HARRISBURG, April 7, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are reporting turkey hunters should expect to find exciting opportunities afield as they head out for both the youth and regular spring season openers.
"Wild turkeys continue to be the second most popular game species in Pennsylvania," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "Spring turkey hunting has become so popular that there now are more spring turkey hunters (232,000) than fall turkey hunters (172,000), according to our annual Game-Take Survey. Spring harvests average 41,000 bearded birds, while fall harvests average 24,000 birds of either sex."
The state's one-day youth spring gobbler season is April 23, and will run from one-half hour before sunrise until noon. The general spring gobbler season is April 30-May 31, but hunters will notice new hunting hours based on a change approved by the Board of Game Commissioners.
Under the change, legal hunting hours from the opening day of the spring gobbler season through the third Saturday (April 30-May 14) will retain the current one-half hour before sunrise until noon timeframe. However, the remainder of the season (May 16-31) will be expanded to run all day, from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.
"Although all-day hunting will increase disturbance of nesting hens, the impact will be minimal because all-day hours will only cover the last two weeks of the season," said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. "By then, hunting pressure decreases and most hens are in their later stages of nest incubation, at which point they are less likely to abandon their nest if disturbed.
"We anticipate the many benefits will far outweigh the minor disturbance of hens, particularly the increased hunting opportunity for all hunters, such as youth and adults who attend school or work during the morning who now will have the option of a late afternoon hunt."
Casalena noted that the Game Commission will monitor the afternoon harvest in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge the impact of all-day hunting. Of the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, 34 have all-day hunting for all or part of the season, including Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.
To further expand opportunity, the Board extended the spring gobbler season through May 31. This change was implemented to provide additional recreational hunting without impacting the resource because disturbance of hens would be minimal since most hens would be in their later stages of nest incubation.
Hunters who have purchased a second spring gobbler season license may harvest up to two bearded turkeys, one per day. (See second article about availability of second spring gobbler license.)
In 1968, the first spring gobbler season started on a Monday and ran only six days so biologists could get a pulse on hunter success and the season's impact on the more than 60,000 wild turkeys inhabiting about half of Pennsylvania's forestland at the time. It worked! More hunters were afield on the last day of the season – a Saturday – than the opener, and hunters took a total of 1,636 turkeys in the new season.
Comparatively, in 2010 preliminary harvests show hunters took 44,788 bearded wild turkeys in the spring gobbler seasons (43,201 first harvests and 1,587 second harvests via the special spring gobbler license) from an estimated statewide spring population of about 360,000.
"The status of wild turkeys has improved dramatically over the past 40 years. Nationwide, the 2009 estimated population of eastern wild turkeys was almost 5 million, and is the most abundant of the five subspecies of wild turkeys," said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. She noted that populations of the other subspecies are: Rio Grande, 1.1 million; Merriam's, 336,000; Gould's, 1,100; and Florida, or Osceola, no population estimate is available."
Today, Pennsylvania manages one of the most prolific wild turkey populations in America. It is an accomplishment that is directly related to both previous and ongoing research and management practices, the state's outstanding tapestry of turkey-friendly habitats and the resiliency of Pennsylvania's wild turkeys.
"The Keystone State continues to boast more wild turkey hunters, on average, than any other state (232,000 spring hunters; 172,000 fall hunters) and the highest harvests (41,000 spring; 24,000 fall)", Casalena said. "The preliminary 2010 spring gobbler harvest surpassed 2009 as the fourth highest preliminary harvest on record. It is eight percent above the previous three-year average, and five percent above the previous 10-year average, which included a period when Pennsylvania logged five consecutive harvests of more than 40,000 gobblers. We may approach that level again because the 2011 harvest is expected to be between 40,000 and 42,000 bearded birds."
Recent spring and fall harvests are: 44,639 spring gobblers and 20,934 fall turkeys in 2009; 42,437 spring gobblers and 24,288 fall turkeys in 2008; 37,992 spring gobblers and 25,369 fall turkeys in 2007; and 39,339 spring gobblers and 24,482 fall turkeys in 2006. While the final 2010 harvest estimates won't be available until this summer, the preliminary 2010 spring gobbler harvest was 44,788 and the preliminary fall turkey harvest was 18,000.
"The reason for the optimist outlook is due to the excellent summer reproduction in 2008 and 2009, which has provided for a higher proportion of adult (two- and three-year-old) gobblers in the population," Casalena said. "Reproduction last spring was below average, so that may impact next year's spring harvest."
