Extension will benefit turkey hunters

The fall turkey season opened yesterday in most of Pennsylvania, and in most of the south-central region of the state, hunters will receive an extra week to pursue turkeys this fall as the season runs until Nov. 22 in WMUs 2C, 2E, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E, along with the three-day Thanksgiving season that runs from Nov. 28-30.

With a few exceptions, the fall turkey season runs until Nov. 16 and Nov. 28-30 in most other WMUs, but check page 35 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest regarding the specific WMU you plan to hunt.

The extra week of fall turkey hunting in WMUs 2C, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D comes as part of an ongoing four-year study involving eight WMUs to determine how the length of the fall season affects the female turkey harvest.

This will be the third year of the study. During 2011 and 2012, WMUs 2F, 2G and 2H had a three week fall turkey season while WMUs 2C, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D were allotted two weeks for fall turkey. For 2013 and 2014, WMUs 2C, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D will have a three-week fall season and WMUs 2F, 2G and 2H will have a two-week fall season.

Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said “By switching season lengths between study areas, we can attempt to answer the question of whether the harvest gained by adding an extra week to a two-week season exceeds a sustainable level of harvest. Ultimately, results from this study will allow us to provide the longest fall seasons without overharvesting hen wild turkeys.”

In addition to the extra week of hunting in our area, Casalena also offered some encouraging news for Pennsylvania turkey hunters in general, saying that turkey hunters are likely to see more turkeys afield this fall due to two factors. The first of those was warm and dry weather conditions during late spring, which helped the survival rate of newly hatched wild turkeys, producing an above-average amount of young turkeys in most parts of the state. Another factor could be the availability of food sources. Acorns, for example, are likely to be sparse in many areas due to late frosts last spring. Those spots that offer significant food sources will probably be places to find large flocks of turkeys taking advantage of them.

Another rather dubious statistic to consider might be much less competition from fellow hunters in the fall as compared to just a decade or two ago. Numbers of fall turkey hunters remained well above 200,000 throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, peaking in 1995 when more than 261,000 hunters were estimated to have pursued fall turkeys. In 2006, fall hunters declined to about 182,000, falling below the 200,000 mark for the first time.

That falloff has continued, and just over 136,000 turkeys hunters participated in the fall season during 2010.

Numbersof spring turkey hunters, however, rose steadily during the 1990s and early 2000s and first surpassed the 200,000 mark in 1993. Spring hunters first outnumbered fall hunters in 2000 by an estimated 232,000 to 230,000, and that margin has continued to widen most years since.

Numbers of spring hunters peaked in 2005 at more than 247,000, and although spring hunters, too, have decreased in number since that high-water mark, overall spring numbers have remained well above 200,000 hunters each year.

As might be expected, the numbers of turkeys harvested during spring and fall have experienced a similar reversal over the same period. In 1991, Pennsylvania hunters took 31,979 turkeys in the fall and 16,606 turkeys in the spring; in 2012, the turkey harvest was 14,704 in the fall and 33,597 in the spring. The largest fall turkey harvest occurred in 1995 when hunters took 49,748 birds. The top spring harvest came in 2001 with a total of 49,186 turkeys bagged. That was also the first year the spring harvest eclipsed the fall harvest, which itself was an impressive 48,008 birds, and that trend has continued each year since.

It is also worth noting that Pennsylvania’s wild turkey population reached a record high in 2001 with an estimated 280,000 birds statewide.

In recent years, the springtime population of wild turkeys has ranged from about 182,000 in 2010 to 186,000 birds this year. Those population levels typically translate into a success rate of around 11 to 12 percent for fall hunters. With the above-average recruitment of young turkeys to bolster wild turkey numbers overall, however, success rates could be slightly better this fall. So if you weren’t lucky enough to fill your fall turkey tag , there is still plenty of season and ample numbers of birds to make that a reality.