SPRING TURKEY SEASON ALMOST HERE
Some go to the woods to wrap themselves in tranquility, surrounded by relative quiet if not outright silence. Spring turkey hunters aren’t necessarily among them.
Matching wits with a gobbler is often most exciting when things are downright rowdy.
That’s why there’s much excitement attached to this coming season, which begins on Saturday, April 22 with a half-day hunt for junior and youth mentored hunters, then runs from Saturday, April 29 to Tuesday, May 30 for everyone. It has the potential to be noisier than usual, given the abundance of 2-year-old birds – the most vocal and likely to engage in back-and-forth chatter with hunters.
The roots of that go back to 2021.
Pennsylvania’s summer turkey reproduction was excellent that year. The Game Commission’s summer turkey sighting survey, conducted statewide with the help of the public, revealed 3.1 poults – or young turkeys – per hen, on average. That was the highest in recent years.
Those males from 2021 are now out in the woods ready to strut their stuff, literally, in the competition to mate.
“There’s nothing more exciting than sitting in the woods in springtime and calling to a gobbler that answers with his emphatic gobble,” said Mary Jo Casalena, the Game Commission’s turkey biologist. “And with all those 2-year-old gobblers available, there’s great reason for optimism heading into the 2023 spring gobbler season. Hunters who do their homework ahead of time could experience some thrilling hunting.”
There are other gobblers out there, too, of course. That includes wily, mature birds 3 years old and older, perhaps the toughest to fool, Casalena said. With poult production in 2022 just as good as the year before, jakes, or 1-year-old gobblers, abound, as well.
None of that guarantees success. About 172,000 people, on average, hunt spring turkeys in Pennsylvania every year. Some bag a bird, others won’t.
It’s work done before the season that often separates the two groups.
Casalena said turkey abundance varies across the state and preseason scouting to locate these vocal toms could be the key to your hunt. Spring turkey hunters who go looking for birds long before the time to call them arrives often are the successful ones. That scouting, which can be done at any time of day, but is best in early morning, can reveal not only the presence of turkeys in general, but offer clues on the age structure of those local flocks. Noisier birds tend to be those more callable to the gun.
“Local turkey population trends exhibit a lot of short-term variability,” Casalena said. “If you don’t see or hear many turkeys where you’re scouting, try a different area. Where you heard birds last year isn’t necessarily where you’ll hear them this year.”
Successful hunters are often simply persistent ones, she added.
“Halfway through the season, or toward the end, return to areas you heard turkeys before the season,” she added. “Chances are some are still there. And stay all morning or all day, as a gobbler could come in quietly.
“So long as you’re in the woods, you’ve got a chance. And who doesn’t like more time in the turkey woods anyway?”
Hours, licensing and regulations
All participants of the youth gobbler hunt must by law be accompanied by adults. Hunting hours during the youth hunt end at noon.
As for the regular season, hunting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at noon for the first two weeks of the statewide season (April 29 through May 13). Hunters are asked to be out of the woods by 1 p.m. then. This is to minimize disturbance of nesting hens.
From May 15 through May 30, 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.
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.
Only bearded birds may be harvested during the spring season. Hunters should refrain from knowingly harvesting bearded hens because they do nest and raise broods.
There is no requirement for hunters to wear fluorescent orange during the spring turkey season, though wearing it is recommended 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 are unsafe, and therefore are unlawful to use in Pennsylvania.
Hunters may pursue spring gobblers only by calling birds. It is unlawful, as well as unsafe, to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds. All hunters are to wait and properly identify their targets 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.
For safety, turkey hunters should not wear clothing that contains black, like the color found on a turkey’s body, or red, white or blue, like those on a turkey’s head.
Pennsylvania hunters may purchase a license to harvest a second gobbler in the spring season, with a limit of one gobbler harvested per day. Sales of this license end April 28, one day before the regular statewide season begins.
The $21.97 license ($41.97 for nonresidents) may be purchased online but cannot be printed at home, so purchasing it directly from an issuing agent might be the best option because licenses bought online are sent through the mail. The same goes for general hunting licenses.
For more information on spring turkey hunting rules and regulations, pertaining to the youth or regular hunts, check the 2022-23 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is provided with a hunting license and is available online at www.pgc.pa.gov.
Successful turkey hunters must immediately tag their bird before moving it from the harvest site and are required by law to report the harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days. Those reports are key to managing turkeys, as they allow the Game Commission to estimate harvest and population trends.
Hunters can report turkeys in three ways: online by visiting www.pgc.pa.gov and clicking the “Report a Harvest” button near the top of the home page, or going directly to HuntFishPA.gov; by calling 1-800-838-4431; or by filling out and mailing the harvest report card in the digest hunters get when they buy a license.
Have your harvest tag in front of you when reporting to be sure you can provide all the requested information.
The public is also asked to report any turkeys harvested or found with leg bands or radio transmitters. Not only does the reporter learn when and approximately where the bird was trapped, but the information received on those birds – which are legal to take – helps estimate spring harvest rate and annual survival rate by Wildlife Management Unit, Casalena said. Those are critical pieces of data for the state’s turkey population model. What’s more, the radioed turkeys are part of ongoing research studies.
Leg bands feature a toll-free number or email address for reporting. New this year is a website address for people to immediately report and receive the information of when and where the bird was banded.
Learn more about turkey hunting
Hunting turkeys is challenging, even for veterans of the sport. It can seem especially confounding to newcomers.
But not to fear, help is available.
Hunters experienced and otherwise are encouraged to visit the Game Commission’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/@PAGameCommissionHDQTRS/videos and search “turkey hunting.” That brings up a series of how-to videos covering everything from how to hunt, what gear to use and shot placement to how to work calls, how to be comfortable in the woods and safety.
Information on the wild turkey’s near disappearance and ultimate rebound in Pennsylvania, as well as some general life history information, is available at https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Education/WildlifeNotesIndex/Pages/WildTurkey.aspx.
Hunters should be aware of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus, which turns up occasionally in turkeys in Pennsylvania.
HPAI is a disease that can infect domestic and wild birds. To date, there has been one isolated case of HPAI infection in a wild turkey in Pennsylvania, from last September. HPAI can also infect humans, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it primarily an animal health issue that poses low risk to the health of the general public. No human cases related to this avian influenza virus have been detected or reported in the United States.
Still, hunters should take some common-sense steps to protect themselves. They include:
· Harvest only healthy-looking birds.
· Wear gloves when handling any wild birds and change gloves and disinfect hands between handling live birds.
· Change clothing as needed, especially if visibly soiled or if any birds handled made contact with your clothing.
· Change clothing, including footwear, and wash hands well before coming in contact with any pet birds or domestic poultry.
For more information visit https://www.vet.upenn.edu/research/centers-laboratories/research-initiatives/wildlife-futures-program/resources/fact-sheets/fact-sheet-detail/avian-influenza2.