Spring gobbler season holds plenty of potential

HARRISBURG — The approach of spring gobbler season has Pennsylvania hunters eager to get afield. That they’ll be participating in the state’s 50th anniversary spring-gobbler hunt further sweetens the pot.

Properly licensed junior hunters and mentored youth can head afield April 21 to participate in Pennsylvania’s annual youth spring turkey hunt. A week later, on April 28, all hunters can head into Penn’s 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.”

Pennsylvania turkeys are coming off a trying year. Frequent spring and summer rains in 2017 hampered poult survival in some areas of the state. What has helped turkeys, though, has been recent mild winters.

“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.”

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.

During the spring gobbler season, hunters may use manually operated or semiautomatic shotguns limited to a three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined. Muzzleloading shotguns, crossbows and long, recurve and compound bows also are permitted.

Only bearded birds may be harvested during the spring season, and hunting is permitted by calling only.

Successful turkey hunters must immediately and properly tag the bird before moving the bird from the harvest site, and are required by law to report the harvest to the Game Commission.

“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.”