HUNTERS AWAIT START OF SPRING TURKEY HUNTING
HUNTING-Pennsylvania's spring gobbler seasons are just around the corner and all indications are that the hunters should find good, but challenging, hunting opportunities when they head afield. The state's one-day youth spring gobbler season will be April 23; the general spring gobbler season will run from April 30 to May 28. In both seasons, shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until noon.
Although successive cold, wet springs have hindered the state's wild turkey population from augmenting its records numbers in recent years, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials believe hunters will have satisfying hunting opportunities when the four-week spring gobbler season opens.
"Pennsylvania's wild turkey population is still strong in many of the Commonwealth's big forests and woodlots," said Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross, "but turkeys sure have faced some tough times trying to hatch and raise poults in recent years. Harsh winters coupled with below-average mast crop production also have contributed to reduced wild turkey numbers. Our fall harvests over the past two years mirror the losses in recruitment, reductions in some local populations, and an inability of hunters to find and pattern the movements of birds. Our spring harvests, conversely, have remained relatively steady.
"We believe Pennsylvania's wild turkey populations are well-established in most areas. Hunters who scout for wild turkeys just before season, particularly locating areas where gobblers are calling regularly, should enjoy plenty of early morning excitement in the woods."
Turkey numbers often fluctuate annually, depending upon reproduction, which can be impacted greatly by cold, rainy spring weather. Over the past three years, many areas of the state have had poor to average reproduction and recruitment - addition of young birds to the existing population. That's suppressing some local populations. But with one good breeding season, these declining populations will right themselves.
The statewide final 2004 fall turkey harvest was about 25,868 birds (27,400 in 2003); the spring 2004 harvest was 41,017 (43,900 in 2003). The 10-year spring harvest average is 43,286; the 10-year fall harvest average is 32,560.
"With below average recruitment over the past three springs, hunting prospects in many Wildlife Management Units (WMU) also will be below the ample harvest numbers Pennsylvania's wild turkey populations have sustained for some time," explained Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission turkey biologist. "Hunters in many WMUs can expect to find decreased numbers of vocal two-year-old gobblers. The same applies to the one-year-old jakes, which often readily - and quietly - investigate hunters' calls. But there's still plenty of good - even great - turkey hunting to be found in Pennsylvania. You may just have to work a little harder at it in some areas to be successful.
"Hunters are encouraged not to use turkey calls to locate gobblers prior to the start of season, because it can help to educate birds and cause them to be less inclined to respond to the early-morning calls of hunters. If you're trying to locate a gobbler, it's best to head out at first light to listen for calls. On a still morning, a gobbler's call often can be detected up to a half-mile away by a person.
"Don't get discouraged if you don't hear gobblers every day," advised Casalena. "With fewer boisterous two-year-old gobblers in local populations, hunters should probably expect less calling. You can also locate gobblers by searching for strutting areas along the edges of fields, woods roads and small openings in wooded areas."
The largest harvests in the 2004 spring gobbler season occurred in WMU 2D, where hunters took 4,004 turkeys; WMU 1B, 2,959; and WMU 4C, 2,629. The largest fall harvests occurred in WMU 2D, where hunters took 2,246 turkeys; WMU 2G, 1,933; and WMU 2C, 1,767.
Each year, more than 230,000 hunters - or about 20 percent of the state's licensed hunters - head afield to participate in the spring gobbler season. The season is considered one of the most challenging because it requires a hunter to place himself or herself in a position within calling distance of a gobbler - preferably still roosting - and to call the bird within shooting range using a mouth, box or slate call. Since wild turkeys have keen eyesight and hearing, the slightest slipup by the hunter will send an approaching bird scurrying in the opposite direction.
"Calling in and taking a spring gobbler is an incredible challenge," noted Ross, who is an avid wild turkey hunter. "Your every move can spell the difference between success and hanging out with the trees on a cool spring morning. Fooling what can be one of the shrewdest game animals in the forest isn't easy, and the only way you get better is through the trial and error of working approaching birds."
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. Over the years, many hunters have been shot for game while approaching a hunter calling for turkeys, and many callers have been shot in mistake for game by stalking hunters.
