OUTDOORS: Fall turkey population sizable
HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Game Commission is expecting hunters to encounter a sizable wild turkey population when they head afield for the fall turkey season. However, hunters will need to carefully review the fall turkey season dates, which are outlined on page 35 of the 2011-12 Digest, as date structures have changed from previous years.
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. 29-Nov. 12, and Nov. 24-26; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) -- Oct. 29-Nov. 18, and Nov. 24-26; WMUs 2C, 2D, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D -- Oct. 29-Nov. 12, and Nov. 24-26; WMUs 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C and 4E -- Oct. 29-Nov. 18, and Nov. 24-26; WMU 5A - Nov. 1-3; and WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D -- Closed to fall hunting.
Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist, said the fall turkey population is excellent. Even though early-spring weather was cool and wet, it moderated quickly enough for most hens to successfully hatch broods. Fall flock sizes are slightly smaller than average, but there are plenty of flocks afield. The challenge hunters face will be to locate the turkey's food source due to the lack of a good acorn crop in many areas. Turkeys will seek out and concentrate in areas where food is available. Hunters who find these food sources also will find the flocks.
The second year of an open season during the Thanksgiving holiday also should improve hunter opportunities. This Thanksgiving holiday season, which will be held Nov. 24-26 in most WMUs, is designed to provide additional hunting opportunities for youths and families when schools and many businesses are closed and, hopefully, to reverse the declining trend in fall turkey hunters.
Also, hunters in WMU 5A again have a three-day (Nov. 1-3) season after seven years of a closed fall season that was implemented to allow the population to increase. The success in managing the WMU 5A turkey population is shown in reopening the traditional fall turkey hunt. The conservative three-day season is structured to provide recreation without reversing the now expanding population.
"The statewide turkey population this past spring prior to nesting was similar to the 10-year average, about 340,000 birds, and a 25 percent increase from its low, in 2005, of 272,000, so there's a bountiful population of turkeys in Penn's Woods," Casalena said. "This resurgence is due to several years of average to above-average reproduction coupled with generally conservative fall season lengths, which minimizes 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 that is what makes turkey hunting simultaneously tricky and enjoyable. This challenge is revealed with a look at hunter success rates, which ranged from 12 to 16 percent during the last five years.
"Overall, I expect turkey hunters to enjoy higher success rates than last year when only 10 percent of fall turkey hunters harvested turkeys because of abundant mast crops, which dispersed flocks making them difficult to locate. Success this fall is expected to be much higher, at about 15 percent, similar to the previous five-year average," Casalena said. "Hunter success has been as high as 21 percent in 2001, which was a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as 4 percent in 1979."
Last fall's overall turkey harvest was below-average, 15,884, which is 34 percent less than the previous five-year average of 24,049. Fall harvests have been declining steadily for the last nine years, mainly due to a decrease in the number of fall turkey hunters and shorter fall season lengths. To view maps of turkey harvest by WMU, go to the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us).
The preliminary spring 2011 harvest, calculated from hunter report cards, was about 41,000, which is 5 percent below last year, but slightly higher than the previous five-year preliminary average of 40,000. Additionally, during the spring season, hunters harvested about 2,045 gobblers using the second tag, or "special turkey license." Even though spring harvests are down from the record 49,200 of 2001, spring harvests have been back above 40,000 bearded turkeys for the last four years, exceeding most other states in the nation.
"Please remember to report any leg-banded and/or radio-transmittered turkeys harvested or found," Casalena said. "Leg bands and transmitters are stamped with a toll-free number to call, and provide important information for the research project being conducted in partnership with the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State University, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Pennsylvania Chapter of NWTF. These turkeys are legal to harvest, and the information provided will help determine turkey survival and harvest rates. Rewards for reporting marked turkeys are made possible by donations from the national and state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and a portion of the state's share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program."
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.
Legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
For information, see Page 14 of the 2011-12 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, see pages 68-69 of the 2011-12 Digest, as the requirements differ depending on the Wildlife Management Unit.