Once again, the time for hunters to "talk turkey" in Pennsylvania is almost here.
This year's spring gobbler season opens Saturday, April 20, with the Pennsylvania Game Commission's special one-day youth turkey hunt for both Junior licensed hunters between the ages of 12-16 and unlicensed hunters 11 and younger participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program. Youth in these categories must be accompanied by a licensed adult, and the adult must carry the shotgun or bow for those participating in the MYHP while moving on both the youth day and when hunting during the regular season.
Hunting hours for the youth hunt are one-half hour before sunrise until noon, which are the same for the first two weeks of the regular spring gobbler season, which opens Saturday, April 27. Morning-only hunting continues through Saturday, May 11, but beginning Monday, May 13, through the final day of the season, Friday, May 31, hunting is permitted until one-half hour after sunset.
Those in the MYHP may take just one bearded bird, but licensed hunters may purchase a second gobbler tag through Friday, April 19, at any license-issuing agent. There is, however, a one-bird daily limit.
"Unlike last year's warm early spring weather, which triggered an early start to gobbling, this year's cooler-than-normal March and early April have suppressed gobbling activity," PGC wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said. "The arrival of warmer temperatures will bring more gobbling activity, and just in time for the spring turkey season.
"Our research has shown that, although weather affects gobbling, it does not affect the onset of egg-laying by hen turkeys. Rather, photoperiod, or the amount of daylight, triggers it, and, similar to previous years, the hen turkeys that are equipped with radio transmitters are on course to begin incubating their nests as the spring turkey season opens.
"We open the spring gobbler season around the peak of nest incubation to minimize hen disturbance and mistaken kills. Nesting hens are less prone to come to a hunter's call and abandon their nests, and another good sign for turkey hunters is that gobblers appear to have weathered winter well."
Casalena said that gobblers are in good condition this spring, despite the cold winter, because of abundant mast in most of the Commonwealth – excluding the southwest counties. That could mean those healthy males may just continue gobbling and looking for mates throughout the hunting season.
"Pennsylvania has become a dream state for spring gobbler hunters, both for residents and out-of-staters, and not only because we manage one of the most prolific wild turkey populations in America," PGC executive director Carl Roe said. "The steps we have taken in recent years, such as extending the season to include Memorial Day and adding afternoon hours for the second half of the season, have been warmly received by turkey hunters everywhere who welcome the opportunity to get afield more and their feedback and photos to the agency suggest they're making the most of it."
During the second half of the season, hunter participation decreases significantly and nesting hens are less prone to abandon nests, that's why all-day hunting over the last two weeks of season is less likely to impact nesting. Moreover, the opportunity it provides to hunt woods occupied by few hunters is appreciated greatly, particularly by veteran callers and hunters who can't get afield earlier in the day because of work or school.
Casalena encourages spring gobbler hunters to spend time scouting, which always plays an important role in hunter success, especially for those experienced older toms.
"Scouting improves hunters' chances, especially if they line up multiple locations for the spring season," Casalena said. "Learning several gobblers' favorite strutting areas also is helpful for determining the best in-season set-up.
"This requires early-morning, pre-season scouting, but the potential in-season reward is worth it. Prior to the season, however, hunters should consider not using turkey calls to locate gobblers, because it will educate birds and cause them to be less inclined to respond to the early-morning calls of in-season hunters."