In 2004, nine hunters were shot - none fatally - by others during the spring season. In all cases, the offender failed to properly identify his target. Six victims were sitting, the remainder, walking. This compares with nine non-fatal hunting-related shooting incidents in the 2003 spring gobbler season (six mistaken for game).
"Hunting requires every participant to make safety his or her most important consideration from the moment you pick up your gun until you return it to the gun cabinet," noted Keith Snyder, Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education chief. "If every hunter followed the state's hunting regulations and positively identified his or her target as legal game before squeezing the trigger, hunters wouldn't be shooting other hunters. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.
"The Pennsylvania Game Commission encourages all spring gobbler hunters to hunt defensively and to make safety their top priority while afield. Consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing at all times - not just while moving as required by regulation - and treat every sound and movement in the forest as if it is another hunter until you can positively confirm it is something else."
During the spring season, hunters are permitted to harvest one gobbler, or bearded bird - which generally are male turkeys, but some female birds have been known to grow the hair-like feathers on the bird's chest. Legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until noon. Hunters should be out of the woods by 1 p.m.
Legal sporting arms are: shotguns plugged to three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined; muzzleloading shotguns; and bows with broadhead arrows of cutting-edge design. Shot size can be 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."
Hunters are required to wear a minimum of 100 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head (a hat) when moving through the woods. The orange may be removed when a hunter reaches his or her calling destination, but it is recommended that hunters wrap an orange alert band around a nearby tree when calling and/or using decoys.
Successful hunters must properly tag harvested turkeys and report their harvests to the Game Commission within 10 days, using the postage-paid report card provided when they purchased their hunting license. On the report card, hunters must identify from which WMU the bird was taken, as well as the township and county. Hunters are reminded that if they can't find one of the harvest report cards that came with their license, they can tear out and use the harvest report card found on page 93 of the Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.
Young hunters who participate in the new youth spring gobbler season are required to have a junior hunting license. Juniors under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult, who cannot carry a sporting arm. Accompanying adults may only provide guidance, such as calling or scouting. All other hunting regulations are the same as those for the general spring gobbler season, including the hunting hours of one-half hour before sunrise until noon and only bearded turkeys may be taken.
Coyotes may be harvested by turkey hunters. However, turkey hunters who have harvested a spring gobbler may not hunt coyotes or any other species prior to noon Monday through Saturday during the spring gobbler season.
TURKEY HUNTING SAFETY TIPS
Spring gobbler season is always sort of a stepping out time for many of Pennsylvania's hunters. A time to get away from the house, and back in the woods. A time to match wits with a wily gobbler. But it also can be a very dangerous time. Nine hunters have been shot in each of the state's past two spring gobbler seasons. "Spring gobbler hunting is almost always an enjoyable experience for the more than 230,000 Pennsylvanians who annually participate in the season," said Keith Snyder, Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education Division chief. "But it's also can be a potentially dangerous sport when hunters don't hunt safely, or disregard the regulations governing gobbler hunting.
"Every year, some one takes a chance or makes a poor hunting decision in spring gobbler season. Some of the most common mistakes are hunters stalking turkey sounds; hunters shooting at movement; and hunters not positively identifying their target as game before shooting. All are easily avoidable if you hunt safely and follow the law. It's what defines you as a turkey hunter, not taking a turkey. Be safe. Hunt defensively. Enjoy the season."
Hunting regulations require all hunters to wear at least 100 square inches of fluorescent orange while moving through the woods. If hunters opt to remove their orange clothing after reaching their calling position, the Game Commission encourages them to display a fluorescent orange alert band near their hunting position. It may alert a hunter who is closing in on your call or decoys that a person is in the area. Hunters also are encouraged to place decoys in a way that will limit their susceptibility to in-the-line-of-fire shotgun discharges from approaching hunters.
Only bearded turkeys may be taken in the spring season. The beard is on the bird's chest. Hunters are reminded to remove any red, white, blue or black clothing before heading afield because red, white and blue are found on a turkey's head and the bird's feathers are mostly black. Remember, too, its illegal to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds.
To make sure your next turkey hunting experience is both safe and enjoyable, follow these turkey hunting safety tips:
Positively identify your target. Be absolutely certain it's a legal turkey before pulling the trigger. Never shoot at sounds or movement.
