Spring Gobbler Around the Corner

Posted on April 11, 2012 

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are reporting that the unusual seasonal conditions being experienced throughout much of Pennsylvania will present turkey hunters with a mixed blessing as they plan for the upcoming spring gobbler season.

“On the positive side, a higher proportion of hens likely will be incubating nests by opening day thanks to the unusually early spring, making gobblers more vocal in search of hens,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “Also, gobblers are in good condition this spring because of the very mild winter, which means those healthy males may just continue gobbling and looking for mates throughout the hunting season.

“However, on the negative side, the early spring means leaves already are emerging, which will make it more difficult for hunters to hear and see their target, which will make it even more important to consider using a fluorescent orange band to alert other hunters to your stationary location or while moving.”

Game Commission Game-Take Survey results show that spring turkey hunting has become so popular that there now are more spring turkey hunters (230,000) than fall turkey hunters (163,000). Spring harvests average 38,000 to 45,000 bearded birds, while fall harvests average 16,000 to 25,000 birds of either sex.

The state’s one-day youth spring gobbler season is April 21, and will run from one-half hour before sunrise until noon. The general spring gobbler season is April 28-May 31, with the traditional noon closure for the first two weeks (April 28-May 12), and from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset for the remaining two weeks (May14-31).

“By the second half of the season, hunter participation decreases significantly and nesting hens are less prone to abandon nests,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist.

The 2011 spring gobbler season was the first year of all-day hunting during the second half of the season, and the overall harvest was a slight decrease from the 2010 harvest. Afternoon harvest comprised six percent of the total reported harvests and 22 percent of the harvest during the all-day portion of the season. During the all-day season, 78 percent of the harvest occurred before noon. For the afternoon segment, the majority of the harvest occurred between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the last reported harvest at 8:35 p.m. (NOTE: Hunting hours closed between 8:39 p.m. in the eastern part of the state, and 9:11 p.m. in the western part of the state.)

Casalena noted the Game Commission will continue to monitor the afternoon harvest in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge the impact of all-day hunting. Of the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, 34 have all-day hunting for all or part of the season, including Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.

Hunters who have purchased a second spring gobbler season license may harvest up to two bearded turkeys, one per day. (See second article about availability of second spring gobbler license.)

In 1968, the first spring gobbler season started on a Monday and ran only six days so biologists could get a pulse on hunter success and the season’s impact on the more than 60,000 wild turkeys inhabiting about half of Pennsylvania’s forestland at the time. It worked! More hunters were afield on the last day of the season – a Saturday – than the opener, and hunters took a total of 1,636 turkeys in the new season.

Comparatively, in 2011, preliminary harvests show hunters took 43,957 bearded wild turkeys in the spring gobbler seasons from an estimated statewide spring population of about 341,000.

Pennsylvania manages one of the most prolific wild turkey populations in America. It is an accomplishment that is directly related to both previous and ongoing research and management practices, the state’s outstanding tapestry of turkey-friendly habitats and the resiliency of Pennsylvania’s wild turkeys.

“The preliminary 2011 spring gobbler harvest (43,957) was the seventh highest preliminary harvest on record, and only three percent below the previous three-year average,” Casalena said. “This decrease most likely was due to the rainy weather throughout much of last year’s spring season and below average summer reproduction two of the last three years in many WMUs, both of which decreased gobbling activity.”

Recent spring and fall harvests are: 44,788 spring gobblers and 15,884 fall turkeys in 2010; 44,639 spring gobblers and 20,934 fall turkeys in 2009; 42,437 spring gobblers and 24,288 fall turkeys in 2008; 37,992 spring gobblers and 25,369 fall turkeys in 2007; and 39,339 spring gobblers and 24,482 fall turkeys in 2006. While the final 2011 harvest estimates won’t be available until this summer, the preliminary 2011 spring gobbler harvest was 43,957 and the preliminary fall turkey harvest was 17,017.

Due to below average summer reproduction during the last three years, the 2012 harvest is expected to be 15 to 25 percent lower than the previous three-year average.

Casalena encourages spring gobbler hunters to spend time scouting, which always plays an important role in hunter success, especially for those experienced older toms.

“Scouting can improve hunters’ chances, especially if they line up multiple locations for the spring season,” Casalena said. “Prior to the season, however, hunters should consider not using turkey calls to locate gobblers, because it will educate birds and cause them to be less inclined to respond to the early-morning calls of in-season hunters.

“If you’re trying to locate a gobbler, it’s best to head out at first light to listen for calls. Birds have been active for weeks! On a still morning, a gobbler’s call often can be detected a mile away or more.”

Hunters are reminded that it is illegal to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds in the spring gobbler season. Given the wild turkey’s keen senses, it’s not a wise move anyway, but more importantly, it makes a tremendous difference for the personal safety of everyone afield. Every year, hunters are shot in mistake for game while approaching hunters calling for turkeys, and/or callers are shot in mistake for game by stalking hunters.

“Safety must be the foremost consideration of every turkey hunter,” emphasized Keith Snyder, Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education division chief. “If every hunter followed the state’s hunting regulations and positively identified his or her target as legal game before squeezing the trigger, we could nearly eliminate hunting-related shooting incidents during the spring gobbler season. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.

“The Game Commission encourages all spring gobbler hunters to hunt safely and defensively. Consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing at all times – even though it is no longer required by law – and treat every sound and movement as if it is another hunter until you can positively confirm it is a legal turkey. Be patient. Wait until the bird is fully visible before you squeeze the trigger.”

Legal sporting arms are: shotguns plugged to three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined; muzzleloading shotguns; and crossbows and bows with broadhead bolts or arrows of cutting-edge design.

Shot size must be no larger than No. 4 lead, No. 2 steel or No. 4 of any other composition or alloy of nontoxic shot approved by the Director of the Unites States Fish and Wildlife Service or an authorized representative under 50 CFR 20.134 (relating to nontoxic shot). Rifle-shotgun combinations also may be used, but no single-projectile ammunition may be used or carried.

Carrying or using rifles, handguns, dogs, electronic callers, drives and live decoys is unlawful. The use of blinds is legal so long as it is an “artificial or manufactured turkey blind consisting of all manmade materials of sufficient density to block the detection of movement within the blind from an observer located outside the blind.”

While not required by law, hunters are encouraged to wear fluorescent orange material when moving, as it overlaps with groundhog hunting season. Agency officials also recommend that hunters wrap an orange alert band around a nearby tree when stationary, especially when calling and/or using decoys.

Coyotes may be harvested by turkey hunters. However, turkey hunters who have filled their spring turkey tag or tags may not hunt coyotes during the legal shooting hours of the spring gobbler season, unless they have a furtaker license.

Woodchuck hunting is legal during spring gobbler season. Hunters also may hunt starlings, English sparrows, opossums, skunks, porcupines and weasels during legal hunting hours of the spring gobbler season.

Successful spring gobbler hunters must properly tag their turkey and report the harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days, using the postage-paid report card provided with their Digest, through the toll-free telephone number (1-855-PAHUNT) or through the Pennsylvania Automated License System. Information to be reported includes the hunter’s name and address; date and location of kill (WMU, county, township); time of kill; beard and spur length; and sporting arm used.

Hunters also are encouraged to report all leg-banded turkeys they take or find to assist the Game Commission in ongoing research, by calling the toll-free number listed on the leg band. Hunters may keep the band; the agency just needs the information on the band. With our current hen turkey study, some bearded hens are equipped with leg bands and/or radio transmitters. Bearded hens are legal game for the spring season and hunters are encouraged to report these birds.

Junior hunters who participate in the youth spring gobbler day (April 21) are required to have a junior hunting license. On this one-day hunt, junior license holders under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult, who cannot carry a sporting arm. Accompanying adults may only provide guidance, such as calling or scouting. All other hunting regulations are the same as those for the general spring gobbler season, including the hunting hours of one-half hour before sunrise until noon and only bearded turkeys may be taken.

Youths under the age of 12 years may participate in the spring gobbler seasons through the Game Commission's Mentored Youth Hunting Program. They can hunt with a mentor during either the one-day youth or general spring gobbler season. Mentored youths need to obtain a permit ($2.70), and must be accompanied by an adult mentor who is a properly licensed and at least 21 years of age. A field harvest tag is provided with the mentored youth hunting program permit.

For additional information about the Game Commission’s Mentored Youth Hunting Program, visit the agency’s website at www.pgc.state.pa.us, put your cursor over “HUNT/TRAP” in the menu bar under the banner, click on “Hunting” in the drop-down menu listing then choose “Mentored Youth Hunting Program FAQs” in the “Related Links” section, or consult pages 15 of the Digest.

To Connect with Wildlife, visit the Game Commission at the following:

Website: www.pgc.state.pa.us

Twitter: www.twitter.com/PAGameComm

YouTube: www.youtube.com/pagamecommission

Facebook: www.facebook.com/PennsylvaniaGameCommission

Also, subscribers to the agency’s monthly magazine – Pennsylvania Game News – can read their Game News issues online at www.penngamenews.com. A Game News subscription offers free access to all online issues, including the most recent before it arrives in the mailbox. Issues more than a year old are accessible without a subscription. With the digital edition you’ll enjoy links to more information, archived issues, the ability to share your favorite reads and perks like bookmarking and making notes “in the margins.” Users of iPads and iPhones will like reading via the Nxtbook Nxtstand app. Download it for free, click on “P” in the catalog, then the PA Game News cover.


