Pennsylvania Game Commission says large statewide flock awaits spring gobbler hunters

STAFF REPORT
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Pennsylvania’s spring gobbler season is almost here.

The state’s only big-game hunt outside of fall and winter begins on Saturday, April 23, with a one-day hunt for junior and youth-mentored hunters, then runs from Saturday, April 30, to Tuesday, May 31, for everyone else.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, more than 150,000 hunters take to forests and fields each spring to chase these birds.

Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said the statewide flock – always among the largest anywhere in the East – is likely bigger right now than at any time in the last few years. She credited that increase to a number of factors.

First, 2021’s recruitment – or influx of new turkeys into the population – was very good, courtesy of warm, dry weather last spring and, in places, lots of cicadas to eat. Survey work revealed 3.1 poults per hen, on average, statewide.

“That was our highest ratio since we began monitoring recruitment,” Casalena said.

A smaller-than-usual spring 2021 harvest and shorter fall turkey seasons in some Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), coupled with a statewide elimination of rifles for fall turkey hunting, also helped boost flocks.

“That should all translate into a lot of high-spirited jakes on the landscape,” Casalena said. “Hunters should find a larger-than-normal percentage of older, 3-year-old turkeys out there, too. So, there’s certainly reason for optimism again this year.”

A large statewide flock awaits Pennsylvania gobbler hunters.

Not easy to harvest: Those birds won’t necessarily be easy to harvest. Neither jakes nor older birds typically are as vocal as 2-year-olds, she said. But hunters can better their odds of tangling with a tom turkey by preparing before opening day.

Casalena recommends scouting, looking either for actual birds, turkey sign such as droppings, feathers, scratchings and tracks, or at least places where turkeys might be, like openings close to and easily accessible from roosting areas where gobblers prefer to strut. Practice calling is also important.

“The most important call is the hen yelp,” Casalena said. “The hunter wants to imitate a hen to attract the gobbler to come within range. After that it’s a matter of practicing and learning other calls like the different cackles and purrs and understanding when to use each. Friction calls have great sound and pitch, while mouth calls are the most convenient, especially when being still is important.”

None of that guarantees success, of course. About 15% of hunters harvested one gobbler last spring overall. About 18% of the near-record 25,210 people who bought a special spring turkey license, or second gobbler tag, took a second. Those figures are comparable to long-term averages.

Avian influenza: Turkey hunters should be aware that multiple cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus have been detected in wild birds in Pennsylvania.

HPAI is a disease that can infect domestic and wild birds. It can also infect humans, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that the current HPAI outbreak is primarily an animal health issue that poses low risk to the health of the general public. No human cases related to this avian influenza virus have been detected or reported in the United States.

Still, hunters should take some common-sense steps to protect themselves.

►Harvest only healthy-looking birds.

►Wear gloves when handling any wild birds, and change gloves and disinfect hands between handling live birds.

►Change clothing as needed, especially if visibly soiled or if any birds handled made contact with your clothing.

►Change clothing, including footware, and wash hands well before coming in contact with any pet birds or domestic poultry

If you find a bird that looks unhealthy – perhaps stumbling, circling, exhibiting tremors, with a twisted neck, or unable to fly – contact the Game Commission by phone at 610-926-3136 or by email at pgc-wildlifehealth@pa.gov. If you have had contact with sick or dead domestic or wild birds and are not feeling well, contact your primary care physician or the Pennsylvania Department of Health at 877-724-3258.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission provided information for this report.