Never stalk a turkey or turkey sounds. Stalking during the spring season is illegal. Movement or sounds you think are a turkey may be another hunter. Be patient. Let the bird come to you.
Assume every noise and movement is another hunter. If there is any doubt whatsoever - don't shoot.
Pre-select a zone of fire. Shoot at a turkey only in your predetermined zone of fire - and only when you're certain it's safe.
Make your position known to other hunters - wear fluorescent orange. It is mandatory to wear orange when moving through the woods, particularly while carrying a bird. It is recommended that you display orange at your calling location by wrapping a fluorescent orange band around a tree to alert other hunters of your presence. Know and follow the law!
Protect your back. Select a large tree, rock or other substantial natural barrier while calling and sit with your back against it. To improve your visibility, hunt in open woods.
Shout "STOP" to alert approaching hunters. Never move, wave or make turkey sounds to alert hunters of your position.
Eliminate red, white, blue and black colors from your clothing. These colors are found on the head, neck and body of mature gobblers. You could be mistaken for a turkey if you wear these colors!
WILD TURKEY FIELD REPORTS
Pennsylvania Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena has prepared field reports for Wildlife Management Units (WMU) statewide to share her observations on wild turkey hunting prospects and population trends. If you're still learning the relatively new WMU system, please consult pages 47-51 in the 2004-2005 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest to determine which WMU you hunt in.
WMU 1A - In most of this WMU - excepting Beaver County - expect to see a continuing decline from the 2001 peak harvest of 1.9 gobblers harvested per square mile. But the WMU should still provide a good harvest, which should still be well above the statewide average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. Last year, hunters took 2,427 gobblers in the spring season. In Beaver County, there will be an abundance of jakes, thanks to last summer's record recruitment in this WMU. Hunters might not hear as much gobbling, but there will be plenty of jakes to choose from, and they tend to come in quietly.
WMU 1B - This WMU's harvest peaked in 2001 when 1.7 gobblers were harvested per square mile and has since declined slightly each year since then. It still remains above the statewide average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. Despite this slow ongoing decline, last spring's harvest of 2,959 bearded birds was the second highest in the state for 2004, and comprised 7.2 percent of the statewide take by hunters. Expect to see another slight decline in harvest as a result of lower recruitment in 2003 and 2004, but hunters will find there are still some old long-beards that always are a great challenge to hunt.
WMU 2A - The harvest peaked here in 2001 when it was twice the statewide average. Harvests are still expected to be well above the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile, but about the same, or slightly below last spring's harvest of 2,602 - fourth best in the state, because the number of jakes and two-year-old birds is slightly less than last year.
WMU 2B - Two-year-old gobblers and jakes are plentiful and last summer's recruitment in this WMU was the highest on record, but harvests have not followed the increasing trend in the population here, indicating that the urban turkey population is growing. Harvest densities have averaged 1.5 gobblers per square mile for the past three years and are well above the state average of 0.91. For additional hunting opportunities, seek out untraditional hunting areas, but make sure you acquire permission to hunt and hunt safely. Last spring, hunters took 1,995 gobblers in this WMU.
WMU 2C - The turkey population and spring harvest peaked here in 2001 and have been declining slightly since. Harvest densities are below the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. Expect this spring's harvest to be slightly below last year's harvest of 2,251, because of below average recruitment in 2002 and 2003.
WMU 2D - The spring harvest peaked in 2003, well above the state average, and was only slightly lower last year. WMU 2D had the state's highest spring harvest last year - 4,004 - and comprised 10 percent of the state harvest. However, recruitment has decreased in this WMU over the last 2 years, so expect harvests to be slightly lower than last year, but still well above the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. Hunters should still have better than average success here.
WMUs 2E and 2F - Harvests have been stable since an initial slight decline from a peak in 2001 and have been slightly below the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. Below-average recruitment over the past two years likely will decrease this spring's harvest slightly, which is again expected to be below average. The 2004 spring harvest in WMU 2E was 971; and in WMU 2F, 1,935.
