Come Saturday, April 29 there will be clucks, purrs and gobbles emanating from Penn’s Woods. It’s when the much awaited spring gobbler hunting kicks off that runs until May 31, 2017.
Last year, there was 35,966 spring turkeys taken, which, according to Mary Jo Casalena, Pennsylvania Game Commission turkey biologist, was down from 41,200 the previous season. But she’s predicting that this spring season should be good because of a mild winter and that the fall turkey harvest dropped as a result of fall mast being spotty. This made the turkeys leave their usual haunts frequented by hunters as they headed to better food sources.
This may be evident again this year. The photo accompanying this column shows a gobbler pursuing a hen in the parking lot of Weavers Hardware Store in Fleetwood, Pa. Actually, there were eight birds there as they meandered around employees and customers’ cars in their parking lot. One employee said it appeared the birds were pecking at the doors of cars, perhaps because they saw their image in the doors. These birds evidently came from the mountain ridge that runs along that part of Berks County. Otherwise it’s all open farm land to the north of Weavers’ store.
In evaluating and predicting the upcoming spring season compared to last season, Casalena said, “Mild winters are easier on turkeys and helps them prepare for spring breeding. That should lead to a healthier turkey population and might put gobblers on a timeline to be exceptionally fired up when the season begins.”
She went on to say that poor weather through much of last season, including nagging drizzle on many mornings, played a part in the reduced spring harvest.
“Warm weather also sets gobblers on fire early. But then the weather turned nasty again and hens struggled, with many losing their first nest attempts. Their renewed availability at the start of the season led to gobblers chasing hens, instead of coming into hunters’ call,” she opined.
Interestingly, about 67 percent of turkeys in the 2016 spring harvest were adult gobblers, 23 percent were jakes, 2 percent were bearded hens and 7 percent were males of unknown age.
This, says the PGC, compares with the previous long-term average of 71 percent adult gobblers, 19 percent jakes, 4 percent bearded hens and 7 percent unknown-aged males.
To show turkey hunting’s popularity, Pennsylvania sold a record 19,796 second spring gobbler licenses in 2016. A 10 percent increase over the previous record of 18,085 licenses in 2014. This led to a harvest of 3,841 bearded turkeys last spring. That’s the second-highest total since the second license was first offered in 2006.
If you do bag a sizable gobbler, the PGC would like to see a photo of it. The PGC is sponsoring a Turkey Harvest Photo Contest and welcomes your photo. The photo should include you in the shot and can be submitted by emailing it, along with your name, hometown, the county the turkey was harvested in and anyone else in the photo, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The prize will be one of two personalized engraved box calls.
Entries will be narrowed to a field of finalists in each of the adult and youth hunter categories. One winner in each category will be selected by voters on the PGC’s Facebook page.
NWTF GOBBLER MAP APP
If you’re looking for a place to turkey hunt, the National Wild Turkey Federation has come out with their free 2017 Gobbler Map app that features field reports of turkey activity for areas you select, public land maps, harvest reports, huntable areas, trends on an interactive heat map, plus it shows how to score your bird. It’s available free for Android and Apple devices.
To get it go to www.gobblermap.com and click on “View a Heat Map of Turkey Activity.”
When going afield for spring turkey season, spray up with a good tick repellent. Because of a relatively mild winter, ticks are predicted to be heavy this year.
Also keep in mind the regulations concerning the use of blinds while turkey hunting. The PGC says that while turkey hunting, blinds must be manufactured with manmade materials of sufficient density to block movement within the blind from an observer outside the blind. Blinds must completely enclose the hunter on all four sides and from above.
It’s unlawful to hunt turkeys from blinds made of natural materials such as logs, tree branches and piled rocks. And blinds that represent a fanned tail of a gobbler do not hide all hunter movement, and therefore are unlawful to use in Pennsylvania.
The latter two scenarios have been featured on recent YouTube segments. The first being a pair of turkey hunters who were sitting against a downed tree and another to the left of them were shot at by another hunter in mistake for a turkey. Same for the fan blind which is even more dangerous to use.
It can’t be stressed enough to make 100 percent sure what you’re shooting at is a real turkey. Not a camouflaged hunter calling in a turkey.
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.