Sparing hens could boost state’s turkey population
The fall turkey hunting season gets underway this Saturday (Nov. 2) in some parts of the state, some of which have split seasons (consult the Hunting/Trapping Digest for dates). The exceptions are in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 5C and 5D and that’s due to low turkey population numbers.
In some areas, the dates were adjusted because of low numbers due to several cold, wet springs that limited turkey reproduction.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, shorter fall hunting seasons and declining numbers of fall turkey hunters have chipped away at recent fall turkey harvests. This, despite an estimated turkey population of 212,000 birds.
Mary Jo Casalena, PGC wild turkey biologist, says that there are still plenty of birds afield and, in fact, Pennsylvania remains one of the best states in the nation to hunt fall turkeys.
PGC estimates show that in 2018, hunter participation was slightly over 100,000. Back in 2014, that number exceeded 203,000 hunters.
Last fall, turkey hunters took 9,219 birds and this was from an estimated 102,429 hunters who spent an average of 3.5 days hunting turkeys last fall. In comparison to the 2019 spring gobbler season, an estimated 36,000-37,000 turkeys were taken. And during the 2018 spring harvest, an exceptional 40,303 birds were harvested, the highest spring take since 2014 when 41,260 gobblers were shot.
In a press release, Casalena pointed out that over 60 percent of the fall harvest is typically female turkeys, when both species may be taken compared to spring when only male gobblers may be shot.
PGC research shows that hunters shouldn’t over-harvest females as this allows the turkey populations to rebound. Casalena beckons hunters to select a smaller bird when picking one out of a flock. That could go a long way to helping turkeys locally and statewide.
“Lots of hunters select the largest bird that comes in after breaking up a brood flock, and that’s usually an adult female,” Casalena said. “I’m asking hunters to let her go, if possible, as she’s the one with the most experience to help the flock survive through winter. If you can, take a young male or female as they have the lowest survival and breeding success.”
She goes on to explain that jakes usually don’t get a chance to breed first-year hens and have lower nesting rates and lower nest and brood success than adult females.
As for conditions, Casalena says field reports indicate mast production varies. The annual crop of white and chestnut oak acorns is spotty to below average. The biennial crop of red oak acorns seems to be doing better in places as are beechnuts. Wild grape production is off, but apples and crabapples had a great growing season. So hunters should concentrate in the better mast crop areas.
The fall turkey season comes with some regulatory changes such as eliminating the requirement to wear fluorescent orange when hunting. It also applies to archery deer hunters throughout their six-week season.
The other change is the elimination of fall turkey hunting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The short, holiday-based season now ends a half hour after sunset on the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving, which is now the opening of the statewide firearms deer season.
Successful turkey hunters are reminded to report their turkey harvest either online by going to www.pgc.pa.gov and clicking on Report a Harvest; call toll free at 855-724-8681; or by mail using the postage-paid harvest report in the Hunting/Trapping Digest.