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Safety matters in upcoming spring gobbler season

HARRISBURG — Following COVID-19 protocols is important while afield hunting turkeys.

The extension of cabin-fever brought on by the coronavirus blues has hunters across Pennsylvania looking forward to the start of spring turkey season.

Hunting turkeys in Penn’s Woods will be different this year because of COVID-19, particularly during the youth spring turkey hunt on April 25. But Gov. Tom Wolf’s travel restrictions allow for turkey hunting as outdoor recreation.

But that clearance doesn’t relinquish our obligation to families, friends and all Pennsylvanians to follow the social-distancing and stop-the-spread protocols that are helping the Commonwealth reverse -COVID-19’s hold on the Keystone State.

Some simple rules can make all turkey hunting safer. One of the easiest to follow is: If you live together you can hunt together. When you live in the same home as someone, there’s relatively no risk of spreading COVID-19, so long as no one in the home has it. If someone does, everyone in the home is expected to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Consider carefully whether you should mentor any hunter this spring turkey season. If Pennsylvanians are lucky, the state will be coming off COVID-19’s apex. But stopping the spread remains as important as ever. No turkey hunt is worth the risk of contracting COVID-19.

If you’re going, think of the problems that must be resolved to hunt turkeys safely while mentoring a friend or mentee. Hunting in a blind is out; it doesn’t meet social-distancing requirement to be at least 6 feet apart. So is sharing a vehicle to reach your hunting location.

If you can hunt close to home, here are precautions all mentor and mentee turkey hunters should follow. Follow social-distancing rules and wear gloves at all times. Use a camouflaged bandana or gaiter to cover your nose and mouth. Any equipment passed from one hunter to another should have been cleaned thoroughly before starting the hunt. Carry hand sanitizer for cleanups afield. Coordinate with pre-arranged hand signals.

“There’s no doubt turkey hunting will be tough on hunters used to hunting with friends and at camp,” noted Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “The same applies to hunters who usually mentor young hunters interested in gobbler hunting.

“But COVID-19 is bigger than spring gobbler hunting, and we all must do our part to ensure this pandemic stops haunting all Pennsylvanians,” Burhans noted. “I’m not asking anyone to stop hunting this spring. On the contrary, I’m hoping you’ll get afield and make the most of the spring season without taking COVID-19 risks.”

The statewide spring gobbler season runs from May 2 to May 30 and it’s shaping up to be a season that has something for every spring gobbler hunter. The statewide flock, expected to mirror 2019’s estimated spring population of 212,170 turkeys, has been aided by good reproduction last year, declining participation in fall seasons, and a mild winter with abundant natural foods.

“A strong base of old toms is strutting in our forests and fields in their annual quest for companionship followed by a healthy population of high-spirited jakes,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission turkey biologist. “There’s also a good supply of 2-year-olds roaming in some Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).

“So, if you’re willing to invest some time pursuing spring gobblers, you surely have a chance to bring home one — maybe even two — of these cabin-fever-chasing birds for you grill or dinner table.”

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