Although Casalena does not expect the exceptional harvest of last spring, she still expects an excellent, above-average harvest because there still is an abundance of three-year-old gobblers in the population due to excellent spring reproduction in 2008. Also, the plentiful crop of acorns last fall sustained the population well during this past winter, so birds are coming into the spring season in excellent physical condition.
"From our four-year gobbler study that just ended, we learned hunters select older 'long-beards' over juveniles, or 'jakes,'" Casalena said. "These adult birds gobble the most and come in readily to hunters' calls, so they are more prone to being harvested. The older age classes usually are much more wary, and there just aren't many in the population. So, because of the above-average number of two- and three-year-olds in this year's flocks, I believe there will be an excellent spring turkey season for Pennsylvania hunters."
Casalena encourages spring gobbler hunters to spend time scouting, which always plays an important role in hunter success, especially for those experienced older toms.
"Scouting can improve hunters' chances, especially if they line up multiple locations for the spring season," Casalena said. "Prior to the season, however, hunters should consider not using turkey calls to locate gobblers, because it will educate birds and cause them to be less inclined to respond to the early-morning calls of in-season hunters.
"If you're trying to locate a gobbler, it's best to head out at first light to listen for calls. Now is a great time! On a still morning, a gobbler's call often can be detected up to a half-mile away."
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. Every year, hunters are shot in mistake for game while approaching a hunter calling for turkeys, and/or callers are shot in mistake for game by stalking hunters.
"Safety must be the foremost consideration of every turkey hunter," emphasized Keith Snyder, Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education division chief. "If every hunter followed the state's hunting regulations and positively identified his or her target as legal game before squeezing the trigger, we could nearly eliminate hunting-related shooting incidents during the spring gobbler season. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way.
"The Game Commission encourages all spring gobbler hunters to hunt safely and defensively. Consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing at all times – even though it is no longer 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. Be patient. Wait until the bird is fully visible before you squeeze the trigger."
Legal sporting arms are: shotguns plugged to three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined; muzzleloading shotguns; and crossbows and bows with broadhead bolts or arrows of cutting-edge design.
Shot size must 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."
While not required by law, hunters are encouraged to wear fluorescent orange material when moving through the woods, especially during the overlap with groundhog hunting season. Agency officials also recommend that hunters wrap an orange alert band around a nearby tree when stationary, especially when calling and/or using decoys.
Coyotes may be harvested by turkey hunters. However, turkey hunters who have filled their spring turkey tag or tags may not hunt coyotes prior to noon Monday through Saturday during the spring gobbler season, unless they have a furtaker license.
Woodchuck hunting is not allowed during spring gobbler season shooting hours. However, the Board is considering a proposal to allow groundhog hunting during spring gobbler season beginning with the 2012 spring gobbler season. Under the proposal, which must be finalized at the Board's upcoming meeting on April 12 before taking effect in 2012, hunters also would be able to hunt starlings, English sparrows, opossums, skunks, porcupines and weasels during legal hunting hours of the spring gobbler season. The Game Commission staff noted that this change will increase opportunities for hunters pursuing these species without creating unacceptable conflicts with spring gobbler hunters.
Successful spring gobbler hunters must properly tag their turkey and report the harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days, using the postage-paid report card provided with their Digest, or through the Pennsylvania Automated License System. Information to be reported includes the hunter's name and address; date and location of kill (WMU, county, township) time of kill and sporting arm used.
Hunters also are encouraged to report all leg-banded turkeys they take to assist the Game Commission in ongoing research, by calling the toll-free number listed on the leg band. Hunters may keep the band; the agency just needs the information on the band.
Junior hunters who participate in the youth spring gobbler day (April 23) are required to have a junior hunting license. On this one-day hunt, junior license holders 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.
Youths under the age of 12 years may participate in the spring gobbler seasons through the Game Commission's Mentored Youth Hunting Program. They can hunt with a mentor during either the one-day youth or general spring gobbler season. Mentored youths need to obtain a permit ($2.70), and must be accompanied by an adult mentor who is a properly licensed and at least 21 years of age. A field harvest tag is provided with the mentored youth hunting program permit. Mentored youths also are required to report their harvest to the Game Commission either online or by using one of the report card inserts that are part of the Digest.
