Saturday (Oct 31) marks the opening of fall turkey hunting season statewide. But not in Wildlife Management Units 5B, 5C and 5D because the wild turkey population is not up to two seasons a year.
The PGC says that while season lengths haven’t changed in most WMUs from last year, hunters should consult the Hunting/Trapping Digest on pages 10 and 42 because during the fall, different season lengths apply in different units. And the seasons in a handful of WMUs have been shortened this year.
For example, the first segment has been shortened from, three weeks to two in WMUs 2E, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D, in an effort to have those populations rebound from declining trends. The three-day Thursday through Saturday season remains intact in WMU 5A to provide a greater opportunity for hunters whose schedules don’t allow for a weekday hunt.
Hunters who didn’t participate in the fall turkey season during the last two years might be unaware of season length changes from 2013 to 2014 in some other WMUs. This is due to declining population trends and the results of an agency study that showed the longer the fall season, the higher the female turkey harvest.
“During the fall season any turkey can be harvested because jakes (young males) are difficult to distinguish from females. Our research shows females (both juvenile and adult) comprise a larger portion of the fall harvest than males. And our management populations decline to allow them to rebound,” said Mary Jo Casalena, PGC wild turkey biologist.
As for this year’s forecasted harvest, Casalena is hoping for similar hunting participation as last fall, when the number of fall turkey hunters topped 200,000 for the first time since 2005. This is encouraging she said in a press release, in that as recently as 2012, only 123,121 hunters hunted the fall season.
“Fall turkey hunting remains a strong tradition in Pennsylvania, as seen by how we rank with other states. In 2013 (the latest year data available), Pennsylvania’s fall turkey hunters (199,098) were more than three times that of most states with the second highest number, Wisconsin (57,840). That year we ranked second in harvest (16,755) behind Texas (19,066) with 54,753 fall turkey hunters.”
The PGC says last year’s fall harvest increased for the third consecutive year to 18,292, from the low of 14,300 in 2011. Casalena said these increases in the fall turkey harvest were related to growth in turkey populations and increases in hunter participation. She added that in WMUs with shortened seasons, and the relatively new Thanksgiving three-day season, provided additional opportunities for participation.
“Although turkey reproduction this summer was below average in many WMUs, which translates to smaller flocks this fall in those units, reproduction did vary. Many hens simply nested later than normal due to the harsh winter, and these poults may still be growing when the season opens,” Casalena explained.
She went on to say the acorn, beech and cherry production also varied across the state, with red-oak acorn production and soft mast, such as apples and grapes, seeing average to above-average production in many areas. But they are also below average elsewhere. Areas with abundant food sources tend to make the flocks more nomadic, and therefore harder for hunters to find. Whereas lack of food tends to keep flocks congregating where the food exists, and therefore easier for hunters to find, she opines.
“Last year’s fall hunter success rate of 9 percent was a slight decrease from the previous three years (10 percent), but hunter success varies considerably depending on summer reproduction, food availability, weather during the season, and hunter participation. Hunter success was as high as 21 percent in 2001, a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as 4 percent in 1979.”
Casalena would like to remind hunters that if they harvest a leg-banded or satellite-transmittered turkey, or find leg bands or transmitters, to report it through the toll free number stamped on each. That information is important so the PGC and hunters, who can learn the history of the bird.
And lastly, hunters should check the fluorescent orange requirements during the overlapping archery deer and bear season. Since the orange requirement was put in place, the PGC says fall turkey hunting shooting incidents decreased from 38, three of them fatal, in 1990, to none in 2012. During the last two years, there has been one nonfatal incident each year.