Pennsylvania hunters who would like the opportunity to harvest a second spring gobbler have until April 20 to purchase a second spring gobbler tag, according to Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. A second spring gobbler tag can be purchased at any issuing agent or through the agency’s website. Fees set by state law for the special license are $21.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents.

“For those purchasing the second spring gobbler tag through the website, it is important to remember it can take up to 10 business days for the license to be received in the mail,” Roe said. “Also, the opportunity to purchase a second spring gobbler tag will close on April 20. So, those interested should not delay.”

Roe noted hunters may take one spring gobbler as part of their general hunting privileges. However, the second spring gobbler tag license affords those hunters interested in this additional opportunity to take a second spring gobbler. Hunters may purchase only one second spring gobbler license during a license year, as the season limit remains two spring gobblers, but they may only harvest one bird per day.


Mary Jo Casalena, Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist, said preliminary reports show that hunters harvested 17,017 turkeys during the fall 2011 season, which was an increase from the final 2010 harvest of 15,884, but 23 percent below the previous five-year average. She noted that final fall turkey harvest figures should be available later this summer when results of the 2011-12 Game-Take Survey are finalized.

“This decrease can be partially explained by below average summer reproduction across much of the state during the last three years due to cool, wet spring weather,” Casalena said. “We also have decreased fall turkey season lengths in some Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) in response to lower turkey populations.”

Because fall turkey hunters may harvest any bird, the Game Commission manages the population by changing the fall season length. The longer the season, the higher the hen harvest, and, subsequently, the lower the breeding population next spring.

“From 1995-2001, we experienced record fall harvests because above-average turkey reproduction allowed for longer seasons, and there were more fall turkey hunters,” Casalena said. “The number of fall turkey hunters has declined since then partially due to a growing interest in fall deer archery and spring hunting. Since 2000 Pennsylvania now has more spring turkey hunters than fall.”

Preliminary fall 2011 turkey harvests by WMU are as follows, with final harvest figures from 2010 and 2009 for comparison: WMU 1A, 974 (526 in 2010, 1,430 in 2009); WMU 1B, 890 (1,315 in 2010, 1,634 in 2009); WMU 2A, 733 (876 in 2010, 613 in 2009): WMU 2B, 773 (263 in 2010, 714 in 2009); WMU 2C, 1,479 (789 in 2010, 1,634 in 2009); WMU 2D, 1,451 (964 in 2010, 1,532 in 2009); WMU 2E, 802 (789 in 2010, 919 in 2009); WMU 2F, 713 (964 in 2010, 817 in 2009); WMU 2G, 1,671 (1,665 in 2010, 1,634 in 2009); WMU 3A, 653 (1,140 in 2010, 306 in 2009); WMU 3B, 729 (789 in 2010, 1,327 in 2009); WMU 3C, 513 (1,052 in 2010, 2,043 in 2009); WMU 3D, 477 (702 in 2010, 511 in 2009); WMU 4A, 870 (789 in 2010, 1,634 in 2009); WMU 4B, 810 (702 in 2010, 511 in 2009); WMU 4C, 910 (614 in 2010, 511 in 2009); WMU 4D, 1,499 (876 in 2010, 1,430 in 2009); WMU 4E, 970 (876 in 2010, 1,634 in 2009); WMU 5A, 100 (193 in 2010, closed in 2009); WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D, closed.


Mary Jo Casalena, Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist, prepared a report for each Wildlife Management Unit (WMU), to share more detailed information on spring gobbler hunting prospects for 2012.

WMU 1A – The Game Commission shortened the fall season to two weeks in 2005 to help increase the population in this WMU that began declining in 2002, and spring harvests have increased since 2008. Spring harvests in this unit have consistently been well above the statewide average. Expect the 2012 spring harvest to be similar to, or slightly lower than last year due to the below-average reproduction since 2007, which provided a smaller proportion than normal of older gobblers. The key here is to scout prior to the season.

WMA 1B – Expect harvest to be below average, which is similar to last year, but harvests will remain above the statewide average. Due to below-average summer reproduction during the last three summers the proportion of adult gobblers in the population will be lower than normal, but the turkey population is still above the statewide average so hunting opportunities abound, especially for hunters who scout.

WMU 2A – With the shorter fall season here in place since 2007 and above-average reproduction for the last two summers, expect above average harvests, which also will be well above the statewide average.

WMU 2B – This WMU is difficult to predict because of the lack of public land. For hunters who secure access to hunting areas, prospects are excellent. The population of juvenile birds (jakes) is well above average so don’t hesitate taking one of these tasty birds.

WMU 2C – The population and spring harvests have been improving since the low in 2006 and should continue to increase this spring due to a combination of the shortened fall season length since 2004, and generally above average reproduction since 2006, which have provided an abundance of the older age-classed gobblers. These vocal longbeards are what the majority of Pennsylvania turkey hunters seek. Although spring harvest densities (harvests per square mile) remain below the statewide average, expect harvests to be above average for this WMU and similar to the past several springs.

