Pennsylvania’s Fall Turkey Season Begins Saturday, November 1

Know Your Target When Hunting TurkeyHARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Game Commission is expecting hunters to encounter a sizeable wild turkey population when they head afield for the opening day of wild turkey season Saturday. And finding birds this fall may be easier than it was last year.

“Wild turkey hunting is one of Pennsylvania’s premiere outdoor experiences,” said PGC Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “The satisfaction derived from calling in and taking a game bird that can see you twitch at 50 yards is a fulfillment that veteran hunters never tire of and new turkey hunters can’t wait to experience.

“The good news for this fall is that we believe there are great opportunities for wild turkey hunters throughout the state. But, as always, pre-season scouting and planning will be important to your hunting success.”

Season lengths vary in the state’s Wildlife Management Units for fall turkey hunting: WMUs 1A, 1B and 2A (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Nov. 1-15; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Nov. 1-22; WMUs 2C, 2E, 2F, 4A and 4B – Nov 1-15; WMUs 2D, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E – Nov. 1-22; WMUs 5A and 5B – closed to fall hunting; and WMUs 5C and 5D (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Nov. 1-7.

Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist, said Pennsylvania’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 overharvest of hens. 

“At its best, back in 2001, Pennsylvania’s turkey population peaked at about 410,000 birds,” Casalena explained. This spring, we believe the population numbered about 335,000 turkeys, prior to reproduction, and turkey reproduction appears to have been average or better in most areas. That should translate into great hunting in Pennsylvania.

 It couldn't have been a better morning. There was non stop action and I finally bagged my first gobbler.“Of course, weather and the availability of fall foods also influence hunter success, and this fall will be no different. Gypsy moth defoliation has had a tremendous impact on mast production in many areas of the state. This will make finding turkeys difficult in areas without a sufficient mast crop and should force birds to congregate where mast – particularly acorns and beechnuts – are available.

“Hunters who find pockets of beech or oak trees with good nut production, or soft mast such as grapes, apples or cherries, or agricultural fields with standing crops or waste grain, should find turkeys,” Casalena explained. “But remember, locating the flock is only part of the hunt. Setting up properly and bringing a turkey within range are other challenges hunters must master. It’s what makes success so tricky and enjoyable.”

The preliminary spring 2008 harvest was 40,500, including about 1,955 turkeys taken with “special turkey licenses.” In 2007, hunters took an estimated 41,000, including about 1,500 second license turkeys. The spring harvest record was set in 2001 when hunters took 49,200 turkeys.

“Pennsylvania hunters have consistently taken 30,000 or more turkeys in the spring season since 1995,” Casalena pointed out. “That exceeds most other states in the nation.”

Casalena said she expects hunter success this fall to mirror last year’s rate of about 16 percent. In the three years prior to 2007, hunter success was about 12 percent annually. The best hunter success rate was set in 2001 when 21 percent of hunters were successful. The worst was 1979, only four percent of hunters were successful.

“There is no substitute for scouting when it comes to finding wild turkeys, unless, of course, someone else scouts for you,” Casalena said.  “And there’s nothing wrong with being enterprising and thorough. Talk to farmers, hikers and other hunters if you don’t have leads for areas to scout.  Look for scratchings in the leaves, and know that it’s pretty hard to miss the signs turkeys make looking for food. Leaves are falling or have fallen in many areas, so scratching for food will become more pronounced on the forest floor.

“Once you find the general area turkeys are working, try to pattern their daily movements. Look for fresh scratchings, tracks, turkey droppings and feathers. Sort out what the birds are eating. It takes about a week to pattern a flock. Once you have, capitalize on your preseason fieldwork.”

In both spring and fall turkey seasons, it is unlawful to use drives to hunt turkeys. Hunters may take only one turkey in the fall season.

Shot size is limited to No. 4 lead, bismuth-tin, tungsten-iron or No. 2 steel. Turkey hunters also are required to tag their bird before moving it and to mail the postage-paid harvest report card – provided with all hunting licenses – within 10 days of taking a turkey. A replacement harvest report card is on page 33 of the 2008-09 Hunting and Trapping Digest.

Also, two other reminders to turkey hunters: legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.  For more information, please see page 14 of the 2008-09 Digest for the legal hunting hours table. In addition, it is now lawful to use a dog to pursue, chase, scatter and track wild turkeys during the fall wild turkey season. Prior to 2007, hunters were prohibited from using dogs to hunt any big game animal, which includes wild turkeys.

On a final note, turkey hunters are asked to please remember to report any leg-banded turkeys they harvest. This information hunters provide from the recovery of a banded wild turkey has great value to the agency’s research efforts.

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT UNIT TURKEY POPULATION PROFILES

WMU 1A – Expect the fall harvest to be similar to last year with the only setback for hunters being the abundance of fall foods, which will disperse flocks. Hunters who have scouted and patterned flocks will have the most success. Flock sizes should be mixed as some areas had great reproduction while it was below average in other areas. Hunter success last fall (14 percent) was slightly below the state average (16 percent).

WMU 1B – With the excellent reproduction this summer, expect turkeys everywhere and great hunter success like last year (22 percent) compared to the state average (16 percent). The abundant fall food source will disperse flocks so scouting will be important for a successful hunt.

WMU 2A – This unit has seen a decrease in the turkey population during the last seven years, but flocks are still widespread. The agency decreased the fall season length to two weeks in 2007 to aid this population to reverse its dramatic decline.  Hunter success should be similar to last year (14 percent) compared to the state average of 16 percent. The abundance of natural food will challenge hunters in locating flocks that may continually move throughout the two-week season. Those hunters who scout pre-season should be most successful.   

