Last year, for the first time ever, spring gobbler hunters in Pennsylvania had the opportunity to try taking a longbeard in the afternoon when the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commissioners approved all-day hunting during the final half of the season.
This year, that same regulation goes into effect beginning Monday, when legal hunting hours will be one half-hour before sunrise to one half-hour after sunset through the close of the season, Thursday, May 31, with the expanded hours providing more opportunities for junior hunters. And, according to PGC wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, monitoring down by the agency since the season opened, Saturday, April 28, indicates there is still a good chance to take a gobbler in spite of this year's early spring.
"Our three years of radio-telemetry data show that hen turkeys did not begin incubating nests any earlier this year than the previous two years, even though we experienced a warm, dry early spring" Casalena said. "That's because nesting is triggered more by photoperiod, or the amount of daylight, than weather, so, that warm spell we experienced in March was just a bit too early for most hens to begin laying eggs."
Hen turkeys wait until they lay a complete clutch before they begin the 28 days of incubation, which ensures the entire clutch hatches within a 24-hour period. Also, hens readily abandon nests during egg-laying if they are disturbed, so it makes sense not to incubate until she's sure of her nest location.
"We've been monitoring when radioed hens begin incubating their clutches, and comparing the dates to data collected back in the 1950s and 1960s across the state to determine if Pennsylvania hens are now nesting earlier, and they aren't," Casalena said. "The average date of nest incubation remains around the first week of May.
"This should be welcome news for most Pennsylvania turkey hunters because now that these hens have begun incubating, gobblers are becoming lonely and may come to a hunter's call more readily. So, do not give up hope, there is still plenty of time to harvest a tom.
"With more than 50 radioed hens each year thus far, we have a decent sample size. This year, we only recorded one early nester, an adult hen beginning incubation March 29, but, last year, with the cool, wet spring, our earliest incubation date was three days earlier, March 26. In 2010, we didn't have a hen begin incubation until April 6."
Casalena said the PGC radio-telemetry study will continue for two additional springs, and agency biologists will continue to record nest incubation dates of each radioed hen. One effect the early spring did have, however, was to cause leaves to emerge early, which will make it more difficult for hunters to hear and see their target.
"With the early green-up, it will be even more important to consider using a fluorescent orange band to alert other hunters to your stationary location or to wear some orange while moving," Casalena said.
"Although the 2011 spring gobbler season was the first year of all-day hunting during the second half of the season, the overall harvest was a slight decrease from the 2010 harvest," Casalena said. "Afternoon harvest comprised six percent of the total reported harvests and 22 percent of the harvest during the all-day portion of the season.
"During the all-day season, 78 percent of the harvest occurred before noon, and for the afternoon segment, the majority of the harvest occurred between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the last reported harvest at 8:35 p.m. Depending on the area of the state, legal hunting hours closed between 8:39 p.m. and 9:11 p.m.
"The Game Commission will continue to monitor the afternoon harvest in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge the impact of all-day hunting. Of the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, 34 have all-day hunting for all or part of the season, including Maryland, Ohio and Virginia."