Hunting, like fishing, has gotten the OK to proceed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission issued a news release on Thursday saying that Gov. Tom Wolf's travel restrictions because of the outbreak will allow for spring turkey hunting as a permissible form of outdoor recreation.
Earlier this week, the Wolf administration unexpectedly allowed trout season to open up 11 days early in order to avoid the normally large crowds that typically show up on opening day.
Hunting and fishing now join hiking, walking, biking and running as allowable outdoor activities. Golf, however, is still not permitted.
The Game Commission did say that turkey hunting this spring will be different than in past years because of the pandemic, particularly during the youth spring turkey hunt on April 25.
The commission said if hunters live together they can hunt together. For people living in the same house, there’s relatively little risk of spreading COVID-19, so long as no one in the home has the disease. If someone does have the disease, everyone in the home is expected to self-quarantine for two weeks.
The commission did say that hunting in a blind is out because it doesn’t meet the social-distancing requirement to be at least six feet apart. So is sharing a vehicle to reach a hunting location.
If you can, the commission says you should hunt close to home.
Here's some other advice from the Game Commission for turkey hunters:
►Wear gloves at all times.
►Use a camouflaged bandana or gaiter to cover your nose and mouth.
►Before the hunt, thoroughly clean any equipment that may have passed from one hunter to another.
►Carry hand sanitizer for clean-ups 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,” Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans said in a news release. “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. 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 hunting outlook: The statewide spring gobbler season runs from May 2 to May 30 and the Game Commission said the statewide flock is expected to mirror 2019’s estimated spring population of 212,170 turkeys. The commission said the turkey hunt should be 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, the commission's turkey biologist. “There’s also a good supply of 2-year-olds roaming in some Wildlife Management Units.
“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 your grill or dinner table.”
Last spring, hunters took 37,300 turkeys, which was down from 2018’s 40,300. The harvest generated a spring hunter first-turkey success rate of 19%. That rate has ranged from 19% to 21% percent for the past three years.
A record number of hunters again bought second gobbler tags — 22,517 — marking the third consecutive year second-tag sales topped 20,000. Those second tags led to 4,811 harvests, making for a 21% success rate for those who purchased a second tag. Interestingly, only 13% of spring-turkey hunters bought a second tag.
Reach Steve Heiser at email@example.com.