HARRISBURG, Pa., April 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Although there has been plenty of wild turkey calling going on recently in the mountains and woodlots throughout Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials believe the upcoming spring gobbler seasons aren't expected to be as rewarding to hunters as those over the past few years. "It stands to reason - and we surely expected - that wild turkey hunter success was going to fall off some because of the below-average reproduction turkeys have endured for the past three springs in Pennsylvania," explained Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. "Three consecutive years of below-average reproduction, a hard winter in 2002, and below-average mast production in some areas have conspired to stem the ability of some segments of the Pennsylvania wild turkey population to offset annual losses to fall hunting and other limiting factors with recruitment. "But what has occurred isn't unnatural, won't ruin Pennsylvania's wild turkey hunting and surely will change just as soon as a warm, dry spring paves the way for increased turkey reproduction. For now, hunters can expect this spring's gobbler hunting to be similar to last year's - good, but challenging." The state's one-day youth spring gobbler hunt will be April 22; the general spring gobbler season will run from April 29 to May 27. In both seasons, shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until noon. Casalena emphasized that hunters should find strong wild turkey populations in most mountainous areas and in woodlots bordering agricultural areas. "Wild turkeys have experienced some tough springs in recent years and their overall numbers are down somewhat," Casalena said. "However, many flocks have been insulated from loss by the difficulties many hunters have encountered trying to find birds, particularly last fall when the increased availability of mast made patterning flock movements - and even locating birds - difficult at best. "We believe the wild turkey population has dropped over the past few years, and that it is below the five-year average we measure it against to keep population trends in perspective. Saying that, however, it is important to point out that turkey populations in many Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) remain at or above long-term population trends. Turkey hunting may not be better than ever in Pennsylvania, but for those who put in the preseason work and make in-season adjustments, there should be plenty of excitement." The statewide preliminary 2005 fall turkey harvest was about 23,300. It marks the third consecutive year the fall harvest has dropped; 25,868 in 2004; and 27,400 in 2003. However, some of this decrease was the result of shorter fall seasons in eight of the state's 22 WMUs over the past two years. The preliminary spring gobbler harvest - 38,820 - also documents a drop for the third consecutive year. The spring harvest in 2004 was 41,017; 2003, 43,900. "With below average recruitment over the past three springs, hunting prospects in many WMUs also will be below average," Casalena explained. "Pennsylvania is a diverse state and hunting will vary depending on your locale. Hunters may find that the responses to their calls vary greatly from WMU to WMU, possibly even from ridge to ridge. Some areas will have good numbers of vocal two-year-old and older gobblers, others won't. One-year-old jakes likely will come readily - albeit quietly - to your calls. But there are plenty of birds afield. Just remain flexible and willing. The rest is up to the gobblers." Hunters are discouraged from using turkey calls to locate gobblers prior to the start of season, because it can educate birds and cause them to be less inclined to respond to the early-morning calls of hunters in season. "If you're trying to locate a gobbler, it's best to head out at first light to listen for calls," Casalena advised. "Now is a great time! 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. With fewer gobblers in local populations, hunters should probably expect less calling. Remember, you also can 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 2005 spring gobbler season occurred in WMU 2D, where hunters took 3,006 turkeys (4,004 in 2004); WMU 4C, 2,831 (2,629); and WMU 4E, 2,508 (2,332). The largest fall harvests occurred in WMU 2G, where hunters took 2,257 turkeys (1,933 in 2004); WMU 2D, 1,952 (2,246); and WMU 3B, 1,567 (1,671). For the first time since Pennsylvania established a spring gobbler season in 1968, hunters were allowed to submit an application for the "special wild turkey license" for the 2006 spring gobbler season. It entitles the holder to take a second spring gobbler in any Wildlife Management Unit. The cost was $21 for residents, $41 for nonresidents. The agency had received more than 7,600 second spring gobbler tags as of April 1, which was the deadline for receiving applications. Research has shown that properly timed and implemented multiple-bird spring bag limits have not caused population declines in other states, according to Casalena. To monitor hunter success, all hunters who receive the special spring gobbler license are required to submit a report, regardless of whether they harvest a second spring gobbler. 