This past Saturday was the start of the fall turkey hunting season in selected Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). As always, the season is closed in WMUs 5A, 5C and 5D due to low turkey numbers.
The seasons vary depending on WMUs. In WMUs, 1A, 1B, 4A, 4D and 4E, the season runs Oct. 29-Nov. 5; WMU 2B, Oct. 29-Nov. 18 and Nov. 23-25; WMUs 2A, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3D and 4C, Oct. 29-Nov. 12; WMU 2C, 2D and 2E it’s Oct. 29-Nov. 12 and Nov. 23-25; and lastly, WMU 5B, Nov. 1-3.
As in the past, the PGC reminds hunters that single-projectile firearms are not permitted, only shotguns and archery gear.
Unlike the spring gobbler season, the fall season allows the harvest of male and female turkeys and interestingly, females make up about 60 percent of the fall harvest.
According to the PGC, the season outlook is marginal as turkey populations in many WMUs were measured to be below the management goal. When this occurs, the PGC shortens the season length.
During the 2021 statewide fall harvest of 6,800 turkeys, this accounted for a 20 percent lower number than the 2020 harvest.
“The good news is that turkey reproduction in 2021 and 2022 was above average across many WMUs,” said Mary Jo Casalena, PGC wild turkey biologist, who adds that this results in large fall flocks.
To find the birds, Casalena says hunters should expect to find turkey brood flocks concentrated on available food sources such as areas with good acorn mast or agricultural areas.
Casalena reminds successful hunters to immediately tag their birds and report their harvest within 10 days. Mentored hunters under the age of 7 may receive, by transfer, a fall turkey tag supplied by their mentor.
There are two ways to report a harvest. Either send it in or phone it in by calling 800-838-4431 and follow the prompts. When doing so, hunters need to have their license and copy of the harvest tag in front of them when making the call. After which the PGC says hunters need to record the supplied information (confirmation) number for the turkey reported. And as with deer and bear harvests, hunters are asked to identify the WMU, county and township that the bird was taken.
And if harvesting a turkey with a leg band, hunters should follow the instructions on the band as the PGC leg-banded over 800 turkeys last winter in an effort to track turkey populations.
SALMON RIVER, NY UPDATE
For anglers planning a late trip to the Pulaski River in New York, my friend Tom Marchetto of Eason recently returned from there and provided this fishing report. Marchetto and two buddies spent their first day fishing at Ellis Cove on the river and several tributaries. The action was slow with only a few hook-ups and one King landed. The next day was on the lower part of the river (the Staircase) where the action was better especially around the Staircase Hole as it’s called. There, mostly Kings and a few Coho’s were hooked and two Kings were kept but no Coho’s landed. Fishing pressure was intense. Afterwards, heavy rain put a damper on fishing but when it stopped, fishing really improved to the point Marchetto said they played catch-and-release with Kings and they kept four Coho’s. All fish were caught on plastic eggs and flies, but neither dominated.
Upland hunters can look forward to some pheasant and rabbit action this Saturday when the first of three pheasant and rabbit hunting season opens. It’s one of three seasons where this initial season runs Oct. 22-Nov. 12 and Sunday, Nov. 13, the latter is one of two Sunday small game hunting opportunities.
If you read last week’s column, it was explained that the once popular pheasant season is not what it was 20-30 years ago when the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) stocked local farm and private lands that were part of the PGCs Farm-Game Co-Op program. It was subsequently replaced with the Hunter Access Program that has similar functions. The former would allow the agency to stock farms and private lands with pheasants and in turn the owners would get pine and shrub seedlings to plant on their property and be given signs to post to denote their lands were open to hunting, plus other benefits.
Today, the majority of lands that get stocked with birds are state lands. This is attributed in part to development of farm lands and loss of habitat.
In Lehigh County, only State Game Lands #205 in Lowhill Township receives birds according to the PGCs stocking map.
The PGC says they have or will have stocked 11,750 males and 4,340 females for the Junior Hunt; 120,170 males and 44,170 females for pre and in-season; and 41,630 males and 15, 400 females for the winter season here in the Southeast Region.
When consulting the PGCs website pheasant stocking map, SGL #205 received eight releases of 4,310 birds in 2021.
Despite these numbers, there is a survival rate that considers predation by hawks, owls, foxes, and coyotes. The PGC says that overall, 53 percent of males and 41.1 percent of females were harvested. Harvest rates were similar between other public properties (50.7 percent) and SGLs (48.7 percent), but were significantly higher than harvest rates on Hunter Access properties (37.3 percent).
For hunters with a hunting dog, your chances are better of scoring as these planted birds, despite the PGC’s best effort to keep them wild while being raised, have a tendency to run instead of fly. A good pointer can solve this.
As for rabbits, I contend there are more in parts of the city of Allentown than there are in the farmland fields and woodlands. Perhaps the reason for the latter is that a growing population of coyotes and foxes in suburbia have kept their once high numbers in check.
LIL-LE-HI TROUT NURSERY GETS RAINBOWS
For the past five years, the Lil-Le-Hi trout nursery in Allentown did not receive rainbow trout from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission for rearing and stocking. Reason being, there was a rash of gill lice affecting rainbows. But after the PFBC did a 30-day study of a sampling of trout at the nursery and finding no lice, the agency deposited 11,400 rainbow fingerlings last Wednesday into a rearing tank at the nursery. “These fish will grow and be stocked in area streams in two years,” said James Schneck, a member of Pioneer Fish & Game Association and a nursery volunteer worker. In addition, the PFBC also sent 125 sizeable golden rainbow trout to be stocked next year.
With the pheasant hunting season set to begin in two weeks (Oct. 22), this popular game bird is always exciting to hunt when the startling burst of wings and cackle flies out of cover be a cornfield or brushy field. But the heyday of the majestic pheasant is limited and would be over if it wouldn’t be for pen-raised birds by the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC).
As such, perhaps this is a good time to take a look at how non-native pheasants became to be in Pennsylvania.
According to the PGC, the pheasant is native to Asia and attempts to establish them in North America date back to the 1700s. It wasn’t until 1881 in Willamette Valley of Oregon that pheasants first became established.
Back in the 1890s private Pennsylvania citizens purchased pheasants from an English game keeper and released them in Lehigh and Northampton counties. For several years later, many other small releases were made across the Commonwealth to establish the sport of pheasant hunting.
Foreseeing the hunting popularity, back in the 1990s the PGC used funds to purchase and propagate pheasant eggs that were given to PGC refuge keepers, sportsman’s clubs and private individuals interested in raising pheasants. As a result, the first stocking of pheasants by the PGC occurred by 1915. It wasn’t until 1929 when the Commission began propagating pheasants on an extensive scale on two game farms.
Over the next six decades, three other farms became operational due to the popularity of hunting this grand game bird. Programs were also established with 4-H clubs, farmers and other cooperators for rearing and releasing on areas of public hunting.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, pheasants flourished in Pennsylvania with annual harvests estimated at over a million birds. You’d frequently see them along roadways and in fields. In fact, as a kid we had one in my parents West Catasauqua backyard. My dad presumed it came from the West Catty woods about a half-mile away and adjacent to the oil tank farm and behind where Walmart now is in Whitehall.
Despite this success, by the mid 1970s, pheasant populations and harvest trends started declining. Several factors caused this such as farming practices, herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and urban development. Approximately 900,000 acres of farmland disappeared and with it was good pheasant habitat.
To offset declining pheasant populations, not to mention hawk, great-horned owl and fox predation, the PGC began mass producing birds of lesser quality. Studies done in the 1980s showed that pen-raised pheasants didn’t survive well in the wild. So in the ‘80s, the agency implemented new rearing techniques to produce a wilder, hardier bird so they were better prepared for survival. They were then reared in diversified habitat under covered fields in which free-flying birds are raised and with little human contact so the birds could better learn to fend for themselves and retain their wariness.
The effect of this change was in the reduced number of birds raised and released from an all-time high of 425,217 pheasants in 1983 to approximately 200,000.
In the next column, we’ll list the number of birds to be released and where in time for the pheasant hunting season opener.
Waterfowl hunters need to be aware of recent cases of Avian flu that were found in some Canada geese
First it was Chronic Wasting Disease which is a fatal brain disease in deer. Then it was Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease that’s a virus in rabbits, primarily domestics with fear it will spread to wild cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares. Now the newest problem is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) disease that can and has affected Canada geese. And with the resident population goose zone now open for hunting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) sends out a warning to waterfowl hunters.
Up until last week, there were few if any harvested corn or wheat fields where geese could feed. But some local farmers have been selectively taking down their corn where geese can now feed on spent corn from the harvesting machinery.
According to the PGC, tests revealed more than 30 Canada geese were found sick or dead recently at Griffin Reservoir in Lackawanna County from the Avian Influenza.
With the remainder of the three-part goose season reopening Oct. 22-Nov. 25, and Oct. 8-15 for ducks in the South Zone, the PGC advises hunters to take precautions when handling wild birds. The PGC says that if hunters properly handle wild birds they harvest, they not only protect themselves but help reduce the risk that this extremely contagious disease spreads to other birds.
The PGC recommends the following:
*Harvest only healthy-looking birds.
*Wear gloves when handling any wild birds.
*Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer immediately after handling wild birds.
*Dress harvested wild birds in the field.
*Change clothing as needed especially if visibly soiled or if any birds made contact with clothing.
*Wash all equipment, tools, and work surfaces with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10 percent household bleach solution. Allow to air dry or rinse after 10 minutes of contact time.
The commission says HPAI can infect humans, though just one human case has been reported in the United States during this outbreak.
Since January 2022, the PGC along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have sampled and tested 1,000 wild birds from almost every county in the Commonwealth, with HPAI detected in 47 wild birds. It’s pointed out that despite this low number, not every bird during a mortality event is tested.
FALL/WINTER TROUT STOCKING
On October 3, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission started stocking more than 100 streams and lakes with Rainbow, Brown and Brook trout as part of its fall/winter trout stocking program.
Trout fishing now comes under Extended Trout Season Regulations meaning that only three trout of combined species may be creeled. Locally, only the Little Lehigh Creek will be stocked on 10-18. Over in Northampton County, Minsi Lake gets a planting on 10-13. In Berks, Antietam Reservoir gets trout 11-3; Kaercher Creek Dam on 12-13; Scotts Run Lake, 10-18; and Tulpehocken Creek on 10-13.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.