WMU 2B – Hunters who secure permission to hunt on private land have plenty of time to be successful with this three-week season. Also, the hard mast crop (acorns) was fair this year so those who search for areas with plentiful acorns on the ground will find the turkeys. Because of this and the abundance of turkeys, expect hunter success to improve from last year’s 14 percent, which was somewhat below the state average of 16 percent.

WMU 2C – Even though surveys show that turkey reproduction this summer was down, expect a good harvest this year, similar to last year’s 14 percent hunter success rate, which was above the previous three years’ success rates, mainly due to the spotty mast crop of white oak acorns and beechnuts. The low mast supply will concentrate flocks around the food sources. So, even though flock sizes may be small, they should be relatively easy to pattern if hunters find the food.

WMU 2D – Turkey hunting prospects should continue to be better than many other units, but the fall harvest could be down slightly from last year’s hunter success of 15 percent, which was average for this unit, due to this summer’s lower turkey sighting index. However, spring and fall harvests continue to be above the statewide average.

WMU 2E – There are very good hunting opportunities for older birds from the record summer sighting index in 2007, but the marked decrease in summer sightings this year indicates that reproduction was down this year. Hunter success should be similar to last year, about 10 percent.

WMU 2F – The agency shortened the fall season to two weeks in 2007 to help this population reverse its long-term decline. This management action, coupled with slightly above-average recruitment, should provide the jumpstart this population needs to rebound. Hunters can help, too, by harvesting a young turkey rather than an experienced adult bird, as there are ample juvenile birds in this fall’s population. The above-average acorn crop will cause the birds to be more dispersed, so preseason scouting will ensure success.

WMU 2G – This was the fifth consecutive year of increased summer turkey sightings, so juveniles abound in this unit. But the above-average mast (acorn) crop will tend to disperse the flocks. Last fall’s hunter success of 16 percent was the highest it’s been since 2001 and was equal to the state average.  Prospects are quite promising for those who scout prior to the season to locate those boisterous, noisy juvenile turkeys. The good mast crop will disperse flocks so finding the turkeys may be challenging.

WMU 3A – Prospects should be similar to last year’s phenomenal harvest and hunter success of 21 percent, which was well above the state average of 16 percent! With turkey sightings over the past four years more than twice the long-term average, juvenile and adult turkeys abound! Even with the above-average mast crop, the turkey harvest should be well above average.

WMU 3B – Prospects couldn’t be better in this unit! With the record summer turkey sightings this year and above-average sightings last year, both juveniles and adults abound. Tioga County Wildlife Conservation Officer Robert Minnich reported it succinctly, “…with all the turkey around, you are bound to run into them sooner or later, if they do not run you over first.”

WMU 3C – Last year’s fall harvest and hunter success rate (19 percent) were the best for this unit since the records of 2001, and this year appears to be almost as good. Summer recruitment, as witnessed from our summer turkey sightings, has increased significantly during the last four years, providing an ample supply of turkeys in most age classes.  Prospects are excellent.

WMU 3D – The turkey population in this WMU is now above the long-term trend as indicated by a substantial increase in this year’s summer turkey sightings.  Fall hunter success last year was 20 percent compared to 16 percent for the state average.  The average mast crop, coupled with above-average recruitment and three-week long season, should translate to a better harvest this year.

WMU 4A – Prospects have greatly improved for this WMU.  This is the fifth year of a two-week fall turkey season and the turkey population is rebounding well. Although reproduction this year, as determined from summer turkey sighting surveys, decreased from last year’s record, hunter success and harvests should be similar to last year. Soft mast (cherries, apples, etc.) abounds, but acorn production on oak trees was impacted severely in areas with gypsy moth defoliation. Hunters who find the food will find turkeys.

WMU 4B – This WMU has shown tremendous fluctuations in recruitment and harvests, which prompted the agency in 2004 to reduce the fall season to two weeks.  Recruitment this year was down slightly after two consecutive years of increased reproduction. Even though flock sizes may be a bit smaller this year, hunters who scout and locate food sources will find turkeys. Expect hunter success to be similar to last year (13 percent, compared to the state average of 16 percent).

WMU 4C – This WMU typically maintains a stable summer sighting index trend, but increased 84 percent from last year.  Hunting prospects for juvenile turkeys will be excellent.  Fall hunter success last year was excellent at 19 percent, compared to the 16 percent state average, and should improve this year, especially if hunters scout before the season.

WMU 4D – Fall hunting prospects should improve over last year as a result of recruitment, which was more than twice the long-term average, and the second year of  a 3-week season. Fall hunter success last year was similar to the state average at 16 percent. Acorn crops are spotty and dependent on the effect of gypsy moth defoliation. Areas with high gypsy moth abundance have poor mast crops, whereas areas spared of defoliation have abundant mast crops, and will have the birds.

WMU 4E – Excellent hunting prospects. Summer recruitment has been increasing steadily for the last five years and fall harvests have been above the state average. Because of the increasing population trend, expect the fall harvest to increase again, if hunters scout and locate flocks. Fall hunter success last year, 21 percent, was well above the state average of 16 percent.

WMU 5A & 5B – Closed.

WMU 5C – Even though the season is only six days and the overall harvest here is low, hunters who did hunt this WMU last fall had an 18 percent success rate compared to 16 percent statewide.  Expect an above-average harvest again, as indicated from an above-average summer sighting index.

WMU 5D – Data for this unit is limited, as well as huntable turkey flocks, but those hunters who locate hunting areas can be quite successful, even with the six-day season. Summer reproduction was average for this unit.  Expect the fall harvest to be similar to last year.


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