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 a challenging affair because it requires a hunter to place himself or herself in a position within calling distance of a gobbler - preferably still roosting - and then 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 not something that you accomplish by simply putting in your time afield," Casalena emphasized. "If you cough, sneeze, move or blink at the wrong time, that gobbler will be heading in another direction, or off the mountain! Tricking an old tom isn't easy, as many hunters can attest. But when you pull it off, the experience is incredibly satisfying and surely will be something you'll share with others." 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 2005, eight hunters were shot - none fatally - by other hunters during the spring season. In all but one case, the offender failed to properly identify his target. Two victims were shot by offenders who were less than 30 yards away. This compares with nine non-fatal hunting-related shooting incidents in the 2004 spring gobbler season (all mistaken for game). "Safety should be the foremost consideration of every turkey hunter," emphasized 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 doesn't always work that way. "The Pennsylvania Game Commission encourages all spring gobbler hunters to hunt safely and defensively. Consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing at all times - not just while moving as required by law - and treat every sound and movement in the forest as if it is another hunter until you can positively confirm it is a legal turkey. Wait until the bird is fully and plainly visible before you pull the trigger." 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. Crossbows may not be used unless a hunter has a permit to use a crossbow instead of a bow. 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. While not required by law, agency officials recommend that hunters wrap an orange alert band around a nearby tree when stationary, especially 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. 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 33 of the Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations. Young hunters who participate in the 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 woodchucks (groundhogs) prior to noon Monday through Saturday during the spring gobbler season. TURKEY HUNTING SAFETY TIPS Spring gobbler season has become a stepping out time for many Pennsylvania hunters. It is a time to get away from the house, and back in the woods; a time to match wits with a wily gobbler. Unfortunately, over the past three spring gobbler seasons, 26 hunters also have been shot by other hunters. All but one was mistaken for game, often by very experienced hunters. "Spring gobbler hunting is typically enjoyable for the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who annually participate in the season," said Keith Snyder, Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education Division chief. "But it also can be a potentially dangerous sport when hunters disregard proven safety measures and hunting regulations to take a gobbler. "Every year a handful of hunters take chances they shouldn't, and someone gets shot. The incidents are the result of poor hunting decisions, such as hunters illegally stalking turkey sounds; shooting at movement; or not positively identifying targets as legal game before shooting. All are easily avoidable if you hunt safely and follow the law. 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, which, by law, they may, the Game Commission encourages them to display a fluorescent orange alert band near their hunting position, especially those who plan to call or use decoys. 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 a grouping of hair-like feathers that protrude from the bird's chest. Hunters are reminded to remove any red, white, blue or black clothing before heading afield because these colors are found on a turkey's head or body. 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 agency filed observations on wild turkey hunting prospects and population trends. If you need assistance locating these WMUs, please consult pages 43- 46 in the 2005-2006 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. WMU 1A - In most of this WMU - except Beaver County - expect to see a continued decline from the peak harvest in 2001. But the WMU will still show a good harvest and should still be above the statewide average. In Beaver County two-year-old gobblers will be abundant, given the excellent hatch in 2004. There will fewer jakes, however, because of the lower predicted hatch of 2005. Hunters in Beaver County should hear plenty of gobbling. WMU 1B - The harvest peaked here in 2001, and has been declining slightly since then, but remains above the statewide average. Even so, the preliminary 2005 spring harvest of 2,427 bearded birds was the fourth highest in the state for 2005, and comprised 6.3 percent of the statewide harvest. Expect to see another slight decline in harvest as a result of lower recruitment in 2004 and 2005, but there are some wily old long-beards that can be a great challenge to hunt. WMU 2A - The harvest here peaked in 2001, when it was twice the statewide average. Harvests are still expected to be well above the state average, but about the same, or slightly below 2005, because the number of jakes and two- year-old birds continues to decline from the highs during 1999-2002. WMU 2B - Two-year-old gobblers will be abundant. Jakes will be in short supply, given the poor recruitment of 2005. This WMU showed the second highest harvest density during the spring 2005 season behind WMU 4C. So, even though WMU 2B is an urban WMU, hunters are succeeding in acquiring access to huntable flocks. For additional opportunities, seek out untraditional hunting areas as these may offer some excellent prospects. WMU 2C - The turkey population and spring harvest peaked here in 2001 and have been declining slightly since then. Even though the spring 2005 harvest was the fifth highest in the state, the harvest density was below the statewide average. Expect this spring's harvest to be equal to or slightly above last spring's as a result of better recruitment last spring than in 2004. But the recruitment in 2005 was still below average. There will be fewer two-year-old gobblers, but more jakes than in 2004. WMU 2D - The harvest peaked here in 2003, well above the state average, but has been showing a slight declining trend. WMU 2D had the highest spring harvest in 2005 (3,006), and comprised 7.7 percent of the entire state harvest. However, recruitment has decreased in the last two years, so expect harvests to be slightly lower than last year, but still well above the state average. Hunters should have better than average success here. WMUs 2E and 2F - Harvests have been declining slightly from when they peaked here in 2001 and have been below the state average. The below-average recruitment over the past three years will likely decrease this spring's harvest slightly, and again is expected to be below average. WMU 2G - The harvest has been slowly declining since the peak in 2001 and is below the state average. The below-average recruitment has been slowly increasing since 2003, so expect the spring harvest to increase slightly from the record low in 2005. WMU 3A - 2005 showed the second highest recruitment on record (highest was in 2002), so expect an abundance of the quiet jakes during the 2006 spring season. Spring harvests have declined since the peak in 2001. Harvest densities are below the state average. With the low levels of older birds, but abundance of jakes, hunters have the potential to increase the harvest levels in 2006 if they successfully call in the quiet jakes. WMU 3B - Spring harvest has declined since the peak in 2001 and dropped sharply in 2005. Harvest density fell below the state average in 2005. Recruitment was similar to 2004, so expect the spring 2006 harvest to be similar to 2005. WMU 3C - Even though there will be less two- and three-year-old gobblers, with a record number of summer turkey sightings in 2005, it appears that recruitment was excellent, providing hunters with an abundance of jakes for 2006. The low summer production in 2003 and 2004 caused the spring 2005 harvest to decrease. Expect spring 2006 harvest to be slightly better than 2005, which still translates to good to excellent hunting. This WMU maintains higher harvest densities than the state average. WMU 3D - Recruitment in 2005 was slightly below average, but better than the previous two years. Therefore, there will be plenty of jakes, but fewer two- and three-year-old gobblers. For the experienced hunter, there may still be many of the wary and difficult to get four-year-old gobblers given the record recruitment in 2002. Expect this spring's harvest to increase slightly if hunters successfully call in the jakes and four-year-olds. WMU 4A - With record recruitment during the last two summers (2004 and 2005), expect the spring 2006 harvest to be above average and slightly above the 2005 harvest. Fall seasons were decreased to two weeks in 2004, which may be aiding the population increase. WMU 4B - Many parts of this WMU had record or near-record low reproduction in 2005 and 2003, but near record high reproduction in 2004. With many two- year-olds, expect to hear more gobbling this year, but harvest may decrease because of the absence of jakes and three-year-olds. WMU 4C - Prospects look excellent in this WMU as summer reproduction during the last two years was above average. Expect this spring's harvest to be similar to last year, and well above the state average as this WMU exhibited the second highest harvest and the highest harvest density last spring. WMU 4D - Spring harvest densities here are consistently below the state average, and have been decreasing slightly since the high in 2001. Summer reproduction over the past two years has been about average for this WMU, so expect the spring harvest also to be similar to last year. WMU 4E - Prospects look excellent in this WMU, given the record summer reproduction over the past two years. This WMU exhibited the third highest harvest and harvest density last spring. There will be an abundance of jakes and two-year-old gobblers in the spring population, and a limited supply of three-year-olds. WMU 5A - Although recruitment during 2005 improved over the previous two years in parts of this WMU, it was still slightly below average. Expect the harvest to be similar to last year. WMU 5B - Recruitment in 2005 was below average, but was slightly above average in 2004. Expect the harvests to be similar to last year. WMU 5C - Even though turkey recruitment in 2004 was low, last year's spring harvest was above average for this unit, and the harvest density was similar to the statewide average. Recruitment in 2005 was slightly higher, so expect the 2006 spring harvest to increase slightly. WMU 5D - Harvests in this urban unit are the lowest in the state. With below-average recruitment over the past two years, expect harvests to decrease. However, there may still be an abundance of the wary three-year-old gobblers. NOTE: Photos to accompany the following article are available from the Game Commission's website (http://www.pgc.state.pa.us) by clicking on "Public Photo Library."
SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission