TATUM: Golden opportunities for Pa. turkey hunters

Pennsylvania spring gobbler hunters will celebrate the season’s golden anniversary in pursuit of turkey gobblers like these.
Pennsylvania spring gobbler hunters will celebrate the season’s golden anniversary in pursuit of turkey gobblers like these. Photo courtesy of Dennis Stager
With Pennsylvania’s spring gobbler season opening on April 28, turkey hunters aim to bag a nice gobbler like this one.
With Pennsylvania’s spring gobbler season opening on April 28, turkey hunters aim to bag a nice gobbler like this one. Photo courtesy of Derek Stoner

You might say that this year’s upcoming spring gobbler season is a study in bronze and gold. After all, turkeys are often described as the state’s big “bronze” birds, and since this represents Pennsylvania’s 50th year of spring gobbler hunting, that makes it the golden anniversary for the sport. Suffice it to say that turkey hunting enthusiasts are more than eager to head afield later this month when the season opens to celebrate. That’s right folks, it’s time to talk turkey.

In fact, properly licensed junior hunters and mentored youth can head afield this Saturday, April 21, to participate in Pennsylvania’s annual youth spring turkey hunt. A week later, on April 28, all hunters can trek into the Commonwealth’s turkey woods in pursuit of spring gobblers. The forecast for the coming season is a statewide turkey population numbering between 210,000 to 220,000 birds, said Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wild turkey biologist.

“Pennsylvania’s turkey population will provide plenty of excitement for those who choose to head afield for the Commonwealth’s golden anniversary spring turkey hunt,” Casalena said. “Make no mistake, Pennsylvania remains one of America’s premier turkey-hunting destinations.”

Turkeys are coming through a relatively mild winter, and they again had a tremendous acorn crop last fall to help them with winter survival. A light fall harvest – preliminarily estimated at 11,780 – sparked by greater supplies of fall foods and fewer hunters afield also has helped kindle increased expectations for the spring hunt. “Last spring, hunters took 38,101 birds in the state’s turkey seasons,” Casalena said. “I expect a similar harvest this spring, somewhere between 36,000 and 38,000 turkeys.”

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Despite the mild winter, Pennsylvania turkeys are coming off a difficult year. Frequent spring and summer rains in 2017 hampered poult survival in some areas of the state. “The lighter fall harvests, mild winters and increased acorn crops over the past two years, however, could support increased reproduction this spring,” Casalena noted. “But our spring weather will have to cooperate.”

The turkey population remains below its peak of 280,000 in 2001 with substantial fluctuations every three to four years, likely due to fluctuations in recruitment, which is influenced substantially by the interaction of habitat quality, weather, predation and harvest, Casalena said. Overall, the population is slowly increasing from its most-recent low of 192,612 in 2010, with increases in the one and two-year age classes.

Last spring, 5,049 turkeys were taken with a second spring gobbler license; 20,529 hunters purchased second gobbler licenses. Hunters should note the second spring gobbler license only is on sale prior to the start of the season. Once April 28 rolls around, it’s too late to purchase one. “So, hunters who want to ensure their best opportunity to hunt as many days of the season as they can need to buy the license soon,” Casalena said. “There’s promise for a great season.”

All participants in the youth hunt must be accompanied by adults as required by law. Hunting hours during the youth hunt end at noon. Junior hunters and mentored youth also may participate in the statewide spring gobbler season. Hunting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at noon for the first two weeks of the statewide season (April 28 through May 12). Hunters are asked to be out of the woods by 1 p.m. when hunting hours end at noon. This is to minimize disturbance of nesting hens.

From May 14 through May 31, 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.

Only bearded birds may be harvested during the spring season, and hunting is permitted by calling only. The stalking of turkeys is unlawful and unsafe. There is no requirement for hunters to wear fluorescent orange during the spring turkey season, though it is recommended that orange be worn while moving.

Blinds used while turkey hunting must be manufactured with man-made 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.

It is unlawful, as well as unsafe, to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds. All hunters need to wait patiently and identify their targets properly prior to pulling the trigger. When in a stationary position, a hunter should sit with his or her back against back against a large tree, rock or other barrier that shields movement and offers protection from others who might approach from the rear.

“Even though the Game Commission is not currently conducting any large-scale turkey research, there are still leg-banded turkeys remaining throughout the state from recently completed projects,” Casalena said. “If you are lucky enough to harvest a leg-banded turkey please call the toll-free number on the band and we will provide details of when and where the bird was tagged.”

TROUT STOCKINGS >> The statewide season for trout opened this past Saturday, April 14, and will soon coincide with spring gobbler season. A lot of folks in our region traditionally like to head out to their upstate camps during turkey season to hunt gobblers in the morning and fish for trout in the afternoon. Meanwhile, down here in our southeastern neck of Penn’s Woods, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission continues their in-season trout stocking efforts. Streams slated to get freshly stocked trout this week in Berks County include Allegheny Creek (4/16), Hay Creek (4/16), Mill Creek tributary to Tulpehocken Creek (4/17), Ontelaunee Creek (4/16), Sacony Creek (4/20), Swamp Creek (4/16), and Tulpehocken Creek (4/17). Chester County streams include Buck Run (4/17) and the East Branch of White Clay Creek (4/17). In Montgomery County, Kepner Creek, Stony Creek, and Wissahickon Creek are all scheduled for fresh trout on 4/17.

TROUT RODEO >> The West Chester Fish, Game, and Wildlife Association will host their Annual “Chip Gibson” Memorial Trout Rodeo this Saturday, April 21, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. This free event is open to all children age 15 and under and open to the public. Lunch is provided but participants must furnish their own bait and tackle.