For right now the gobblers are gobbling.
In the northeast, at least.
And just how long that will be the case is unknown. After all, Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena reports that a cooler than normal March and early April have suppressed gobbling activity across the state, while in the northeast several hunters and PGC staff say gobbling activity is picking up.
“They started early and they’re still going, from what our WCO’s are telling me,” said Bill Williams, information and education supervisor for the PGC’s Northeast Region. “But that could change any day for reasons I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”
A mystery that hunters will try to solve when the state’s spring gobbler season begins Saturday.
With gobbler hunting, sound is everything. While it’s illegal to stalk turkeys in the spring, a gobbler sounding off in the morning is music to a hunter’s ears. It’s a sound that Casalena said is dictated by weather.
”Unlike last year’s warm early spring weather, which triggered an early start to gobbling, this year’s cooler-than-normal March and early April have suppressed gobbling activity,” Casalena said. “The arrival of warmer temperatures will bring more gobbling activity, and just in time for the spring turkey season.”
Another factor that could benefit the upcoming season is, despite a cold winter, gobblers came through the season just fine according to Casalena.
Add it all up and the prospects look good for one of Pennsylvania’s most popular hunting seasons. Game Commission Game-Take Survey results show spring turkey hunting has become so popular that, since 2000, there now are more spring turkey hunters (227,000) than fall turkey hunters (158,000). Spring harvests average 34,000 to 39,000 bearded birds, while fall harvests average 14,400 to 20,200 birds of either sex.
Williams said the spring gobbler season is second in popularity only to the rifle deer season when it comes to the northeast. That means a busy opening day for hunters and WCO’s.
“It’s certainly a day we expect to be busy simply because we know there will be a lot of hunters in the woods,” Williams said, adding that WCO’s encounter several types of violations common with the spring season.
“We do get individuals that will road hunt for turkeys, especially on a day with bad weather,” he said. “There are people that choose to ride around and look for turkeys rather than hunt for them, and that’s a problem both safety-wise and ethically.”
For the third year, hunters will be able to hunt all day during the second half of the season. Hunter participation decreases significantly in the second half and the overall harvest hasn’t increased greatly since the change was made.
According to Williams, afternoon harvests comprise six percent of the overall harvest, and almost 80 percent of the harvest during the all-day segment of the season occurs before noon.
“Hunters are taking advantage of the all-day opportunity, but many still prefer to start their hunt in the morning hours,” Williams said.
With a week left before the season begins, 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 improves hunters’ chances, especially if they line up multiple locations for the spring season,” Casalena said. “Learning several gobblers’ favorite strutting areas also is helpful for determining the best in-season set-up. This requires early-morning, pre-season scouting, but the potential in-season reward is worth it. 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.”