Pennsylvania Hunters Ready to Talk Turkey

Fall season begins Nov. 1 in most parts of state; season lengths vary by WMU

Wild Turkey Fall Hunting Season
Wild Turkey Fall Hunting Season
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Pennsylvania Game Commission

Harrisburg, PA -(Ammoland.com)- One of Pennsylvania’s most exciting seasons will begin this Saturday as hunters head afield in pursuit of one of fall’s most coveted game animals, the wild turkey.

But hunters really need to focus on the varying season starts and lengths throughout the state’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). Hunter compliance protects the resource and ensures better turkey hunting in coming years.

While season lengths in most WMUs remain unchanged from last year, the first season segment has been shortened from three weeks to two in WMUs 3A, 3B and 3C – all of which are in northern Pennsylvania – to help those populations rebound from declining trends. And while a three-day season remains intact in WMU 5A, the timing of the season has changed to a Thursday-through-Saturday format to provide greater opportunity for hunters whose schedules do not allow for a weekday hunt.

Hunters who didn’t participate in the fall turkey season last year still might be unaware of season length changes put in place in 2013 in some WMUs, due to an ongoing study to determine how the length of the fall season affects the female turkey harvest. And, as usual, fall turkey hunting remains closed in WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D in southern Pennsylvania. Now is the time to check the dates of when seasons open and close, Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said.

“As is typically the case for the fall turkey season, different season lengths apply in different units, and the seasons in a handful of WMUs have been shortened this year, or are starting on a different day of the week,” Hough said. “The changes are easy to follow, though, and are laid out clearly in the Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to all buyers of hunting and furtaker licenses. With the digest as your guide, you’ll be well on your way to a successful season.”

Information on turkey seasons, bag limits and other regulations can be found on Page 32 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. In most of the state, the fall turkey season opens Saturday, Nov. 1. The seasons are as follows: WMU 1B – Nov. 1 to 8, and Nov. 27 to 29; WMU 2B (shotgun and archery only) – Nov. 1 to 21, and Nov. 27 to 29; WMUs 1A, 2A, 2D, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B and 3C – Nov. 1 to 15, and Nov. 27 to 29; WMUs 2C, 2E, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E – Nov. 1 to 21, and Nov. 27 to 29; and WMU 5A – Nov. 6 to 8.

The two-week season in WMUs 3A, 3B and 3C was adopted by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners earlier this year in response to decreasing turkey populations in those units. The two-week seasons in WMUs 2F, 2G and 2H, as well as the three-week seasons in WMUs 2C, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D are the result of the ongoing hen study, which is in its fourth of four years. At the end of the four-year study, the two separate study areas each will have had two consecutive years with a two-week season and two consecutive years with a three-week season.
Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena explained the changes.

“By switching season lengths between study areas, we can attempt to answer the question of whether the harvest gained by adding an extra week to a two-week season exceeds a sustainable level of harvest,” Casalena said. “Ultimately, results from this study will allow us to provide the longest fall seasons without overharvesting hen wild turkeys.”

In WMU 5A, where the framework was switched to provide more hunting opportunity, monitoring has indicated a stable wild turkey population. Fall turkey harvests have been minimal in WMU 5A in recent years, when the three-day season has occurred Tuesday through Thursday.

“Continued monitoring over the next several years will allow us to determine if this new framework is sustainable.”

Fall turkey forecast

Casalena is hoping for similar hunting participation as last fall, when the number of fall turkey hunters increased to 199,000, an increase of 70,000.

Casalena said fall turkey hunting remains a strong tradition in Pennsylvania, with more than 483,000 hunters participating in the fall season during the peak year in 1980. There were 16,755 fall turkey harvests in 2013, and number of harvests and hunters in Pennsylvania remain, by far, the highest in the Northeast, she said.

Casalena said fall hunter success depends on several factors:

  • Summer turkey reproduction – Larger flocks translate to larger harvests;
  • Food availability – The better the soft- and hard-mast production, the more nomadic flocks become and the more difficult it is to harvest birds;
  • Weather during the season – Weather affects hunter participation, and;
  • Overall hunter participation – More hunters in the woods keep flocks dispersed making it easier for hunters to call in lost birds.

“Although turkey reproduction this summer was below average in many WMUs, translating to smaller flocks this fall in those units, reproduction did vary and many hens simply nested later than normal due to the harsh winter, and these poults may still be growing when the season opens,” Casalena said.

