Fall turkey season begins in most parts of state

Pennsylvania’s wild turkey season began Saturday in most parts of the state, but hunters are reminded that season lengths vary by Wildlife Management Unit, and fall-turkey hunting is closed in some areas.

Overall, the season structure and season lengths in each Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) is nearly identical to 2017.

The seasons are as follows: WMU 1B – Oct. 27-Nov. 3; WMU 2B (Shotgun and archery gear only) -Oct. 27-Nov. 16 and Nov. 22-24; WMUs 1A, 2A (Shotgun and archery gear only in Allegheny County), 4A and 4B, – Oct. 27-Nov. 3 and Nov. 22-24; WMUs 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E – Oct. 27-Nov. 10 and Nov. 22-24; WMU 2C – Oct. 27-Nov. 16 and Nov. 22-24; WMU 5A – Nov. 1-3; WMU 5B – Oct. 30-Nov. 1; WMUs 5C and 5D -Closed to fall turkey hunting.

Warren County lies in WMU’s 1B and 2F.

The three-day, Tuesday-through-Thursday season in WMU 5B marks the second straight year the WMU has been opened to fall-turkey hunting, a result of sufficient rebound in population trends, according to Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena.

The three-day Thursday-through-Saturday season remains intact in WMU 5A to provide greater opportunity for hunters whose schedules do not allow for a weekday hunt.

Unlike the spring turkey season, in which hunters are permitted to harvest only bearded birds, any turkey can be harvested in the fall season. And, since research shows that overharvesting hen turkeys can impact the population, fall season lengths are adjusted by WMU based on available population data.

“Young male turkeys, also known as jakes, are difficult to distinguish from females,” Casalena said. “Our research shows females, both juvenile and adult, comprise a larger portion of the fall harvest than males, and our management and research also have shown that we shouldn’t overharvest females, so we shorten the fall season length when turkey populations decline to allow them to rebound.”

Fall turkey forecast

Last year’s fall harvest of 9,266 was down from 10,844 in 2016 and was 37 percent below the previous three-year average of 14,718, likely due to a combination of a decrease in fall hunting participation, possibly due to our aging hunter population, or hunters switching to archery deer and bear hunting, shorter fall season lengths in many WMUs, below average turkey reproduction (translating to smaller sized turkey flocks) and abundant acorn crops in much of the state, which tended to scatter flocks making them more difficult to locate, Casalena said. See the table below for the 2016 and 2017 harvests by WMU.

“Turkey reproduction this summer varied across the state with above average recruitment in some Wildlife Management Units, but below average in neighboring WMUs, so it’s best to get out and see for yourself what the reproduction was like in your area,” Casalena said.

Casalena said acorn, beech and cherry production also varied across the state, with most areas having average to below-average hard mast production. However, a lack of these food items tends to keep flocks congregated where the food exists and, therefore easier for hunters to find, thus increasing fall turkey harvest, she said. Keep in mind you may be searching for miles in the big woods before locating a flock, so a hunting dog is very helpful for fall turkey and may increase hunter success. Hunters who enjoy hunting other species with a dog know how rewarding it is to share the experience and excitement with their dog, and the same is true for fall turkey hunting.

Casalena said the fall season is a great time to introduce a novice turkey hunter to the sport. “It’s not only a great time to be in the woods, but novice turkey callers can be just as successful as a pro when mimicking a lost turkey poult,” she said. “And once a flock is located, I remind hunters that turkeys are tipped off more by movement and a hunter’s outline than fluorescent orange.”

The Thanksgiving three-day season provides additional opportunities for participation and is also a very successful season with about 20 percent of the harvest during those three days.

Last year’s fall hunter success rate of 9 percent was similar to the previous four-year average. Fall hunter success varies considerably depending on summer reproduction, food availability, weather during the season, and hunter participation. Hunter success was as high as 21 percent in 2001, a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as 4 percent in 1979.

Hopefully, hunter success isn’t measured only by whether a turkey is harvested. Enjoying time afield with family, friends, a hunting dog, and/or mentoring a hunter also qualifies a hunt as successful.

Successful hunters are reminded reporting your turkey harvest is mandatory. There are three options: online at www.pgc.pa.gov (go to Report a Harvest on the Home Screen); by phone, toll-free, at 1-855-PAHUNT1 or 1-855-724-8681; or by mail using the postage-paid harvest report card found with the Pocket Guide that comes with each hunting license, or print a report card from the website, https://www.pgc.pa.gov/HuntTrap/Pages/Report-a-Harvest.aspx, and mail it.

Spring harvest

Casalena said the 2018 spring-season harvests totaled 40,303 (2,048 youth season including mentored youth harvest, 571 mentored hunters during the regular season, 33,622 adults and licensed youth during the regular season, and 4,062 second harvests), which was 6 percent above 2017 (38,101) and 4 percent above the previous long-term average (38,671). Hunter success for the first bird, 21 percent, ties that of 2001 for the highest on record. The previous long-term average was 16 percent.

Pennsylvania hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1995, exceeding most other states in the nation. See the table below for harvests by Wildlife Management Unit (WMU).

Leg-banded turkeys

Casalena also reminds hunters to report any leg-banded turkeys they harvest or find.

Leg bands are stamped with a toll-free number to call. Although the agency’s research project is completed, and rewards are no longer valid, the information provided is still beneficial and hunters can learn the history of the bird.

Fluorescent orange requirements

In most parts of the state, hunters participating in the fall turkey season are required, while moving, to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined. Orange must be visible from 360 degrees.

Hunters may remove their orange once in a stationary location, providing that a minimum of 100 square inches of fluorescent orange is posted within 15 feet of the location and is visible from 360 degrees.

In WMU 2B, which is open to shotgun and archery hunting only during the fall turkey season, turkey hunters, while moving, must wear a hat containing at least 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material, visible from 360 degrees. While fluorescent orange is not required at stationary locations in WMU 2B, it is strongly recommended.

Archery hunters who are hunting either deer or bear during the overlap with fall turkey season also must wear a fluorescent orange hat at all times when moving. The hat must contain at least 100 square inches of solid, fluorescent orange, visible from 360 degrees, and may be removed once in a stationary location.

Since fluorescent orange requirements have been in place for the fall-turkey season, fall turkey hunting shooting incidents have decreased from 38, three of them fatal, in 1990 (at a rate of 16.2 incidents per 100,000 hunters), to none in 2012 and 2016, and one nonfatal each year from 2013-2015 and 2017 (at an average incident rate of 0.8 incidents per 100,000 hunters). Causes, since 2012 have been either victims, shot in mistake for game, or in the line of fire. Positively identifying the target, and what is beyond, are essential for a safe season.

Mentored Hunters

Pennsylvania’s fall turkey season is among those open to Mentored Youth and Mentored Adult hunters. During the fall turkey season, a mentor may transfer his or her fall turkey tag to a Mentored Youth or Mentored Adult hunter.

The Mentored Youth Hunting Program sets out to introduce those under the age of 12 to hunting. Mentored Youth must obtain a $2.90 permit and must be accompanied at all times by a licensed mentor 21 years or older.

The Mentored Adult Hunting Program seeks to remove obstacles for adults who have an interest in hunting and the opportunity to go hunting with a licensed mentor. The cost of a resident Mentored Adult permit is $20.90 – the same as the cost of a resident hunting license.

Mentored Youth and Mentored Adults can participate in only approved hunting seasons, and the seasons that have been approved for Mentored Youth are different from those for Mentored Adults. Different sets of regulations apply to Mentored Youth and Mentored Adults, as well.