Come daybreak on Saturday (April 30) morning, a quarter million or so hunters will be in Penn’s Woods, sitting in silence in an effort to call in and bag a spring gobbler. As such, and be it big woods or small woodlots, there will be clucks, purrs and gobbles filling the morning air.
With this many sportsmen pursuing a bearded male turkey, the odds are that they score are small unless they did their homework by pre-scouting areas believed to be holding gobblers. According to Mary Jo Casalena, Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) wild turkey biologist, an earlier than typical spring has coaxed hens into nesting sooner, which should help to set the table for hunters to capitalize on those pining gobblers.
“In an early spring, hens often begin incubating their nests one to two weeks earlier than normal,” Casalena explained in a press release. “That’s good news for hunters because those lonely toms will be gobbling more and coming in easier to calling hunters. Of course, that doesn’t mean those gobblers will be easy. They won’t come running to every caller out there, or be oblivious to the movements of the thousands of hunters invading their woodland sanctuaries. But their vulnerability to hunters increases when hens nest earlier, because their go-to-harem hens become nesters and thereby dropping out of circulation – plus the competition among gobblers for the remaining available hens becomes greater,” she offers.
Interestingly, last spring hunters took 41,180 spring turkeys in Pennsylvania. This is similar to 2014s spring harvest of 41,258. However, the spring harvests before 2014 were down considerably, says the PGC. In past seasons there were 36,507 taken in 2013; 36,920 in 2012 and 35,852 in 2011.
Casalena adds that what was surprising was that the last two spring harvests followed two of the hardest winters the state had endured in some time. “But all things considered, it would appear conditions heading into the 2016 spring season should provide ample opportunity,” Casalena opines.
She goes on to say that on average, 71 percent of the spring harvest is adult gobblers; 17 percent are jakes; 4 percent are bearded hens and 7 percent are unknown aged males. “The 2015 spring harvest followed that breakdown, excepting that 22 percent were jakes and only 1 percent of the harvest were bearded hens.”
To the good, Casalena said that means more of these hens survived to reproduce even though bearded hens are legal for harvest. But she emphasizes that hunters should refrain from knowingly harvest a hen as they do nest and raise broods meaning more future turkeys to hunt.
Back in 2001, Pennsylvania’s record turkey population occurred. At that time there was an estimated 288,000 birds, but over the next 14 years these estimates fluctuated and declined to some extent. The five-year average from 2010-2015 was 208,312, and over the past two years, an uptick occurred placing the turkey population at 234,500.
“Last fall’s preliminary fall turkey harvest was 19,400, but a final tally won’t be available until later this summer,” said Casalena. This preliminary harvest compares with 18,292 in 2014 and 16,755 in 2013. “If the 2015 estimate holds, it’ll represent the largest fall harvest since 2009,” she suggests.
This Saturday, April 23, hunters 16 and younger can head afield for the annual youth spring turkey hunt. All youth hunters must be accompanied by adults.
Hunting hours during the youth hunt are one-half hour before sunset until ending at noon. Regular starting hunting hours are the same and end at noon for the first two weeks of the season that runs April 30 through May 14. Hunters are asked to be out of the woods by 1 p.m. From May 16 through May 31, hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. Successful hunters should also not forget to properly tag their bird and report the harvest to the PGC by going to www.pgc.pa.gov and click the blue “Report a Harvest” button. Or, send in the tear-out report card in the “Hunting/Trapping Digest,” or, call it in to 1-855-724-8681 (1-855-PAHUNT).