For additional information about the Game Commission's Mentored Youth Hunting Program, visit the agency's website at www.pgc.state.pa.us, put your cursor over "HUNT/TRAP" in the menu bar under the banner, click on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing then choose "Mentored Youth Hunting Program FAQs" in the "Related Links" section, or consult pages 15 of the Digest.
HUNTERS REMINDED ABOUT SECOND SPRING GOBBLER TAG
Pennsylvania hunters who would like the opportunity to harvest a second spring gobbler can purchase a second spring gobbler tag until the spring gobbler season begins on April 30, according to Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. In fact, thanks to the new Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS), hunters can purchase a second spring gobbler tag at any issuing agent or through the agency's website.
For those purchasing the second spring gobbler tag through the website, it is important to remember it can take up to 10 business days for the license to be received in the mail.
In the past, hunters had from Jan. 1 until April 1 to submit an application for the second spring gobbler tag and wait for the agency to mail the license back to them. The process was made necessary to spread out administrative workload of processing and handling licenses for the fall hunting seasons. However, thanks to PALS, hunters can now purchase the second spring gobbler tag at any issuing agent and walk out of the store with the license in hand.
Roe noted hunters may take one spring gobbler as part of their general hunting privileges. However, the second spring gobbler tag license affords those hunters interested in this additional opportunity to take a second spring gobbler. Hunters may purchase only one second spring gobbler license during a license year, as the season limit remains two spring gobblers, but they may only harvest one bird per day.
"So, if you are looking for that application in your digest to mail in, you won't find it," Roe said. "You can just purchase the special spring gobbler license either through the Game Commission's website or visit your local license issuing agent."
Fees set by state law for the special license are $21.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT UNIT SPRING GOBBLER REPORTS
Mary Jo Casalena, Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist, prepared a report for each Wildlife Management Unit (WMU), to share more detailed information on spring gobbler hunting prospects for 2011.
WMU 1A – The Game Commission shortened the fall season to two weeks in 2005 to help increase the population in this WMU that began declining in 2002, and spring harvests have been increasing steadily since 2008. Spring harvests have consistently been well above the statewide average. Expect the 2011 spring harvest to continue this trend, but to be lower than last year for this WMU due to the below-average reproduction since 2007, which provided a smaller proportion than normal of older gobblers. The key here is to scout prior to the season.
WMA 1B – Expect harvest to be excellent compared to the statewide average. Due to below average summer reproduction during the last two summers the proportion of two- and three-year old males in the population will be lower than normal. This age class of adult gobblers are very vocal and readily come to hunter's calls. Expect harvest to be similar to 2009, which was still above average for this WMU.
WMU 2A – With the shorter fall season here in place since 2007 and above average spring 2010 reproduction, expect an excellent crop of juvenile birds (jakes) in the population, but below average proportion of two- and three-year old gobblers. This translates to less gobbling heard than normal for this WMU, but the population is still abundant so expect the spring harvest to remain well above the statewide average. Scouting for those less vocal birds will be important this year.
WMU 2B – Variable. This WMU is difficult to predict because of the lack of public land. For hunters who secure access to hunting areas, prospects are above the state average for calling in an adult gobbler. The population of juvenile birds (jakes) is below average due to the below average spring 2010 reproduction, which may impact harvests next spring.
WMU 2C – This population, and spring harvests here have been improving since the low in 2006 and should continue to increase this spring due to a combination of the shortened fall season length since 2004, and generally above average reproduction since 2006 providing an abundance of the older age-classed gobblers. These vocal longbeards are what the majority of Pennsylvania turkey hunters seek. Although spring harvest densities (harvests per square mile) remain below the statewide average, expect harvests to be good for this WMU, similar to the past several springs.
WMU 2D – Expect another excellent spring harvest in 2011, which also again will be above the statewide average. Spring reproduction improved in 2009 and 2010, providing a high proportion of juveniles (jakes) and the more sought after and highly vocal two-year old gobblers. The fall turkey season here was shortened in 2009 to help the population increase to its previous high levels, and the strategy appears to be working.
WMU 2E – Prospects are excellent for this WMU, especially for harvesting the highly sought after and vocal two-year-old gobblers. With the two-week fall turkey season since 2004, spring harvests have been improving, and expect this spring's harvest to be similar to the record harvest of 2001.
