The Pennsylvania Game Commission is expecting hunters to encounter a sizeable 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 2010-11 Digest, as date structures have changed from previous years.
Season lengths vary in the state's Wildlife Management Units for fall turkey hunting.
Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist, said the fall turkey population is excellent, but some hunters will face the challenge of locating flocks if they don't do their pre-season scouting. The widespread abundance of acorns this year likely will keep turkeys and flocks dispersed throughout the woods, making them harder to locate and hunt. However, an above-average turkey population and an open season during the Thanksgiving holiday should improve hunter opportunities. The Thanksgiving holiday season (November 25-27) in most WMUs is designed to provide additional hunting opportunities for youth 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 have a three-day (Nov. 16-18) 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 re-opening 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 above average, at about 360,000 birds, rebounding from its low, in 2005, of 272,000, so there's a bountiful population of turkeys in Penn's Woods," Casalena said. "The state's wild turkey population is above the five-year-average thanks to good reproduction the past three springs and 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 is what makes turkey hunting simultaneously tricky and enjoyable. This challenge is revealed with a look at hunter success rates, which ranged from 1216 percent during the last five years.
"Overall, I expect turkey hunters to enjoy success rates similar to last year when 13 percent of fall turkey hunters harvested turkeys because of similar turkey reproductive success and abundant mast crops. But success this fall will probably be lower than the 16 percent success rates of 2007 and 2008, when the above-average reproduction coupled with below average acorn crops translated to large flocks that were relatively easy to find," Casalena said. "Hunter success has been as high as 21 percent in 2001, which was a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as four percent in 1979."
Last fall's overall turkey harvest was below-average, 20,934, which is 20 percent less than the previous five-year average of 26,082. Fall harvests have been declining steadily for the last eight years, mainly due to a decrease in the number of fall turkey hunters and shorter fall season lengths to protect from overharvest. To view maps of turkey harvest by WMU, go to the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), put your cursor over "Hunt/Trap," then click on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing, and select "Harvest Data and Maps" in the "Big Game" section.
The preliminary spring 2010 harvest, calculated from hunter report cards, was about 43,200, which is three percent above last year, but a sizeable 15 percent above the previous five-year preliminary average of 37,700. Additionally, during the spring season, hunters harvested about 1,980 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 three 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 and the National Wild Turkey Federation. 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 our funding sponsors."
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.