HARRISBURG, PA – Hunters across the Keystone State are anxiously awaiting the approach of spring turkey season. If weather cooperates, they won’t be disappointed.
Even though widespread rain and colder-than-normal temperatures discouraged some turkey hunters last spring, those who ventured afield set the highest hunter success rate in years. The estimated 174,500 spring turkey hunters afield in 2018 pales in comparison to the 10-year average of 219,650. But they still took 40,303 turkeys, which is up from 38,101 in 2017.
The 2019 youth spring turkey season opens for properly licensed junior hunters Saturday, April 20. A week later, on April 27, all hunters can head into Penn’s Woods in pursuit of spring gobblers. Season closes May 31.
The forecast for the coming season is a statewide turkey population numbering between 215,000 to 225,000 birds, said Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wild turkey biologist.
“Low fall harvests in recent years have positioned Pennsylvania for an exceptional spring turkey season,” Casalena explained. “That fewer hunters have been heading afield in recent years just sweetens the pot.”
Pennsylvania turkeys are coming off their second consecutive rainy spring. Extensive rainfall and well below-average temperatures hampered poult survival in some areas of the state. Light fall harvests and recent mild winters have helped balance the population, though.
“Turkeys and turkey hunters are overdue for a more seasonable spring,” Casalena noted. “Let’s hope weather conditions are more agreeable in coming weeks and more hunters have the time find and take gobblers.”
The turkey population peaked at 280,000 in 2001 after years of intensive management. Since then populations have declined and now fluctuate annually based upon summer recruitment. But the population also is influenced substantially by habitat quality, increasingly severe weather events, predation and fall 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.
A record 20,925 hunters bought second gobbler tags in 2018. Their success rate was a best-ever 65 percent. But second turkeys accounted for only 10 percent of the overall spring harvest.
Hunters should note the second spring gobbler license only is on sale prior to the start of the season. Once April 27 rolls around, it’s too late to purchase one.
“If you haven’t hunted spring turkeys in a while, this is the season to get back in the game,” Casalena noted. Likewise, if last season left a bad taste in your mouth, this isn’t the season to sit on the sidelines. “This season’s potential, courtesy of an incredible gobbler carryover, is the kind that comes around only once in a great while. Don’t miss it.”
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 2018-19 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 27 through May 11). 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 13 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 the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, available on the agency’s website.
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 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 26 – 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. The preferred reporting methods are for successful hunters to 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, or to report by telephone at 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681). Alternately, hunters can fill out and mail in the harvest report cards given to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses.
In all cases, it is helpful when reporting to have your license in front of 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 2019 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 2019 Pennsylvania harvests by email to email@example.com. 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 20 through Monday, June 3, with the winners selected shortly thereafter.
Wild Turkey Management Plan
The newly enacted plan to guide Pennsylvania’s wild turkey management through 2027 is available to view at the Game Commission’s website.
The new plan builds upon the information gained during the two previous plans, and was developed through input from Game Commission staff, conservation organizations and the public. The strategic goal remains the same – to provide optimum wild turkey populations in suitable habitats throughout Pennsylvania for hunting and viewing opportunities by current and future.
Pennsylvania consistently leads the country in combined spring and fall turkey harvests, as well as number of turkey hunters. The plan’s objectives cover all aspects of management and research: population, habitat, information/education, safety, law enforcement, and cooperative partnerships.
A major strategy with this plan is to develop more robust turkey population dynamics models for each Wildlife Management Unit to be integrated into a more-structured decision process for setting fall turkey season lengths. High-quality habitat dispersed strategically across the landscape is vital for maintaining viable populations, and the habitat suitability model will be updated and revised to address habitat needs more fully.
The plan is posted on the Wild Turkey page, found under the Hunting tab, at the Game Commission’s website.