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Pennsylvania opens its 41st Spring Gobbler season April 18

From the Pennsylvania Game Commission

-- 2009 marks the 41st anniversary of the Keystone State’s spring gobbler hunting season, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission says turkey hunters should expect to find exciting opportunities afield as they head out for both the youth and traditional spring season openers.

The state’s one-day youth spring gobbler season is April 18; the general spring gobbler season is April 25 to May 25. Hunters who have purchased a second spring gobbler season license may harvest up to two bearded turkeys.

“For the springs of four decades, wild turkey hunters have had a chance to match wits with gobblers in the fields and forests of Pennsylvania, and to say they have taken a shine to this special season would be an understatement,” explained Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. 

“Although the season was somewhat controversial when proposed, and we started it conservatively to ensure the resource could handle it, today it is one of our most popular seasons and annually provides recreation for hundreds of thousands of people.”

The first spring gobbler season ran only six days so biologists could get a pulse on hunter success and the season’s impact on the more than 60,000 wild turkeys inhabiting about half of Pennsylvania’s forestland. It worked. More hunters were afield on the last day of the season – a Saturday – than the opener. Hunters took a total of 1,636 turkeys.

In 2008, hunters took 40,522 bearded wild turkeys in the spring gobbler seasons (including 1,954 with second spring gobbler licenses) from an estimated statewide spring population of about 335,000. The spring wild turkey population peaked in 2001, when it numbered 410,000. The status of wild turkeys has changed dramatically over the past 40 years.

“Pennsylvania began to establish its presence in America’s wild turkey management history back in the 1960s through the efforts of two biologists who made their peers look at what was going on here,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. “Gerald Wunz and Arnie Hayden refined turkey trap-and-transfer techniques and multi-season frameworks to help turkeys reclaim their former range throughout the state.

“With each passing year, turkey population grew and compelled the agency, in 1980, to close its turkey farm. It had produced more than 200,000 birds over its half century of operation.” Today, Pennsylvania manages one of the most prolific wild turkey populations in America.

“The preliminary 2008 spring gobbler harvest was the sixth highest on record,” Casalena said. “It is nine percent above the previous three-year average, and just three percent below the previous 10-year average, which included a period when Pennsylvania logged five consecutive harvests of more than 40,000 gobblers.”

The Game Commission encourages all spring turkey hunters to hunt safely and defensively. Consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing at all times—even though it is no longer required by law—and treat every sound and movement in the forest as if it is another hunter until you can positively confirm it is a legal turkey.

Legal sporting arms are shotguns plugged to three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined; muzzle loading shotguns; and crossbows and bows with broadhead bolts or arrows of cutting-edge design.

Shot size can be no larger than No. 4 lead, bismuth-tin and tungsten-iron, or No. 2 steel. Rifle-shotgun combinations also may be used, but no single-projectile ammunition may be used or carried.

Carrying or using rifles, handguns, dogs, electronic callers, drives and live decoys is unlawful. 

The use of blinds is legal so long as it is an “artificial or manufactured turkey blind consisting of all manmade materials of sufficient density to block the detection of movement within the blind from an observer located outside the blind.” Officials recommend hunters wrap an orange alert band around a nearby tree when stationary, especially when calling and/or using decoys.

Coyotes may be harvested by turkey hunters. However, turkey hunters who have filled their spring turkey tag or tags may not hunt coyotes prior to noon Monday through Saturday during the spring gobbler season, unless they have a fur-taker license. Woodchuck hunting is not allowed during spring gobbler season shooting hours.

Hunters must properly tag their turkey and report the harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days, using the postage-paid report card provided with their hunting license. Hunters who can't find one of the harvest report cards that came with their license, or those who purchased their 2008-09 licenses through the Pennsylvania Automated License System, can tear out and use the harvest report card found on page 33 of the 2008-2009 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, or make their own harvest report card and mail it to the Game Commission.

Hunters also are encouraged to report all leg-banded turkeys they take to assist the Game Commission in ongoing research. In the final year of a four-year turkey leg banding program, hunters can earn a $100 reward for reporting their harvest of a banded wild turkey. Reports must be received by July 31, to be eligible for a reward. Hunters may keep the band; the agency just needs the information on the band.

Junior hunters who participate in the youth spring gobbler day (April 18) are required to have a junior hunting license. On this one-day hunt, junior license holders under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult, who cannot carry a sporting arm. Accompanying adults may only provide guidance, such as calling or scouting. All other hunting regulations are the same as those for the general spring gobbler season, including the hunting hours of one-half hour before sunrise until noon and only bearded turkeys may be taken.

Youngsters under the age of 12 years may participate in the spring gobbler seasons through the Game Commission's Mentored Youth Hunting Program. They can hunt with a mentor during either the one-day youth or general spring gobbler season.  Mentored youths do not need a hunting license or permit, but must be accompanied by a mentor who is a properly licensed adult at least 21 years of age. Mentored youths also are required to report their harvest to the Game Commission by mailing a homemade report card.   

For additional information about the Game Commission's Mentored Youth Hunting Program, visit the agency's website at and click on "Mentored Youth FAQs" in the right column, or consult pages 15 and 33 of the 2008-2009 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.

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