The fall turkey hunting season kicked off this past Saturday (Oct. 28) in 19 of Pennsylvania’s 22 Wildlife Management Units (WMU). Unfortunately, it’s not open locally in WMU 5C, 5D and 5A as the turkey population is not sufficient to allow spring and fall hunts in these units.
During the fall season, any turkey can be harvested, and female turkeys make up over 50 percent of the fall harvest. When turkey populations are below goal in a WMU, the fall season structure is reduced to allow more female turkeys to survive to nest, explains the PGC.
As for the season outlook, turkey reproduction in 2023, as measured by the number of poults observed, was lower than in 2021 and 2022. But it was greater this year than in 2019 and 2020 across many WMUs, says the PGC.
According to Mary Jo Casalena, PGC wild turkey biologist, “Although fall flock sizes may be smaller this year, there may be more flocks due to the above-average reproduction the previous two years. Hunters should expect to find flocks concentrated on available food sources, such as areas with acorn production or agricultural areas.”
Casalena encourages hunters to cover a lot of ground in areas where acorn or beechnut production is abundant because flocks are not constrained by limited food. “Where food is abundant, determining turkey movement patterns around that food will improve hunting success,” Casalena opines.
During the 2022 season, the fall harvest (7,600 turkeys) was 12 percent greater than in 2021 (6,800 turkeys). Statewide fall hunter participation (70,500 hunters) was 14 percent less in 2022 than in 2021 (81,500 hunters). Fall hunter success of 10.8 percent was 29 percent greater than the 8.4 percent in 2021 per the PGC.
Successful turkey hunters are reminded that they must tag their birds immediately after harvest and file a turkey harvest report within 10 days of harvest. That can be done by going online to the PGC’s website (www.pgc.pa.gov.), by calling toll free (800-838-4431), or by mailing in a prepaid post card. When doing so, hunters are asked to identify the WMU, county, and township where the bird was taken. If hunters harvest a leg-banded turkey, or has a transmitter attached, follow the instructions on the band or transmitter as last winter the PGC leg-banded more than 900 turkeys that include backpack style transmitters on more than 260 turkeys. The effort was to help track turkey populations.
Also keep in mind that while it’s not required to wear fluorescent orange, the PGC highly recommends wearing some while moving through the woods.
Since 2021, there have been one or fewer turkey-hunting related shooting incidents each year, and 2022 marked the sixth year with no incidents. The other years with no incidents were 2012, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Incidents can be avoided by positively identifying the target before shooting.
FALL TURKEY HUNTING MYTHS
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, here are two myths about fall turkeys.
MYTH: You can’t call fall longbeards - Not unless you try. Fall longbeard hunters know a post-scatter wait can take time. But the birds can come back gobbling, yelping, even strutting after a flock break. Sometimes it happens quickly, often it takes longer if at all. Be persistent.
MYTH: Fall gobblers don’t strut or gobble - Fall turkeys roost-gobble, ground-gobble and gobble after an intentional flock break as they regroup during your effort to call them back. Fall gobblers strut too.
Twenty and more years ago Pennsylvania hunters would look forward to the opening of the pheasant hunting season that opens statewide on Saturday, Oct. 21 with split seasons. I say “would” because this exciting gamebird has seen its demise in several forms.
According to Bob Danenhower of Bob’s Taxidermy Shop in Orefield, who used to raise pheasants and a historian of sorts of the good old days, wild pheasants are non-existent because of several factors. Namely, some due to loss of habitat, predation by owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums who would raid pheasant nests, and of course pesticides. The wild pheasant strain became diluted when the Pennsylvania Game Commission stocked pen raised hen pheasants that would lay eggs then walk away from them so no wild propagation resulted. And stocked birds don’t have the wildness despite the PGC’s effort to maintain a wild, hardy strain in stocked birds.
In my experience growing up in West Catty, my parents and I would often see wild pheasants in our back yard that would feast on bird seed my mother would put out for birds. Those pheasants would come from what we called the West Catty woods and farmland adjacent to the oil tank farm in the township and mall that houses Dicks Sporting Goods, Giant grocery store and others off MacArthur Road.
In fact, I remember as a youngster joining my grandfather and uncle as we hunted pheasant in the large cornfield that is now the Whitehall Mall.
Many years ago, in his outdoors column, the late Charlie Neff, who was very active with the Lehigh Valley Conservancy, would write about taking the trolley from Allentown with his shotgun to hunt pheasant in the farmlands in Fogelsville. Try that on a bus today and the SWAT team would be called out. Ah, the good ole days.
Despite all this, pheasant hunting does exist thanks to the PGCs pre and inseason pheasant stocking program of pen raised hens and males. But unlike past times, when the PGC sponsored a Farm-Game Co-Op when farmers would open their farmlands to hunters in return for pine tree seedlings and pheasant stocking, that program name was changed to Public Access Cooperator. So when hunters see these very few signs, permission from the landowners must be given before hunting there.
But today, PGC primarily stocks pheasants on State Game Lands (SGL) and state-owned properties.
In Lehigh County SGL #205 was stocked Oct. 5-6 with 480 cockbirds (C) and 180 hens (H) for the Youth Hunt. Then a pre-season stocking took place Oct. 18-20, 390-C, 140-H followed by; 1st inseason the week of Oct. 24-27, 490-C, 180-H; 2nd inseason, Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 390-C, 150-H; 3rd inseason, Nov. 6-9, 390-C, 150-H; 4th inseason, Nov. 15-17, 370-C, 140-H.
Down in Berks County, SGL #106, #280, Blue Marsh, French Creek State Park – Big Woods Tract received pre-season with the same above dates that consisted of; pre-season, 890-C, 320-H; 1st inseason, 1,120-C, 400-H; 2nd inseason, 920-C, 340-H; 3rd inseason, 910-C, 330-H; 4th inseason, 910-C, 330-H.
Both counties will have additional winter stockings that will begin Dec. 13-15 and other dates that we’ll list in a future column. Unfortunately, Northampton County receives no stocked birds although some local sportsmen’s clubs stock them on their properties.
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.