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Increase in wild turkeys means promising season

Published October 24. 2009 09:00AM

According to Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, local hunters have a sizeable population of birds to hunt from the Pocono Mountain forests to the Schuylkill County farmlands.

Pennsylvania's fall turkey season opens Saturday, Oct. 31, but the length of the season varies by wildlife management unit, as do regulations. In WMUs 1A, 1B and 2A, the seasons ends Saturday, Nov. 14, and only shotguns and archery tackle is legal; in WMU 2B, the season ends Saturday, Nov. 21, and only shotguns and archery tackle is legal; in WMUs 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 4A and 4B, the season ends Nov. 14, and rifles, shotguns and archery tackle is legal; in WMUs 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E, the season ends Nov. 21, and rifles, shotguns and archery tackle is legal; in WMUs 5A and 5B, the season is closed; and in WMUs 5C and 5D, the season ends Nov. 4, and only shotguns and archery tackle is legal.

"Turkey hunters will face two challenges this fall in smaller flocks and an abundant acorn crop, but they can be overcome with a little preseason scouting," Casalena said. "There are smaller flocks of young turkeys in the woods because of the cool, wet spring that decreased nesting success, which translates to a lower-than-average population of young turkeys, and the abundant crop of acorns tends to disperse turkeys and flocks throughout the woods, making them harder to locate and hunt.

"Turkey population in the spring, however, prior to nesting, was above average at approximately 345,000 birds. For the last three years, the population has been rebounding from its low of 291,000 in 2006.

"Overall, the state's wild turkey population is above the 10-year-average thanks to good reproduction the past two springs and generally conservative fall season lengths, which prevents the over harvest of hens. As a result, there remains an above-average population of turkeys."

According to preliminary harvest for this spring's season calculated from hunter report cards, the approximate total of 41,400 bearded birds is similar to last year, with 1,880 gobblers taken by hunters using the "special turkey licenses." Even though spring harvests are down from the record 49,200, in 2001, Pennsylvania hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1995, exceeding most other states.

"Turkey population management is centered on regulating the fall either-sex season," Casalena said. "Our goal is to maximize recreational opportunity without adversely affecting populations.

"According to guidelines outlined in our Turkey Management Plan, we increase fall season lengths when turkey populations are increasing, but reduce season lengths when populations are declining. Overall, I anticipate turkey hunters to enjoy success rates only slightly lower than last year, when 16 percent of fall turkey hunters harvested turkeys.

"That was a great improvement from the 12 percent success rate over the previous three years. Hunter success has been as high as 21 percent in 2001, which was a year with excellent recruitment; as low as 4 percent in 1979, and the final 2008 fall harvest of 24,288 was similar to the previous several years."

Casalena said that research showed that the fall harvest was one factor adversely impacting that turkey population, and a goal of the turkey management plan is to reopen the fall season in WMU 5A as the turkey population continues to show improvement. She also said that the fall season remains closed in WMU 5B to allow the population to continue growing after transferring wild turkeys from 2001-03 into parts of the WMU that had sufficient habitat, but no turkeys.

Hunters are reminded to report any leg-banded turkeys harvested by calling the toll-free telephone number on the band and provide important information for the joint research project being conducted in partnership by the PGC with other states and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Some of the bands include a cash reward for reporting the information.

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