WMU 2G - The spring harvest has been slowly declining since its peak in 2001 and is below the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. With below-average recruitment in 2003 and 2004, expect the spring harvest to decline again, because wary three- and four-year-old gobblers may be more plentiful than the younger jakes and two-year-olds. The 2004 spring harvest was 1,933.
WMU 3A - The spring harvest has declined only slightly since the peak in 2001. Harvest densities continue to be slightly below the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. With below-average recruitment in 2003 and 2004, expect the spring harvest to decline again. Hunters who are patient may have luck calling in an older gobbler, which there should be plenty of in this WMU's population. The 2004 spring harvest was 1,200.
WMU 3B - The spring harvest has declined only slightly since the peak in 2001 and has remained relatively steady since 2002. The WMU's harvest density is slightly above the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. With below average recruitment in 2003 and 2004, expect the spring harvest to decline slightly. The 2004 spring harvest was 2,123.
WMU 3C - Like many other WMUs in the state, this WMU's spring harvest peaked in 2001. Then it almost peaked again in 2003, because of excellent summer recruitment in 2001 and 2002. However, with lower summer recruitment in 2003 and 2004, the population of two-year-olds and jakes will be down this spring. Nonetheless, there will still be good to excellent hunting here. This WMU maintains higher harvest densities than the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile ,and last year's harvest of 2,251 comprised six percent of the statewide harvest.
WMU 3D - The wary and sometimes difficult to get three-year-old gobblers will be very plentiful here as a result of record recruitment in 2002. Since then, recruitment has been slightly below average, and consequently the supply of easier-to-take two-year-olds and jakes will not be as plentiful. For this reason, expect this spring's harvest to decline slightly from the 2,015 birds taken last spring.
WMU 4A & 4B - Many parts of these WMUs had record or near-record recruitment lows in 2003, followed by record to near-record recruitment highs in 2004. With few two-year-olds in these populations, hunters should expect to hear less gobbling this year. When calling on stand, though, stay alert for jakes, which usually come in quietly. Setting up at a good calling location and waiting patiently for a quiet jake, or possibly a sneaky three-year-old, to approach your decoy may prove to be productive this year. The 2004 spring harvest in WMU 4A was 1,018 and in WMU 4B, 1,240.
WMU 4C - Spring hunting prospects look good in this WMU as summer recruitment over the past two years was about average. Expect the spring harvest to be similar to 2004's, and well above the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile. This WMU last spring posted the state's third highest harvest density with 1.5 gobblers harvested per square mile. The 2004 spring harvest was 2,629.
WMU 4D - Spring harvest densities here are consistently below the state average of 0.91 gobblers harvested per square mile, but only have decreased slightly since the spring harvest peaked in 2001. Summer recruitment over the past two years has been about average for this WMU, so expect spring harvest also to be about average and similar to last year's take of 1,658 gobblers.
WMU 4E - Although the population of two-year-old gobblers is slightly below average, there is an abundance of jakes from last year's record recruitment. Expect less gobbling this spring, but there will be excellent hunting for jakes and three-year-old gobblers. Last year this WMU had the sixth best spring harvest density with a spring harvest of 2,332.
WMUs 5A & 5B - Although parts of these WMUs had record recruitment last year, they still have some of the lowest spring harvest densities in the state. These WMUs are being managed with closed fall turkey-hunting seasons to stimulate population growth. They'll need several more years of above average recruitment for populations to reach agency goals. Prospects are good this spring for bringing home a jake in parts of these WMUs. The population of vocal two-year-olds will be low as a result of poor recruitment in 2003. Expect the spring harvests in each WMU to be similar to last year's when hunters took 506 gobblers in WMU 5A and 553 in WMU 5B.
WMU 5C - Even though turkey populations are higher here than they were 15 years ago, turkey recruitment has declined since its peak in 2000. Last year recruitment hit a record low. With more two-year-olds in the population than jakes, hunters should expect to hear gobbling in this WMU. The overall harvest likely will be slightly less than in 2004, when hunters took 1,651 gobblers.
WMU 5D - Harvests in this urban WMU are the lowest in the state. However, expect the harvest to be slightly higher this year, because of relatively good recruitment here in 2003, which means the vocal two-year-old gobblers are in good supply this year. The 2004 spring harvest totaled 128.
Source: PA Game Commision
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