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Calling all Turkey hunters – exploreJeffersonPA.com

HARRISBURG, Pa. – There is one guarantee that comes with every spring turkey season. Matching wits with cunning is what turkey hunting is all about. And there will be opportunities, often in big and loud ways.

The 2024 spring gobbling season in Pennsylvania kicks off on Saturday, April 27, with a half-day hunt for junior hunters and guided hunters 16 and under. All participants must be accompanied by adults, while hunting hours last from half an hour before sunrise until noon. The regular season runs from May 4 to 31, with hunting hours from a half hour before sunrise to noon from May 4 to 18, and then from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset from May 20 to 31.

If that general opener seems later in the spring than normal, that’s because it is. But that’s simply because of the calendar.

The regular season opens on the Saturday closest to May 1. In some years this is the last Saturday in April. In other years, such as this one, it is the first Saturday in May. The difference between the two can be almost a week.

The closing day of the season is now May 31. That gives hunters 24 days to hunt for gobblers, including four Saturdays.

And rest assured, the birds will be there, thanks to three consecutive years of good breeding. The Game Commission’s summer 2023 turkey sighting survey — a long-term annual measure of productivity — found 2.9 chicks per chicken statewide. This of course differed per Wildlife Management Unit (WMU). For example, WMU 4E saw 4.51 chicks per hen last summer; that was the highest in the state. WMU 5D saw 1.39; that was the lowest.

But the statewide rate, while lower than the record high of 3.1 in both 2021 and 2022, was still above average and significantly higher than in 2019 or 2020.

That should mean a lot of gobbling – jakes, 3-year-olds and, best for most hunters, 2-year-olds. As a general rule, two-year-olds are louder and boisterous than both younger, timid gobblers and older, more cautious children. Having more of them is usually good for turkey hunters.

“There is nothing more exciting than sitting in the woods in the spring and calling a gobbler who responds with his emphatic gobble,” said Mary Jo Casalena, the Game Commission’s turkey biologist. “So take advantage of what’s available, even if you’ve never hunted turkeys before. Just being outdoors is fun and the more time you spend in the turkey woods and learn more about these amazing birds, the better you will become.

About 172,000 people in Pennsylvania hunt spring turkeys each year. Last season, those hunters harvested about 39,500 gobblers. That was an increase from about 35,700 in 2022 and about 28,100 in 2021.

Casalena said hunters who want to increase their chances of catching a gobbler this spring should focus on areas with good turkey habitat. This is usually a 60/40 mix of woodlands and scrub, with agriculture or, in large forest areas, gaps with emerging vegetation or nut-producing trees that still contain nuts from last fall.

Then, she said, look for turkeys in those places. Try to determine how many different gobblers are gobbling, where their typical roosts are, and what areas they may switch to on rainy, windy, cold mornings. It’s also worth finding out the age structure of local flocks, something that can be done by observing tail fans (adults even have fans, while jakes have a “bump” of longer tail feathers in the middle) and watching for displays of dominance . Also scout by looking for the gobblers’ favorite spots and looking for signs on the ground, such as scratches, feces, feathers and tracks.

Just don’t shout at those birds to make them reveal themselves. Casalena limits any preseason calling to using shock calls such as owl and crow calls, and even then sparingly.

“This knowledge will help as the season progresses to keep an eye on birds and look for them in their more secretive areas,” Casalena said. “But whatever it takes, just get out there. As long as you’re in the woods, you have a chance.’

Licensing and regulations

All participants in the youth candy hunt must be accompanied by adults by law. Guided hunters age 16 and under must hunt with an adult mentor. The mentor may not supervise other youth hunters and must wear the sporting arm at all times when the pair is moving. Hunting hours during the youth hunt end at 12 noon.

During the spring gouge season, hunters can use manually operated or semi-automatic shotguns limited to a capacity of three shells in the chamber and magazine combined. Muzzleloading shotguns, crossbows and long, recurve and compound bows are also permitted.

Only barbets may be harvested during the spring. Hunters should refrain from knowingly harvesting bearded chickens because they nest and raise broods.

There is no requirement for hunters to wear fluorescent orange during the spring turkey season, although wearing it is recommended while traveling.

Blinds used in turkey hunting must be constructed of man-made materials of sufficient density to block movement within the blind to an observer outside the blind. Blinds must completely enclose the fighter on all four sides and from above. It is illegal to hunt turkeys from blinds made of natural materials such as logs, tree branches and stacked rocks.

Blinds representing a gobbler’s flared tail do not conceal all of the hunter’s movements and are unsafe and therefore illegal to use in Pennsylvania.

