The Pennsylvania spring turkey hunt is almost upon us: Here's what you need to know
It's almost turkey-hunting time in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s spring turkey season kicks off Saturday, April 24 with a one-day youth hunt open to junior license holders and mentored hunters under 16 years old.
Then, on Saturday, May 1, the statewide spring gobbler season opens and runs until May 31. It is Pennsylvania’s only springtime big-game season, and the outlook for the coming season is good, said Mary Jo Casalena, Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist.
Although the 2020 estimated spring population of 196,200 turkeys was slightly below average, last year’s good summer reproduction and light fall harvest sets the stage for a good population this spring.
“A strong base of adult toms is strutting in our forests and fields in their annual quest for companionship, followed by a healthy population of high-spirited jakes,” Casalena said in a news release. “And, there’s an above-average supply of 2-year-olds roaming in many Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). So hunters stand a great chance this spring of bringing home one – maybe even two – of these cabin-fever-chasing birds.”
Properly licensed hunters may harvest two bearded turkeys during the spring turkey season. A general hunting license provides spring-turkey hunting privileges and a tag that can be used to harvest one bird. Additionally, hunters before the start of the statewide season may purchase a Special Spring Turkey License, which enables them to harvest a second bird. Only hunters with the second license can take a second turkey.
Last year, second-tag sales set a new record, with 25,524 hunters buying these licenses. It was the fourth consecutive year second-tag sales topped 20,000.
Those second tags led to 3,731 harvests, making for a 15% success rate for those who purchased a second tag.
Last spring’s overall estimated harvest was 34,500 turkeys. In all, 16% of turkey hunters were successful in filling their first tag.
Hunting hours: All participants in the youth hunt must be accompanied by adults as required by law. A complete list of regulations applying to mentored youth and junior hunters can be found in the 2020-21 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is provided with a hunting license and is available online at www.pgc.pa.gov.
Hunting hours during the youth hunt end at noon. Junior hunters and mentored youth also may participate in the statewide spring gobbler season.
Hunting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at noon for the first two weeks of the statewide season (May 1 through May 15). Hunters are asked to be out of the woods by 1 p.m. when hunting hours end at noon. This is to minimize disturbance of nesting hens.
From May 17 through May 31, hunting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. The all-day season allows more opportunity at the point in the season when hunting pressure is lower and nesting hens are less likely to abandon nests.
Allowable weapons: During the spring gobbler season, hunters may use manually operated or semiautomatic shotguns limited to a three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined. Muzzleloading shotguns, crossbows and long, recurve and compound bows also are permitted. For a complete list of regulations, consult the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, available on the agency’s website.
Only bearded birds may be harvested during the spring season, and hunting is permitted by calling only. Hunters should refrain from knowingly harvesting bearded hens because they do nest and raise broods.
There is no requirement for hunters to wear fluorescent orange during the spring turkey season, though it is recommended that orange be worn while moving.
Blinds: Blinds used while turkey hunting must be manufactured with manmade materials of sufficient density to block movement within the blind from an observer outside the blind. Blinds must completely enclose the hunter on all four sides and from above. It is unlawful to hunt turkeys from blinds made of natural materials such as logs, tree branches and piled rocks.
Blinds that represent the fanned tail of a gobbler do not hide all hunter movement, and therefore are unlawful to use in Pennsylvania.
It is unlawful, as well as unsafe, to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds. All hunters need to wait patiently and identify their targets properly prior to pulling the trigger. When in a stationary position, a hunter should sit with his or her back against a large tree, rock or other barrier that shields movement and offers protection from others who might approach from the rear.
Turkey hunters should not wear clothing that contains black, like the color found on a turkey’s body, or red, white or blue, like those on a turkey’s head.
Getting a license: Pennsylvania hunters again this year can purchase a license to harvest a second gobbler in the spring season, but only one gobbler may be taken per day. This license must be purchased no later than April 30 – before the statewide season begins.
The $21.97 license ($41.97 for nonresidents) may be purchased online, but cannot be printed at home. Therefore, if a hunter expects to need the license early in the season, purchasing it directly from an issuing agent might be better. The same goes for general hunting licenses. General hunting licenses purchased online also are sent by mail, and shipping charges apply.
Reporting a harvest: Successful turkey hunters must immediately and properly tag the bird before moving it from the harvest site, and are required by law to report the harvest to the Game Commission.
For most hunters, harvests must be reported within 10 days. Mentored hunters must report harvests within five days.
Reporting harvests enables the Game Commission to more accurately estimate harvest and population totals, and is important for effective management.
There are three ways harvests can be reported. The preferred reporting method is for successful hunters to go to www.pgc.pa.gov and click the blue “Report a Harvest” button near the top of the home page, then fill out a form and submit. Harvests may be reported by calling 1-800-838-4431. This is a new number that was activated in January when a new hunting and fishing licensing system was put in place. The previous number, which still appears within the 2020-21 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, no longer is valid.
Successful turkey hunters also can fill out and mail in the harvest report cards given to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses.
In all cases, it is helpful when reporting to have your license in front of you, as well as the tag you used in the field after harvesting the bird, and information such as beard and spur length.
Leg-banded turkeys: There also are a number of leg-banded turkeys running around in Penn’s Woods that the Game Commission is seeking information about, should you shoot one, or find it dead.
“This past winter the Game Commission leg-banded nearly 500 male turkeys statewide,” Casalena said. “If you are lucky enough to harvest a leg-banded turkey, or find one dead, please contact us through either the toll-free telephone number or email address printed on the band. In return, we’ll provide details of when and where the bird was banded. From these reports, we estimate spring harvest rate and annual survival rate by wildlife management unit, which are critical elements of our turkey population model. Note that when we leg-band turkeys we release them at the trap site. This leg-banding is solely to improve our population research and management.”
Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.