WMU 2F – The population has increased from that of the last several years due to above-average reproduction since 2008 and the shortened fall season (from three weeks to two weeks) from 2007-2009. Expect spring harvest to continue to increase for the fifth consecutive year. The high proportion of two- and three-year-old males in the population should provide enjoyable calling. Harvest density (harvest per square mile) continues to be below the statewide average. However, there are ample public hunting lands for hunters to scout in this WMU.
WMU 2G – Expect the spring harvest to continue to improve due to the above average population of two-year-old gobblers. The population has rebounded, but spring 2010 reproduction was below average, which may impact next spring's harvest. Spring harvest densities (harvest per square mile) continue to be below the state average. However, hunters continue to enjoy hunting the extensive public lands in this WMU, and should expect an excellent season.
WMU 3A – Below average reproduction in 2009 means less of the vocal two-year olds in the population, but there are an abundance of the older age classes as well as jakes (one-year olds). Therefore, expect overall harvest to continue to increase as it has for the past five years, and to remain above the state average.
WMU 3B – Expect an excellent spring harvest, which also will be well above the statewide average. Due to the record reproduction in 2008, there still should be some of those wary three-year old gobblers in the population. Spring 2009 reproduction was above average, so there also are plenty of the most sought after two-year old gobblers. This could be a record harvest for the WMU.
WMU 3C – Although the 2011 spring harvest is expected to be below the record harvests of the last two years, expect the spring harvest to remain above average for this WMU and well above the state average. There remains higher than average proportions of three-year and older gobblers, and these present the most challenging age classes to harvest, so pre-season scouting will improve hunters' opportunities this spring.
WMU 3D – Expect a harvest similar to last year, which was average for this WMU, and above the statewide average. Although there are fewer two-year old gobblers in the population due to below average spring 2009 reproduction, the above average proportion of three-year old gobblers and jakes (one-year olds) will provide an enjoyable spring season.
WMU 4A – Hunters in this WMU have been enjoying record harvests during the last three springs and expect nearly the same in 2011. Although spring 2010 turkey reproduction was below average (only the first time in the last four years), there are above average populations of two- and three-year old gobblers. The harvest here should be similar to the statewide average. The shortened fall season since 2004 most likely helped this population rebound.
WMU 4B – Spring harvests had been increasing since the fall season was shortened in 2004 with hunters enjoying record harvests during many of these years. However, due to below average spring reproduction during the last three years expect the spring harvest to decrease this year to slightly below average, as well as slightly below the statewide average.
WMU 4C – Expect another record, or nearly record harvest in 4C for 2011 due to the nearly record spring 2009 reproduction and above average reproduction in 2008 and 2010. With the abundance of adult gobblers in the population, gobbling should be at a record high, satisfying many hunters. This WMU continues to maintain one of the highest spring harvest densities in the state.
WMU 4D – Spring harvests have been steadily increasing since 2006 to record levels during the last two years. Although this year's spring harvest is not expected to reach another record (due to below average spring reproduction during the last two years), expect the harvest to be another above average year and above the statewide average. With the record reproduction in 2008, hunters who scout preseason should have good luck locating those wary three-year old gobblers.
WMU 4E – Like WMU 4C, this continues to be a turkey hotspot, boasting the highest spring harvest density (harvest per square mile) in the state for the past three years. Also, summer turkey sightings show record numbers of the most sought after two- and three- year-old gobblers. Expect this year's harvest to be similar, if not better than last year's record harvest.
WMU 5A – Expect the harvest to continue to be above average for this WMU, although far below the statewide average. The seven years of closed fall turkey seasons aided in this population's increase throughout the WMU, not just in the forested mountain portions. Even though the 2009 spring reproduction was below average, producing a below average population of the vocal two-year old gobblers, the above-average reproduction in 2008 and 2010 will provide an abundance of three-year old gobblers and one-year old jakes this spring.
WMU 5B – The data set for this WMU is minimal because spring harvests and summer turkey sightings are some of the lowest in the state. However, hunters can expect an above average harvest in 5B due to the above average spring 2009 reproduction providing an abundance of the vocal two-year old gobblers in parts of this WMU.
WMU 5C – Spring reproduction in 2008 and 2009 was below average in much of this WMU, providing below average proportions of two- and three-year gobblers, which typically comprise the majority of the harvest. Therefore, expect a below average spring harvest for this WMU and below average compared to the state. The fall season was closed in 2010 to help the population increase.
WMU 5D – Data set is too small to predict harvest. The fall season was closed in 2010 to help the population increase.
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission