HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Game Commission is expecting hunters to encounter a sizeable wild turkey population when they head afield for the opening day of wild turkey season on Oct. 31. And, because of the abundant acorn crop this year, finding birds this fall may be more difficult than it was last year.
"Wild turkey hunting is one of Pennsylvania's premiere outdoor experiences," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "The satisfaction derived from calling in and taking a game bird that can see you twitch at 50 yards is a fulfillment that veteran hunters never tire of and new turkey hunters can't wait to experience.
"The good news for this fall is that we believe there are great opportunities for wild turkey hunters throughout the state. But, as always, pre-season scouting and planning will be important to your hunting success."
Season lengths vary in the state's Wildlife Management Units for fall turkey hunting: WMUs 1A, 1B and 2A (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) - Oct. 31-Nov. 14; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) - Oct. 31-Nov. 21; WMUs 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 4A and 4B - Oct. 31-Nov. 14; WMUs 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E - Oct. 31-Nov. 21; WMUs 5A and 5B - closed to fall hunting; and WMUs 5C and 5D (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) - Oct. 31-Nov. 4. (NOTE: On page 52 of the 2009-10 Digest, the fall turkey season dates for WMU 2F are incorrect. The correct dates are listed above: Oct. 31-Nov. 14.)
Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist, said fall turkey hunters will face two challenges, but nothing that a little pre-season scouting can't remedy. Those challenges are: smaller flocks of young turkeys in the woods caused by a cool, wet spring that decreased nesting success, which translates to a lower than average population of young turkeys; and an abundant crop of acorns, mostly red oak group, though white oaks tend to be scarce in many areas, which research has shown tends to disperse turkeys and flocks throughout the woods, making them harder to locate and hunt.
"Fortunately, the turkey population in the spring prior to nesting was above average, at about 345,000 birds, rebounding during the past three years from its low, in 2006, of 291,000, so there remains an above-average population of turkeys in Penn's Woods," Casalena said. "The state's wild turkey population is above the 10-year-average thanks to good reproduction the past two springs and generally conservative fall season lengths, which prevents the overharvest of hens."
Locating a flock is only part of the hunt, Casalena said. Properly setting up and bringing a turkey within range is another challenge, and is what makes turkey hunting simultaneously tricky and enjoyable.
"Overall, I anticipate turkey hunters to enjoy success rates only slightly lower than last year, when 16 percent of fall turkey hunters harvested turkeys, a great improvement from the 12 percent success rate over the previous three years. Hunter success has been as high as 21 percent (2001, a year with excellent recruitment), and as low as 4 percent (1979). The final 2008 fall harvest was 24,288, similar to the previous several years."
The preliminary spring 2009 harvest, calculated from hunter report cards, was about 41,400, which is similar to last year. Additionally, during the spring season, hunters harvested about 1,880 gobblers using the second tag, or "special turkey licenses." Even though spring harvests are down from the record 49,200, in 2001, Pennsylvania hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1995, exceeding most other states in the nation.
"Turkey population management is centered on regulating the fall either-sex season," Casalena said. "Our goal is to maximize recreational opportunity without adversely affecting populations. According to guidelines outlined in our Turkey Management Plan, we increase fall season lengths when turkey populations are increasing, but must reduce season lengths when populations are declining."
Casalena noted that fall turkey seasons were changed in three WMUs: WMU 2D was shortened to two weeks (Oct. 31 - Nov. 14) to help the population rebound to former abundance levels; WMUs 5C and 5D were shortened to 4 days (Oct. 31 - Nov. 4). Also, WMU 5A remains closed to fall turkey hunting for the seventh year to help restore the turkey population there.
"Research showed that the fall harvest was one factor adversely impacting that turkey population," Casalena said. "Reopening the fall season in WMU 5A is our goal, and the turkey population has shown improvement. The fall season also remains closed in WMU 5B, where we are continuing to allow the population to grow after three years (2001-2003) of transferring wild turkeys into parts of the WMU that had sufficient habitat, but no turkeys. Citizens now regularly see turkey populations where they had been absent for close to 70 years.
"Also, please remember to report any leg-banded turkeys harvested. Leg bands are stamped with a toll-free number to call, and provide important information for the joint research project being conducted in partnership with other states and the National Wild Turkey Federation."
In both spring and fall turkey seasons, it is unlawful to use drives to hunt turkeys. Hunters may take only one turkey in the fall season.
Shot size is limited to No. 4 lead, bismuth-tin, tungsten-iron or No. 2 steel. Turkey hunters also are required to tag their bird before moving it and to report their harvest within 10 days of taking a turkey. (For more information on the new online harvest reporting system, please see the fourth article in this news release titled TURKEY HUNTERS ENCOURAGED TO REPORT HARVEST ONLINE).
Legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. For more information, please see page 12 of the 2009-10 Digest for the legal hunting hours table. Also, it is lawful to use a dog to pursue, chase, scatter and track wild turkeys during the fall wild turkey season. Hunters are prohibited from using dogs to hunt any other big game animal, including spring gobbler. For minimum orange requirements, please see page 70 of the 2009-10 Digest, as the requirements differ depending on the Wildlife Management Unit.
LOCAL WILD TURKEY INFORMATION ALSO AVAILABLE ONLINE
Each year, Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers and foresters develop game forecasts for the areas they work to share with interested hunters and trappers. Observations on local wild turkey populations are always a part of this annual offering.
