Beginning Monday, hunting spring gobblers in Pennsylvania becomes a pre-dawn to post-dusk affair.
This is the third year that the Pennsylvania Game Commission has allowed turkey hunters to hunt from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset the second half of spring gobbler season. This year the regulation remains in effect through the Friday, May 31, final day of the season.
While the option of a morning, afternoon, evening or all-day hunt is welcomed by spring gobbler hunters, there is news from the PGC that can be embraced by all hunters. That news reflects that hunting is safe and getting safer in Pennsylvania based upon the agency's newly released report on hunting-related shooting incidents in 2012 that shows for the first time since the PGC began tracking such incidents in 1915, a year came and went without a single human fatality related to gun handling in hunting and trapping.
There were 33 non-fatal incidents, a number that also represents a decrease from the previous year, and extends a continuing trend of increased hunter safety statewide. Hunting-related shooting incidents have declined by nearly 80 percent in Pennsylvania since hunter-education training began in 1959.
Ironically, some feared that all-day hunting during spring gobbler season would lead to additional HRSIs. Neither that, nor the feared negative impact on the turkey population has occurred, and during the last 20 years, the PGC has partnered with the National Wild Turkey Federation to increase safety among turkey hunters.
"By the second half of the season, hunter participation decreases significantly and nesting hens are less prone to abandon nests," PGC turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said. "All-day hunting during this portion of the season has had minimal impact to nesting."
Since 2011, afternoon and evening success rates have comprised 6 percent of the total reported kills and 22 percent of kills during the all-day portion of the seasons. In other words, even during the all-day portions of the season, 78 percent of the kills have occurred before noon.
Casalena said the majority of the afternoon and evening kills have occurred between 5-8 p.m. Last year's latest reported kill was 8:50 p.m., about 20 minutes before the close of hunting hours in the western part of the state.
Casalena said the PGC will continue to monitor the afternoon success rate in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge the impact of all-day hunting. Among the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, Pennsylvania is one of the 34 that conduct all-day hunting for all or part of the season, she said.
As for the report on HRSIs, PGC executive director Carl Roe said the report is encouraging. He also believes it is a reflection of the agency's hunter-trapper education program for new hunters and other educational programs.
"While one accident is too many, we are pleased to see that these types of shooting incidents continue to drop in Pennsylvania, and we look forward to continuing this impressive trend in safer hunting," Roe said. "For our hunters and ourselves, we are committed to many more years like this one."
HRSIs are defined as any occurrence in which a person is injured as the result of a discharge from a firearm or bow during actual hunting or furtaking activities. Aside from the absence of fatalities, the report for 2012 contains what could be another first for Pennsylvania in that there was not a single hunting-related shooting incident during the fall turkey-hunting season in 2012.
While the number of such incidents sharply dropped following the PGC's 1992 requirement for all fall turkey hunters to wear hunter orange, there is no other year on record without at least one incident during fall turkey season. In its annual reports on HRSIs, the agency establishes an incident rate by computing the number of accidents per 100,000 participants, and the 3.52 incident rate reported for 2012 is slightly lower than the 2011 rate of 3.88.
No incidents in 2012 resulted from youth participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program – a program whereby hunters under the age of 12 are permitted to take certain wildlife species, if they are accompanied by a licensed adult. More than 33,400 mentored youth permits were issued during 2012.
For more information on safe hunting practices, access the PGC website at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/.