PENNSYLVANIA HUNTERS READY TO TALK TURKEY
One of Pennsylvania’s most exciting seasons will begin Oct. 28 as hunters head afield in pursuit of a most-coveted game animal – the wild turkey. Hunting season lengths vary according to Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) from closed season to three-plus weeks.
While season lengths in most WMUs remain unchanged from last year, the first season segment has been shortened from three weeks to two in WMU 4E, and from two weeks to one in WMUs 4A and 4B – to help those populations rebound from declining trends, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
A big change this year is the opening of WMU 5B to a three-day Tuesday through Thursday season (Oct. 31 – Nov. 2) because population trends have rebounded sufficient enough to allow for some fall hunting pressure, 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. And, as usual, fall turkey hunting remains closed in WMUs 5C and 5D in southern Pennsylvania.
“Now is the time to check the dates of when seasons open and close,” Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said.
“As is typically the case for the fall turkey season, different season lengths apply in different units, and the seasons in a handful of WMUs have changed this year,” Burhans said.
Hunters who didn’t participate in the fall turkey season during the last few years might be unaware of season length changes in some other WMUs, due to declining population trends and the results of an agency study that showed the longer the fall season the higher the female turkey harvest.
“During the fall season, any turkey can be harvested because jakes, young males, 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. 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.”
In most of the state, the fall turkey season opens Saturday, Oct. 28. The seasons are as follows: WMU 1B – Oct. 28-Nov. 4; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow) – Oct. 28-Nov. 17 and Nov. 23-25; WMUs 1A, 2A, 4A and 4B, – Oct. 28-Nov. 4 and Nov. 23-25; WMUs 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E – Oct. 28-Nov. 11 and Nov. 23-25; WMU 2C – Oct. 28-Nov. 17 and Nov. 23-25; WMU 5A – Nov. 2-4; WMU 5B – Oct. 31-Nov. 2; WMUs 5C and 5D – CLOSED TO FALL TURKEY HUNTING.
Fall turkey forecast
Last year’s fall harvest of 10,844 was 35 percent below the previous 3-year average of 16,688, likely due to a combination of a decrease in fall hunting participation, 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.
“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 beech nut, white-oak acorn and soft mast production, such as apples and grapes, seeing average to above-average production in many areas, but below average food production elsewhere. Areas with abundant food sources tend to make the flocks more nomadic and, therefore harder for hunters to find. Whereas lack of food tends to keep flocks congregated where the food exists and, therefore easier for hunters to find, she said.
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 relatively new Thanksgiving three-day season provides additional opportunities for participation, and is also a very successful season with about 18 percent of the harvest occurring during those three days.
Last year’s fall hunter success rate of 9 percent was similar to the previous three-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 or not a turkey is harvested. Enjoying time afield with family, friends, a hunting dog, and/or mentoring a hunter also qualifies as a successful hunt.
Casalena said the 2017 spring-season harvests (including youth, mentored youth and harvests from the special turkey license that allows hunters to harvest a second bird) totaled 38,101, which was 6 percent above 2016 (35,966) and similar to the previous long-term average. Hunter success for the first bird, 19 percent, also increased from 2016 (15 percent) and was 18 percent above the long-term average of 16 percent.
Pennsylvania hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1995, exceeding most other states in the nation.
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, to none in 2012 and 2016, and one each year from 2013-2015.
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.