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Pennsylvania turkey season opens April 24 with youth hunt

From the Pennsylvania Game Commission

-- Pennsylvania's spring gobbler hunting season opens April 24 with a one-day youth hunt, followed by the general spring gobbler season May 1 to 31. Hunters who have purchased a second spring gobbler season license may harvest up to two bearded turkeys.

Wild turkeys continue to be the second most popular game species in Pennsylvania.

Spring turkey hunting has become so popular that there now are more spring turkey hunters (239,000) than fall turkey hunters (183,000), according to the annual Game-Take Survey.  Since 2001, spring gobbler harvests have exceeded fall turkey harvests. The preliminary harvest estimate for the 2009 spring gobbler season shows hunters took 43,677 bearded birds (which included a harvest of 41,397 using the spring gobbler tag attached to all general hunting licenses, and 2,280 using the special spring gobbler license) from an estimated statewide spring population of about 345,000.  

Final figures will be available in July after the results of the Game-Take Survey are compiled. The spring wild turkey population peaked in 2001, when it numbered 410,000. So, it’s fair to say the status of wild turkeys has changed dramatically over the past 40 years.

Pennsylvania now manages one of the most prolific wild turkey populations in America. The accomplishment is related to previous and ongoing management practices, the state’s turkey-friendly habitats and the resiliency of wild turkeys.

Final spring gobbler harvests, prior to 2009’s preliminary harvest of 41,397, are 40,522 in 2008; 37,880 in 2007; 39,297 in 2006; 32,593 in 2005; 41,017 in 2004; and 42,876 in 2003. The preliminary fall wild turkey harvest was about 23,068, which is down from the 26,500 in 2008, but is up substantially from the 21,900 in 2007, and 21,500 in 2006. Final 2009 harvest figures will be available later this summer.

In 2009, 2,280 second spring gobblers were taken by the 10,720 hunters who purchased the special spring gobbler license.  That compares with 1,954 second turkeys taken by 8,795 license holders in 2008; 1,507 turkeys by 7,585 license holders in 2007, and 1,454 turkeys by 8,041 license holders in 2006.

The optimistic outlook is for 2010 is because of the excellent summer reproduction two and three years ago, which provided for a higher proportion of adult (two- and three-year-old) gobblers in the population. Reproduction last spring was below average because of the cold, wet spring which may impact next year’s spring harvest.

In a recently completed four-year gobbler study concluded that hunters select the older long-beards over juveniles or jakes.  Adult birds gobble the most and come readily to hunters’ calls and are more prone to being harvested.  Older four- and five-year-old age classes usually are more wary, and there number less in the population.  With an above-average number of two- and three-year-olds in this year’s flocks, hunters can expect an excellent spring turkey season.

Hunters are reminded that it is illegal to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds in the spring gobbler season. Given the wild turkey’s keen senses, it’s not a wise move anyway.  It makes a tremendous difference for the personal safety of everyone afield. Over the years, too many hunters have been shot for game while approaching a hunter calling for turkeys, and callers have been shot in mistake for game by stalking hunters.

All spring gobbler hunters are encouraged 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. Be patient. Wait until the bird is fully visible before squeezing the trigger.

Legal sporting arms are shotguns plugged to three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined, muzzleloading 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.”

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 furtaker license. Woodchuck hunting is not allowed during spring gobbler season shooting hours.

Successful spring gobbler 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 Digest, or through the Pennsylvania Automated License System. Information to be reported includes the hunter’s name and address; date and location of kill (WMU, county, township) and sporting arm used.

Hunters also are encouraged to report all leg-banded turkeys they take to assist the Game Commission in ongoing research by calling the toll-free number listed on the leg band. 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 24 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.

For the fourth year, youths 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 need to obtain a permit for $2.70, and must be accompanied by an adult mentor who is a properly licensed and at least 21 years of age. A field harvest tag is provided with the mentored youth hunting program permit.  Mentored youths also are required to report their harvest to the Game Commission either online or by using one of the report card inserts that are part of the digest.  

Additional information about the Game Commission’s Mentored Youth Hunting Program, visit the agency's website at . Click on Mentored Youth FAQs in the drop-down menu in the Quick Clicks box in the right column of the homepage, or consult pages 13 and 33 of the 2009-2010 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.

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