters afield also has helped kindle increased expectations for the spring hunt.
“Last spring, hunters took 38,101 birds in the state’s turkey seasons,” Casalena said. “I expect a similar harvest this spring, somewhere between 36,000 and 38,000 turkeys.”
Pennsylvania turkeys are coming off a trying year. Frequent spring and summer rains in 2017 hampered poult survival in some areas of the state. What has helped turkeys, though, has been recent mild winters.
“The lighter fall harvests, mild winters and increased acorn crops over the past two years, however, could support increased reproduction this spring, Casalena noted. “But our spring weather will have to cooperate.”
The turkey population remains below its peak of 280,000 in 2001 with substantial fluctuations every three to four years, likely due to fluctuations in recruitment, which is influenced substantially by the interaction of habitat quality, weather, predation and harvest, Casalena said. Overall, the population is slowly increasing from its most-recent low of 192,612 in 2010, with increases in the one- and two-year age classes.
Last spring, 5,049 turkeys were taken with a second spring gobbler license; 20,529 hunters purchased second gobbler licenses.
Hunters should note the second spring gobbler license only is on sale prior to the start of the season. Once April 28 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 may be purchased with a hunting license and is available online at www.pgc.pa.gov.
Hunting hours during the youth hunt end at noon. Junior hunters and mentored youth also may 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 28 through May 12). 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 14 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 semiautomatic 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 Pages 40 and 41 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.
It is unlawful, as well as unsafe, to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds. All hunters need to wait patiently and identify their targets properly prior to pulling the trigger. When in a stationary position, a hunter should sit with his or her back against back against a large tree, rock or other barrier that shields movement and offers protection from others who might approach from the rear.
Turkey hunters should not wear any clothing that contains black colors like those of a turkey’s body, or red, white or blue, like those on a turkey’s head.
Pennsylvania hunters again this year can 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 27 – 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. The same goes for general hunting licenses. General hunting licenses purchased online also are sent by mail, and shipping charges apply.
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 and mentored adult 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.”
Harvest photo contest
A beautiful gobbler might not be the only prize a successful turkey hunter brings home this spring.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is sponsoring its second annual Turkey Harvest Photo Contest, and hunters submitting the photos of themselves with their 2018 Pennsylvania gobblers are eligible to win one of two personalized, engraved box calls.
Entries will be narrowed to a field of finalists in each the adult hunter and youth hunter category, with one winner in each category then selected by voters on the Game Commission’s Facebook page.
But you must enter to win. Hunters should be sure to submit photos of their 2018 Pennsylvania harvests by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions should include the first and last name of anyone in the photo, the hunter’s hometown and the county the turkey was harvested.
The contest will run from youth season April 21 through Monday, June 4, with the winners selected shortly thereafter.
Courtesy PA Game Commission www.pgc.pa.gov