The Game Commission's "Field Officer Forecasts" can be found in the center of the agency's homepage (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Developed to share field officer perspectives and observations on game and furbearer trends in their respective districts and to help hunters and trappers get closer to the action afield, this information helped many sportsmen and sportswomen have more enjoyable days afield last year.
"Our field personnel spend a tremendous amount of time afield, often in the areas hunters and trappers are most interested in learning more about," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "Their observations have value to hunters and trappers, so in 2006 we set up a cyber-clearinghouse where anyone who enjoys hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania - resident or nonresident - can access game and furbearer forecasts from every county of the state. It's the detailed field reporting hunters and trappers seek out, and part of our longstanding commitment to be the first and best source of hunting and trapping information in the Commonwealth."
Roe noted the Game Commission divides the state's 67 counties into six regions, and then each region is divided into WCO districts comprised of about 300 square miles each. There are 136 WCO districts statewide. Each of the 29 LMGS groups is comprised of a number of counties or portions of counties within each region, and seeks to equally distribute the amount of State Game Lands and public access lands within the region. The number of foresters ranges per region, from four to nine.
TURKEY HUNTERS URGED TO BE ATTENTIVE, SAFE
Every fall, hunters head into Pennsylvania's forests and woodlots in pursuit of wild turkeys. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, it's one of autumn's greatest competitions as hunters try to call in their quarries. It's also a time when hunters really need to be in tune with their surroundings.
"Staying alert and making sound shooting decisions will go a long way toward ensuring your safety and the safety of others in turkey season this fall," said Keith Snyder, Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education Division chief. "So, too, will always handling your sporting arm in a safe and responsible way.
"The Game Commission has worked with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the agency's cadre of volunteer hunter-trapper education instructors over the past decade to reverse what was a growing number of turkey hunting-related shooting incidents. Today, Pennsylvania's woods are safer for turkey hunters. But hunters must remain vigilant. Paying attention and hunting safely ensure that your trip afield remains an enjoyable one."
Hunters are urged to follow the SMART rules for firearms safety that is reinforced in the agency's Hunter-Trapper Education Program. Being SMART with firearms will ensure you hunt safely and responsibly.
The acronym SMART reinforces the following rules:
? Safe Direction: Keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction;
? Make Sure: Positively identify your target;
? Always Check: Know what's beyond your target before shooting;
? Respect Firearms: Treat all firearms as if they were loaded; and
? Trigger Caution: Don't touch the trigger until you're ready to shoot.
Turkey hunters should always hunt defensively, assuming every movement or sound they hear is another hunter until they can be absolutely certain that it isn't. If you see another hunter approaching your calling location, don't move or wave to get their attention. Yell, "Stop!" to verbally announce your presence.
Protect your back by sitting at the base of a large tree or rock. Make sure you positively identify your target as a turkey before you disengage the safety of your sporting arm.
Don't shoot at movement or sounds you think might be a turkey. Let the turkeys come to you and watch their approach carefully.
In addition, while wearing orange is required for all fall turkey hunters while moving, hunters should consider wearing or posting orange at all times. For orange requirements, please see page 70 of the 2009-10 Digest.
TURKEY HUNTERS ENCOURAGED TO REPORT HARVEST ONLINE
Those participating in the state's fall turkey season are encouraged to report their harvests through the Pennsylvania Game Commission's new online system.
To report a turkey harvest online, go to the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on the blue box with rotating script in the upper right-hand corner of the website, select "Harvest Reporting," then click on the "Start Here" button at the bottom of the page, choose the method of validating license information, and click on the checkbox for the harvest tag being reported. A series of options will appear for a hunter to report a harvest. After filling in the harvest information, click on the "Continue" button to review the report and then hit the "Submit" button to complete the report. Failing to hit the "Submit" button will result in a harvest report not being completed. Responses to all harvest questions are required.
Roe noted that hunters still have the option to file harvest report postcards, which are included as tear-out sheets in the annual digest they received when they purchased their licenses.
"We certainly are encouraging hunters to use the online reporting system, which will ensure that their harvest is recorded and save the Game Commission money on postage," Roe said. "Either way, the more important point is that all hunters who harvest a turkey report it to the agency."
HUNTERS REMINDED THAT LICENSES STILL MUST BE DISPLAYED
The omission of a regulation that has been in place for decades in this year's digest has caused some hunters and trappers to wonder whether they still are required to display their licenses in the middle of the back as has been done for many, many years. "Yes, it still needs to be displayed," Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe answered.
Roe noted that the Game Commission is supporting House Bill 460, sponsored by Rep. Neil Goodman (D-Schuylkill), which proposes to remove the statutory requirement that licenses be displayed, and thereby allow hunters to place their hunting license in their wallet with other ID.
When the agency was drafting the digest this spring, Roe said it was believed that the HB 460 would be enacted before the start of the license year on July 1. So, to avoid potentially conflicting information, a decision was made to modify the wording about the requirement that licenses must be displayed.
"License buyers do need to remember that the digest is not the 'Game & Wildlife Code' or its attendant regulations, and should not be considered final on legal interpretation," Roe said. "In printing the digest, the agency simply summarizes the more important and frequently misunderstood hunting and trapping regulations."
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission