HARRISBURG — The timing alone would make it special. The upcoming spring gobbler season in Pennsylvania—the state’s only big game hunt outside of fall and winter—is when the world seems new, freshly green, and alive.
This year’s season started last Saturday with a one-day hunt for junior and youth-supervised hunters. However, for everyone else, the season starts last Saturday (April 30) and will run until Tuesday, May 31.
But it has much more to offer than that.
Gobbler hunting is also very exciting. There are few things as exciting as calling a suspicious turkey. No wonder more than 150,000 hunters take to the forests and fields every spring to hunt these birds.
Many opportunities await them, as usual. In fact, Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said the statewide flock — still among the largest in the East — is likely larger right now than at any time. during the last years.
She attributed the increase to a number of factors.
First, 2021 recruitment – or the influx of new turkeys into the population – has been very good, thanks to hot, dry weather last spring and, in places, plenty of cicadas to eat. Survey work revealed 3.1 poults per hen, on average, statewide.
“It was our highest ratio since we started monitoring recruitment,” Casalena said.
A smaller-than-usual 2021 spring crop and shorter fall turkey seasons in some Wildlife Management Units, coupled with a statewide elimination of guns for turkey hunting autumn, also surely stimulated the herds.
“All of this should translate into a lot of fiery jakes in the landscape,” Casalena said. “Hunters should also find a higher than normal percentage of 3-year-old turkeys. There is therefore certainly reason to be optimistic again this year.
These birds will not necessarily be easy to harvest; neither jakes nor older birds are typically as vocal as 2-year-olds, she added. But hunters can increase their chances of getting tangled up with a tom turkey by preparing before opening day.
Casalena recommends scouting, looking for real birds, for signs of turkeys such as droppings, feathers, scratches, and tracks, or at least places where turkeys might be, such as nearby, easily accessible openings. from lounging areas where gobblers prefer to strut.
All the while, back home, practice calling.
“The most important call is the cry of the hen”, Casalena said. “The hunter wants to imitate a hen to attract the gobbler to come within reach. After that it’s about practicing and learning other calls like the different cackles and purrs and understanding when to use them. Friction calls have excellent sound and pitch, while mouth calls are the most practical, especially when standing still is important.
None of this guarantees success, of course. About 15% of hunters harvested a gobbler last spring overall. About 18% of the near-record 25,210 people who bought a special spring turkey license, or second gobbler label, took a second one. These numbers are comparable to long-term averages.
But the only hunters to complete their tags are those who go out and hunt. So this spring, visit turkey country and see what happens.
“There’s never a bad time to be in the woods, especially when getting out offers the chance to take on one of our incredible but unpredictable gobblers,” Casalena said.
Schedules, licenses and regulations
Hunting hours begin half an hour before sunrise and end at noon during the first two weeks of the season statewide (April 30 to May 14). Hunters are asked to be out of the woods by 1 p.m. when hunting hours end at noon. This is to minimize disturbance to laying hens.
From May 16 to May 31, hunting hours are from half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sunset. The all-day season offers more opportunities at the time of the season when hunting pressure is lower and laying hens are less likely to abandon nests.
During the spring gobbler season, hunters may use hand-operated or semi-automatic shotguns limited to a capacity of three rounds in the combined chamber and magazine. Muzzle-loading rifles, crossbows, and long, recurve, and compound bows are also permitted. For a complete list of regulations, see the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, available on the agency’s website.
Only bearded birds can be harvested during the spring season and hunting is permitted by shouting only. Hunters should refrain from knowingly harvesting bearded hens as they nest and raise broods.
Hunters are not required to wear fluorescent orange during the spring turkey season, although it is recommended that it be worn when on the move.
Blinds used when hunting turkeys must be made of artificial materials of sufficient density to block the movement inside the blind of an observer outside the blind. Shades should completely surround the hunter on all four sides and from above. It is illegal to hunt turkeys from shelters made of natural materials such as logs, tree branches and rock piles.
Shades that depict a gobbler’s fan tail do not conceal all hunter movements and are therefore illegal for use in Pennsylvania.
It is illegal, as well as dangerous, to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds. All hunters should wait patiently and correctly identify their targets before pulling the trigger. When in a stationary position, a hunter should sit with their back against a large tree, rock, or other barrier that shields movement and provides protection from others who might approach from behind.
Turkey hunters should not wear clothing containing black, such as the color found on a turkey’s body, or red, white or blue, such as those on a turkey’s head.
Again this year, hunters in Pennsylvania can purchase a permit to harvest a second gobbler in the spring, but only one gobbler can be taken per day. This license must be purchased no later than April 29, the day before the start of the national season.
The $21.97 license ($41.97 for non-residents) can be purchased online but cannot be printed at home, so buying it directly from an issuing agent might be the best option. The same applies to general hunting permits. General hunting licenses purchased online are also mailed and shipping charges apply.
Declaration of crops
Successful turkey hunters must immediately tag their bird before moving it from the harvest site and are required by law to report the harvest to the Game Commission.
Hunters, by law, must declare harvests within 10 days.
Harvest reporting is essential to turkey management, as it allows the Game Commission to more accurately estimate harvest and population totals.
Hunters can report turkeys in three ways: by visiting www.pgc.pa.gov and clicking on the blue “Declare a harvest” button at the top of the home page; by calling 1-800-838-4431; or by completing and mailing the harvest report in the summary that hunters receive when they purchase a license.
Have your harvest label in front of you when reporting to ensure that you can provide all the information requested.
Hunters are also encouraged to report any turkeys they harvest with leg bands. The information collected on these birds – which are legal to take – helps estimate the spring harvest rate and annual survival rate by the Wildlife Management Unit, Casalena said. This is key to developing the state’s turkey population pattern.
Leg bands feature a toll-free number or email address for reports.
Watch out for ticks
There’s a lot to love about spring hunting, but ticks aren’t one of them.
Ticks are active at this time and are potential carriers of Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness. Spring gobbler hunters are therefore advised to take precautions.
To start, treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, an insecticide that disrupts the nervous system of ticks, paralyzing and often killing them.
Be sure to read label directions regarding application, which should be done in a well-ventilated area while avoiding skin contact with the agent. Most products containing permethrin guarantee effectiveness for six weeks — enough to last through turkey season — or six laundry washes, after which clothing and equipment can be reprocessed.
Even with treated clothes, however, there’s still a chance you’ll bring a hitchhiking tick into your living home. These odds drop if hunting clothes are removed and left on the porch or garage before entering.
You will always want to check your body carefully for ticks after each time in the woods, especially the body heat centers including the waistline, armpits, between the legs and on the back of the knees which ticks prefer. Showering as soon as you can after being outdoors can wash away unattached ticks and allow you to search deeper for them. Use a mirror for hard-to-see places.
And don’t forget to take other steps to prevent ticks from getting to your skin in the first place. Tuck in your shirt. Tuck your pant legs into your boots or socks or consider wearing gaiters. And rubber boots tight to the knees.
Turkey hunters should be aware that several cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus have been detected in wild birds in Pennsylvania.
HPAI is a disease that can infect domestic and wild birds. It can also infect humans, although the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the current HPAI outbreak is primarily an animal health issue that poses a low health risk to the general public. No human cases linked to this avian influenza virus have been detected or reported in the United States.
Nevertheless, hunters should take common sense measures to protect themselves:
• Harvest only healthy looking birds.
• Wear gloves when handling wild birds, change gloves and sanitize your hands between handling live birds.
• Change clothes as needed, especially if they are visibly soiled or if handled birds have come into contact with your clothes.
• Change clothes, including shoes, and wash your hands thoroughly before coming into contact with pet birds or domestic poultry.