There are a few times each year when the last thing you want is a bright red gizzard hanging below your beak.
One of those days, of course, is Thanksgiving. The other two days come each spring and fall, when hunters take to the woods in search of a turkey.
Saturday is a special day for the state's young hunters. It's the youth spring turkey hunt – the kickoff to the much-anticipated spring gobbler season, which opens to all hunters on May 2. Starting a half-hour before sunrise and running through noon, hunters under the age of 16, who are properly accompanied by an adult, have the first shot at a trophy.
This is a unique and great time to be in the woods. In fact, it's my favorite time to be in the woods. Unlike the frigid, dark days of deer season, Pennsylvania's forests and fields are alive right now with the fullness of spring.
The weather is warm (or at least warmer). The sun is bright. Trees are sprouting leaves. And, most important, the turkeys are eager to respond to our calls. With mating season winding down, gobblers are anxious to strut their tail feathers in hopes of catching the eye or ear of a nearby hen.
"Prior to the season, gobblers might be quiet because hens are still with them," said Mary Jo Casalena, the Game Commission's wild turkey biologist. "Once the hens go off to incubate their eggs, gobblers intensify their calling to attract other hens. We time the season to begin, on average, when the majority of hens are incubating and gobbling intensifies."
Casalena's last line is key. This is the time of the year when gobblers are searching and fighting for territory. But really, the trick to finding success this year is no different than any other season. You'll need lots of preseason scouting (if you haven't done it by now, you'd better hurry) and smart calling skills. And remember, turkeys have incredible eye sight. Good camouflage is important, but much more vital is the ability to remain motionless when a bird is coming your way. One wrong move and you'll almost certainly lose your shot.
The idea is especially true when the season opens to the rest of us on May 2. With hunters hitting the woods this weekend, there will be plenty of birds already on the lookout for camouflaged men hiding behind trees. Stealth and good hunting skills are vital.
Even as difficult as it can be to bag a spring-time turkey, gobbler harvests are likely to be strong. If this year is like most years, we should see a harvest comparable to last year, when 41,000 birds were bagged.
Like I said, it's a lousy time to be a turkey. But a great time to be a hunter.
It's time to hit the woods.
— Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.