Casalena said acorn, cherry and hickory-nut production also varied across the state, with red-oak acorn production and soft mast, like apples and grapes, seeing average to above-average production in many areas. That abundance of food might make turkeys harder to locate, she said.

“Abundant natural food tends to keep turkey flocks on the move as there is no need to concentrate on one food source,” Casalena said. “Therefore, hunters have the opportunity for plenty of exercise as it might take several miles, or several days, of searching to find flocks.

“So don’t get discouraged if flocks aren’t in their normal locations,” Casalena said. “This might be the year to explore more, or new, areas in search of your quarry.”

Casalena said the fall season is a great time to introduce a novice turkey hunter to turkey hunting.

“It’s not only a great time to be in the woods, but novice turkey callers can be just as successful as a pro when mimicking a lost turkey poult,” she said. “And once a flock is located, I remind hunters that turkeys are tipped off more by movement and a hunter’s outline than fluorescent orange.”

Overall, Casalena said she anticipates similar turkey-hunter success rates to last year, when about 8 to 10 percent of hunters were successful. Last year’s success rate was a slight decrease from the previous three years. Hunter success was as high as 21 percent in 2001, a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as 4 percent in 1979.
Casalena said spring-season harvests (including harvests from the special turkey license that allows hunters to harvest a second bird) totaled 41,260, an increase from 2013 and also higher than the previous long-term average of 38,756. Hunter success, 18 percent, was slightly higher than 2013 and the previous long-term average, both 17 percent.

Pennsylvania hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1995, exceeding most other states in the nation.

Leg-banded turkeys

Casalena also reminds hunters to report any leg-banded or satellite-transmittered turkeys they harvest or find.

Leg bands and transmitters are stamped with a toll-free number to call, and provide important information for the research project being conducted in partnership with the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State University, with funding from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Pennsylvania Chapter of NWTF, she said.

“These turkeys are legal to harvest and the information provided will help determine turkey survival and harvest rates,” Casalena said.

Rewards for reporting marked turkeys are made possible by donations from the National Wild Turkey Federation, she said.

Fluorescent orange requirements

In most parts of the state, hunters participating in the fall turkey season are required, while moving, to wear at least 250 inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined.

Orange must be visible from 360 degrees. Hunters may remove their orange once in a stationary location, providing that a minimum of 100 square inches of fluorescent orange is posted within 15 feet of the location and is visible from 360 degrees.

In WMU 2B, which is open to shotgun and archery hunting only during the fall turkey season, turkey hunters, while moving, must wear a hat containing at least 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material, visible from 360 degrees. While fluorescent orange is not required at stationary locations in WMU 2B, it is strongly recommended.
Archery hunters who are hunting either deer or bear during the overlap with fall turkey season also must wear a fluorescent orange hat at all times when moving. The hat must contain at least 100 square inches of solid, fluorescent orange, visible from 360 degrees, and may be removed once in a stationary location.

Illustrations and a chart listing fluorescent orange requirements for different hunting seasons can be found on pages 63 to 65 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. Since fluorescent orange requirements have been in place for the fall-turkey season, fall turkey hunting shooting incidents have decreased from 38, three of them fatal, in 1990, to none in 2012.

Last year there was one nonfatal incident.

Mentored Hunters

Pennsylvania’s fall turkey season is among those open to Mentored Youth and Mentored Adult hunters.

The Mentored Youth Hunting Program sets out to introduce those under the age of 12 to hunting. Mentored Youth must obtain a $2.70 permit, and must be accompanied at all times by a licensed mentor over the age of 21.

The Mentored Adult Hunting Program is new this year, and seeks to remove an obstacle for adults who have an interest in hunting and the opportunity to go hunting with a licensed mentor. The cost of a resident Mentored Adult permit is $20.70 – the same as the cost of a resident hunting license.

Mentored Youth and Mentored Adults can participate only in approved hunting seasons, and the seasons that have been approved for Mentored Youth are different from those for Mentored Adults. Different sets of regulations apply to Mentored Youth and Mentored Adults, as well.

A full description of the programs can be found on pages 15 and 16 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

During the fall turkey season, a mentor may transfer his or her fall turkey tag to a Mentored Youth or Mentored Adult hunter.

About the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC)

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is legally mandated to manage wildlife for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians, as well as all wildlife and the habitat that supports their existence. Pennsylvania’s Constitution and Game and Wildlife Code direct the Game Commission to protect, manage, and preserve wildlife and their habitat within the Commonwealth for the benefit of all people, including generations yet to come. Based on this direction, the Game Commission adopted the mission statement “to manage all wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations.”

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