Pennsylvania -(Ammoland.com)- One of Pennsylvania’s most exciting seasons will begin Oct. 31 as hunters head afield in pursuit of a most-coveted game animal – the wild turkey. Hunting season lengths vary according to Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) from closed season to three-plus weeks.
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 2E, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D – to help those populations rebound from declining trends, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The three-day Thursday-through-Saturday season remains intact in WMU 5A to provide greater opportunity for hunters whose schedules do not allow for a weekday hunt. 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,” Hough said. “The changes are easy to follow, and are laid out clearly on pages 10 and 42 in the Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to all buyers of hunting and furtaker licenses.”
Hunters who didn’t participate in the fall turkey season during the last two years might be unaware of season length changes from 2013 and 2014 in some other WMUs, due to declining population trends and the results of an agency study that showed the longer the fall season, the higher the female turkey harvest.
“During the fall season, any turkey can be harvested because jakes, young males, are difficult to distinguish from females,” Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said. “Our research shows females (both juvenile and adult) comprise a larger portion of the fall harvest than males. Our management and research also have shown that we shouldn’t overharvest females, so we shorten the fall season length when turkey populations decline to allow them to rebound.”
Additional information on turkey seasons, bag limits and other regulations can be found on pages 42 and 43 of the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.
In most of the state, the fall turkey season opens Saturday, Oct. 31. The seasons are as follows: WMU 1B – Oct. 31 to Nov. 7, and Nov. 26 to 28; WMU 2B (shotgun and archery only) – Oct. 31 to Nov. 20, and Nov. 26 to 28; WMUs 1A, 2A, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D – Oct. 31 to Nov. 14, and Nov. 26 to 28; WMUs 2C, 4C and 4E – Oct. 31 to Nov. 20, and Nov. 26 to 28; and WMU 5A – Nov. 5 to 7.
FALL TURKEY FORECAST
Casalena is hoping for similar hunting participation as last fall, when the number of fall turkey hunters topped 200,000 for the first time since 2005. This is especially encouraging because as recently as 2012 only 123,121 hunters hunted the fall turkey season.
“Fall turkey hunting remains a strong tradition in Pennsylvania, as seen by how we rank with other states. In 2013 (the latest year data are available) Pennsylvania’s fall turkey hunters (199,098) were more than three times that of the state with the second highest number, Wisconsin (57,840). That year we ranked second in harvest (16,755) behind Texas (19,066) with 54,753 fall turkey hunters.”
Last year’s fall harvest increased for the third consecutive year to 18,292, from the low of 14,300 in 2011. Casalena said these increases in fall turkey harvest are related to growth in turkey populations and increases in hunter participation. And in WMUs with shortened seasons, the relatively new Thanksgiving three-day season provides additional opportunities for participation.
“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, beech and cherry production also varied across the state, with red-oak acorn production and soft mast, such as apples and grapes, seeing average to above-average production in many areas, but below average food production elsewhere. Areas with abundant food sources tend to make the flocks more nomadic and, therefore harder for hunters to find. Whereas lack of food tends to keep flocks congregated where the food exists and, therefore easier for hunters to find, she said.
Casalena said the fall season is a great time to introduce a novice turkey hunter to the sport. “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.”
Last year’s fall hunter success rate of 9 percent was a slight decrease from the previous three years (10 percent), but hunter success varies considerably depending on summer reproduction, food availability, weather during the season, and hunter participation. Hunter success was as high as 21 percent in 2001, a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as 4 percent in 1979.
Hopefully hunter success isn’t measured only by whether or not a turkey is harvested. Enjoying time afield with family, friends, a hunting dog, and/or mentoring a hunter also qualifies a successful hunt.
Casalena said the 2015 spring-season harvests (including youth, mentored youth and harvests from the special turkey license that allows hunters to harvest a second bird) totaled 41,180, which was similar to the 2014 harvest of 41,258, and a 6 percent increase from the previous long-term average of 38,697. Hunter success, 19 percent, was slightly higher than 2014, 18 percent, and the previous long-term average of 17 percent.
Pennsylvania hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1995, exceeding most other states in the nation. The 2013 harvest of 41,260 ranked second in the nation behind Missouri’s 47,603 spring 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. Although the agency’s research project is completed and rewards are no longer valid, the information provided is still beneficial and hunters can learn the history of the bird.
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 62 and 63 of the 2015-16 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. During the last two years there has been one nonfatal incident each year.
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 21 years or older.
The Mentored Adult Hunting Program is in its second 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 in only 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.
During the fall turkey season, a mentor may transfer his or her fall turkey tag to a Mentored Youth or Mentored Adult hunter.
A full description of the programs can be found on pages 15 and 16 of the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.