Locating flocks is key during turkey season
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, the statewide fall turkey population is excellent, but some hunters will face the challenge of locating flocks if they fail to do their pre-season scouting.
This year, the fall turkey season opens Saturday, Nov. 6, in area wildlife management units, however, hunters are advised to carefully review the season dates as outlined on Page 35 of the 2010-11 Hunting and Trapping Digest issued at licensing agents, as date structures have changed from previous years. In WMUs 1A, 1B and 2A, the season is Nov. 13-19 and Nov. 25-27; in WMU 2B, Nov. 6-19 and Nov. 25-27; in WMUs 2C, 2D, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D, Nov. 13-19 and Nov. 25-27; in WMUs 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C and 4E, Nov. 6-19 and Nov. 25-27; in WMU 5A, Nov. 16-18; and WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D are closed to fall hunting.
Because of the widespread abundance of acorns, this year likely will keep turkeys and flocks dispersed throughout the woods, making them harder to locate and hunt. An above-average turkey population and an open season during the Thanksgiving holiday is expected to improve hunter opportunities.
"The statewide turkey population this past spring prior to nesting was above average, at about 360,000 birds, rebounding from its low, in 2005, of 272,000, so there's a bountiful population of turkeys," Casalena said. "The state's wild turkey population is above the five-year-average thanks to good reproduction the past three springs and generally conservative fall season lengths, which minimizes the over-harvest of hens."
Locating a flock is only part of the hunt, and properly setting up and bringing a turkey within range is another challenge and is what makes turkey hunting simultaneously tricky and enjoyable. This challenge is revealed with a look at hunter success rates, which ranged from 12-16 percent during the last five years.
"Overall, I expect turkey hunters to enjoy success rates similar to last year when 13 percent of fall turkey hunters harvested turkeys because of similar turkey reproductive success and abundant mast crops," Casalena said. "Success this fall will probably be lower than the 16 percent success rates of 2007 and 2008, when the above-average reproduction coupled with below average acorn crops translated to large flocks that were relatively easy to find.
"Hunter success has been as high as 21 percent in 2001, which was a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as four percent in 1979. Last fall's overall turkey harvest was a below-average 20,934, which is 20 percent less than the previous five-year average of 26,082."
Fall harvests have been declining steadily for the last eight years, mainly due to a decrease in the number of fall turkey hunters and shorter fall season lengths to protect from over-harvest. For those who have located flocks while bowhunting, the problem of scouting has already been solved.
Many consider the biggest difference between spring and fall hunting is that in the spring the birds are easy to find and can be tough to call; in the fall they can be hard to find and easier to call. One of the best areas to find birds is fields near woods that hold additional food sources and areas such as dirt roads that can be used for dusting sites.
When a food source is found, check back for turkey sign in the form of scratching, feathers and droppings as the season approaches. Even with a good mast crop, turkeys will take to the fields foraging on insects, seeds and waste grain, which makes birds easier to find when there is little mast.
Relying on memory - or even landmarks - is not always the best way to mark an area where turkey flocks have been located. For that reason, many hunters carry topographical maps of the area they plan to hunt, or program the location on a GPS unit.
Fall flocks of hens and young birds can be quite vocal in the early morning and just before they fly up for the evening. Check roost sites the birds were using last spring, in open country, glass the edges of the woods; in dry areas, check water sources and listen for the birds getting ready to fly up or fly down."
Because fall turkey hunting can be done the entire day in Pennsylvania, it is important to do scouting at various times of the day for the most accurate patterning of flock movement. No matter if scouting at first light, mid-day or before dusk, it is possible to hear some very intense turkey talk.
Usually, if a fall flock is holding in an area with a good food source, it will remain there even if it has been hunted. All of which means, the equation of a food source and fresh sign usually results in a tagged turkey.
For information on past fall wild turkey seasons and to view maps of turkey harvest by WMU, go to the PGC website at www.pgc.state.pa.us http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/ , click on "Hunt/Trap," then click on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing and select "Harvest Data and Maps" in the "Big Game" section.