Spring Gobbler season holds plenty of potential

Hunters across the Keystone State are anxiously awaiting the approach of spring turkey season. If weather cooperates, they won’t be disappointed.

Even though widespread rain and colder-than-normal temperatures discouraged some turkey hunters last spring, those who ventured afield set the highest hunter success rate in years. The estimated 174,500 spring turkey hunters afield in 2018 pales in comparison to the 10-year average of 219,650. But they still took 40,303 turkeys, which is up from 38,101 in 2017.

The 2019 youth spring turkey season opens for properly licensed junior hunters Saturday, April 20. A week later, on April 27, all hunters can head into Penn’s Woods in pursuit of spring gobblers. Season closes May 31.

The forecast for the coming season is a statewide turkey population numbering between 215,000 to 225,000 birds, said Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wild turkey biologist.

“Low fall harvests in recent years have positioned Pennsylvania for an exceptional spring turkey season,” Casalena explained. “That fewer hunters have been heading afield in recent years just sweetens the pot.”

Pennsylvania turkeys are coming off their second consecutive rainy spring. Extensive rainfall and well below-average temperatures hampered poult survival in some areas of the state. Light fall harvests and recent mild winters have helped balance the population, though.

“Turkeys and turkey hunters are overdue for a more seasonable spring,” Casalena noted. “Let’s hope weather conditions are more agreeable in coming weeks and more hunters have the time find and take gobblers.”

The turkey population peaked at 280,000 in 2001 after years of intensive management. Since then populations have declined and now fluctuate annually based upon summer recruitment. But the population also is influenced substantially by habitat quality, increasingly severe weather events, predation and fall harvest, Casalena said. Overall, the population is slowly increasing from its most-recent low of 192,612 in 2010, with increases in the one- and two-year age classes.

A record 20,925 hunters bought second gobbler tags in 2018. Their success rate was a best-ever 65 percent. But second turkeys accounted for only 10 percent of the overall spring harvest.

Hunters should note the second spring gobbler license only is on sale prior to the start of the season. Once April 27 rolls around, it’s too late to purchase one.

“If you haven’t hunted spring turkeys in a while, this is the season to get back in the game,” Casalena noted. Likewise, if last season left a bad taste in your mouth, this isn’t the season to sit on the sidelines. “This season’s potential, courtesy of an incredible gobbler carryover, is the kind that comes around only once in a great while. Don’t miss it.”


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