Hunters may only pursue spring feeders by calling birds. It is illegal and also unsafe to stalk turkeys or turkey calls. When a hunter is standing still, he or she should sit with his or her back against a large tree, rock, or other barrier that will screen movement and provide protection from others who might approach from behind. All hunters must wait and properly identify their targets before pulling the trigger.

Hunters in Pennsylvania can purchase a license to harvest a second gobbler in the spring, with a limit of one harvested gobbler per day. Sales of this license end on May 3, one day before the statewide regular season begins.

The $21.97 license ($41.97 for non-residents) can be purchased online but cannot be printed at home, so purchasing it directly from an issuing agency may be a better option. The same applies to general hunting licenses. General hunting permits purchased online will also be mailed and shipping charges will apply.

For more information on spring turkey hunting rules and regulations, as they relate to youth or regular hunts, consult the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest 2023-24, which is licensed and available online at www.pgc.pa.gov.

Hunting safety in Turkey

Hunting is safer in Pennsylvania now than at any other time in history. This also applies to spring turkey hunting.

Overall, hunting accidents, or Hunting Related Shooting Incidents (HRSIs) as they are called, have declined by 80% since 1959, measured as a number of incidents per 100,000 hunters. It is no coincidence that the Game Commission introduced mandatory hunter training in 1959.

In 2022, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, there were 14 HRSIs statewide. That was down from 27 in 2020 and 19 in 2021, and the lowest total since records began in 1915. Additionally, none of these crashes were fatal.

None of the 2022 HRSIs also involved turkey hunters. That is a big improvement compared to recent years. For example, in the spring 2010 season there were twelve HRSIs, including one fatality.

However, last year there was one fatal turkey hunting HRSI in which a firearm was accidentally discharged. So as you head into the turkey woods this spring, remember these safety tips:

  • For safety reasons, turkey hunters should not wear clothing that contains black, such as the color on a turkey’s body, or red, white or blue, such as that on a turkey’s head.
  • Sit against a large tree stump, log, or boulder that is wider than your shoulders and higher than your head. This conceals your movement from turkeys and provides protection from other hunters who might approach from behind.
  • Never wear bright colors – especially red, white, blue or black – as those are the colors of a wild turkey gobbler.
  • Identify your target group in a positive way. Be absolutely certain that it is a legal turkey and that there is nothing in your line of fire, like another hunter, before you pull the trigger.
  • If you shoot a bird, engage your weapon’s safety and approach the downed bird with your firearm pointed in a safe direction. Never run with it.
  • If you see another hunter, never move, wave or make turkey noises. Rather, remain quiet and speak in a loud, clear voice to announce your presence.
  • Leave an area if you suspect another hunter is already working the same bird.
  • Finally, while it is not mandatory to wear fluorescent orange while turkey hunting, it is a good idea to wear it while moving.

Reporting harvests

Successful turkey hunters must immediately tag their bird before moving it from the harvest location and are required by law to report the harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days. These reports are critical to turkey management because they allow the Game Commission to estimate harvest and population trends.

Hunters can report turkeys in three ways: by going to https://HuntFish.PA.gov and clicking the blue “Report a Harvest” button at the top of the home page; by calling 1-800-838-4431; or by completing and submitting the harvest report card in the summary hunters receive when they purchase a license.

When reporting, have your harvest label in front of you to ensure you provide all requested information.

The public is also asked to report turkeys harvested or found with leg bands or radio transmitters. Not only does the reporter learn approximately when and where the bird was trapped, but the information he receives about those birds — which are legal to take — helps estimate the Wildlife Management Unit’s spring harvest and annual survival rate, Casalena said . That’s crucial data for the state’s turkey population model. Additionally, the radio-controlled turkeys are part of ongoing research studies.

Leg bands are provided with a toll-free number or email address for reporting. New last year is a website address where people can immediately report and receive information about when and where the bird was ringed.

Learn more about turkey hunting

Turkey hunting is a challenge, even for veterans of the sport. This can seem confusing, especially for newcomers.

But have no fear: help is available.

Hunters are encouraged to visit the Game Commission’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/@PAGameCommissionHDQTRS/videos and search for “turkey hunting.” That produces a series of how-to videos that cover everything from how to hunt, what gear to use and how to place the shot, how to talk on the phone, how to get comfortable in the woods and safety.

Information about the wild turkey’s near disappearance and eventual return to Pennsylvania, as well as general life history information, is available at https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Education/WildlifeNotesIndex/Pages/WildTurkey.aspx.