WMU 2D – Expect another excellent spring harvest in 2012, which again will be above the statewide average. Spring reproduction has been above average for the past three years, providing a high proportion of juveniles (jakes) and the more sought after and highly vocal two- and three-year-old gobblers. The fall turkey season here was shortened in 2009 to help the population increase to its previous high levels, and the strategy appears to be working.

WMU 2E – Prospects are good for harvesting three-year-old gobblers, but below-average reproduction during the last two summers means fewer jakes and the vocal two-year-old gobblers. With the two-week fall turkey season since 2004, spring harvests have been improving, and expect this spring’s harvest to be above average for the sixth consecutive year.

WMU 2F – Thanks to above-average reproduction from 2008-2010 and a two-week fall season from 2007-2009, older gobblers abound. Even though reproduction in 2011 was below average, expect spring harvest to be similar to last year. Harvest density (harvest per square mile) continues to be below the statewide average. However, there are ample public hunting lands for hunters to scout in this WMU.

WMU 2G – Below-average reproduction in 2011 and 2010 translate to less jakes and the vocal two-year-old gobblers, but there should still be ample older gobblers from 2009. Because of this expect spring harvest to be similar to or slightly below last year’s harvest. Spring harvest densities (harvest per square mile) continue to be below the state average. However, hunters continue to enjoy hunting the extensive public lands in this WMU.

WMU 3A – Below-average reproduction, since 2008, means fewer older longbeards in the population. Therefore, expect overall harvest to decrease, but success remains above the state average.

WMU 3B – Below-average reproduction in 2011 and 2010 translate to less jakes and the vocal two-year-old gobblers, but there should still be ample older gobblers from 2009. Because of this, expect the spring harvest to be similar to or slightly below last year’s harvest, but to remain above the statewide average.

WMU 3C – Although the 2012 spring harvest is expected to be below the record harvests of 2009 and 2010, expect the harvest to decrease only slightly from last year, but remain above the state average. There remains higher than average proportions of three-year and older gobblers, and these present the most challenging age classes to harvest, so pre-season scouting will improve hunters’ opportunities this spring.

WMU 3D – Expect a harvest similar to the last two years, which were slightly below average for this WMU, but above the statewide average. There are ample two-year-olds due to above-average reproduction in 2010, so gobbling activity should be good. However, the below average reproduction last year and in 2009 means fewer jakes and the those wary and prized three-year-old gobblers.

WMU 4A – Although hunters in this WMU may not see the record harvests of the past four years, prospects remain above average if enough three-year-old gobblers remain in the population. The below-average reproduction during the last two years is the reason harvests are expected to decrease. The shortened fall season since 2004 most likely helped this population rebound.

WMU 4B – Expect spring harvests to be similar to last year, about average for this WMU. Last year’s exceptional summer reproduction means there is an abundance of one-year-old males, so hunters shouldn’t pass up this harvest opportunity.

WMU 4C – Although we don’t predict a record harvest, expect another great season due to the nearly record spring 2009 reproduction and above-average reproduction in 2010 and 2011. The abundance of adult gobblers should provide plentiful gobbling, especially early in the season. This WMU continues to maintain one of the highest spring harvest densities in the state.

WMU 4D – Spring harvests have been steadily increasing since 2006 to record levels during the last two years. Although this year’s spring harvest is not expected to reach another record (due to below average spring reproduction during the last two years), expect the harvest to be another good year and remain above the statewide average. Hunters who scout preseason should have good luck locating older gobblers.

WMU 4E – Like WMUs 1A and 4C, this continues to be a turkey hotspot, boasting the second highest spring harvests per square mile in the state last year, with WMU 1A the leading unit. This year’s harvest, although still well above the state average, is expected to decrease due to below average reproduction during the last two summers. Hunters who scout pre-season should still find ample three-year-old gobblers.

WMU 5A – Expect the harvest to continue to be above average for this WMU, although far below the statewide average. The closed fall turkey season from 2003-2009 aided in this population’s increase throughout the WMU, not just in the forested mountain portions. The above average reproduction in 2010 and 2011 produced an abundance of the vocal two-year-old gobblers, and one-year-old jakes.

WMU 5B – The data set for this WMU is minimal because spring harvests and summer turkey sightings are some of the lowest in the state. However, from the above-average spring 2009 reproduction, hunters can expect an average harvest if they scout for those older, quieter three-year-old gobblers.

WMU 5C – The above average reproduction during the last two summers in much of this WMU, should provide an above average harvest due to the abundance of two-year-old gobblers, which typically comprise the majority of the harvest. The fall season was closed in 2010 to help the population increase.

WMU 5D – Data set is too small to predict harvest. The fall season was closed in 2010 to help the population increase.

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