Fall turkey season opener less than a week away: What you need to know

By Tom Venesky - [email protected] | October 22nd, 2017 3:04 pm

TALKING TURKEY

Fall turkey season dates

WMU 5B will be re-open for three days this year, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. WMU 4E has been reduced from three weeks to two, not including the three-day season over Thanksgiving.

In most of the state, the fall turkey season opens Saturday, Oct. 28. The seasons are as follows: WMU 1B – Oct. 28-Nov. 4; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow) – Oct. 28-Nov. 17 and Nov. 23-25; WMUs 1A, 2A, 4A and 4B, – Oct. 28-Nov. 4 and Nov. 23-25; WMUs 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E – Oct. 28-Nov. 11 and Nov. 23-25; WMU 2C – Oct. 28-Nov. 17 and Nov. 23-25; WMU 5A – Nov. 2-4; WMU 5B – Oct. 31-Nov. 2; WMUs 5C and 5D – CLOSED TO FALL TURKEY HUNTING.

Fluorescent orange requirements

In most parts of the state, hunters participating in the fall turkey season are required, while moving, to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined. Orange must be visible from 360 degrees.

Hunters may remove their orange once in a stationary location, providing that a minimum of 100 square inches of fluorescent orange is posted within 15 feet of the location and is visible from 360 degrees.

In WMU 2B, which is open to shotgun and archery hunting only during the fall turkey season, turkey hunters, while moving, must wear a hat containing at least 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material, visible from 360 degrees. While fluorescent orange is not required at stationary locations in WMU 2B, it is strongly recommended.

Archery hunters who are hunting either deer or bear during the overlap with fall turkey season also must wear a fluorescent orange hat at all times when moving. The hat must contain at least 100 square inches of solid, fluorescent orange, visible from 360 degrees, and may be removed once in a stationary location.

Since fluorescent orange requirements have been in place for the fall-turkey season, fall turkey hunting shooting incidents have decreased from 38, three of them fatal, in 1990, to none in 2012 and 2016, and one each year from 2013-2015.

Pass up big hens

Casalena recommended fall turkey hunters to consider harvesting a smaller, young hen as opposed to a mature bird in the fall. The adult hens are proven to be successful breeders, she said, and they have a much higher chance of rearing poults again next spring. Hens that are nesting for the first time have the lowest probability of raising young, she said.

“Adults have a much higher chance of reproducing successfully, so why take that out of the population?” Casalena said.

Leg-banded turkeys

Casalena also reminds hunters to report any leg-banded turkeys they harvest or find.

Leg bands are stamped with a toll-free number to call. Although the agency’s research project is completed and rewards are no longer valid, the information provided is still beneficial and hunters can learn the history of the bird.

Any chance of success for hunters during the upcoming fall turkey season is essentially predicated on the spring.

That’s when the nesting success of hens, followed by the survival of poults, determines how many turkeys will be in the fall woods for the Oct. 28 season opener. The better things are for nesting and poult survival in the spring, the better the hunting will be in the fall.

Still, the weather this spring wasn’t very conducive to turkey nesting and poult recruitment into the population, with prolonged periods of wet, cool weather creating an impact in some areas.

So how do things look for fall turkey hunters in the northeast?

Good and not so good.

According to Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, Wildlife Management Units 3C and 3D had below average poult recruitment, while 3B, 4C and 4E were above average.

The results are based on field surveys, and the figure that Casalena uses to gauge turkey populations for the fall is two poults per hen in the spring and summer. The statewide average for this year was 2.3 poults per hen, and WMUs 3B, 3C and 4E were all above that mark. In the northeast, WMU 3D had the lowest poult per hen ratio with 1.6, followed by 4C at 2.1.

“We had a wet spring in most areas so that impacted recruitment,” Casalena said. “We want to see at least two poults per hen, which should stabilize the population.”

How does a wet spring impact nesting hens and poults?

In a number of ways.

Wet weather makes it more difficult for hens to effectively brood their poults, and it also soaks those hens sitting on nests. When that happens, Casalena said, hens give off more scent and become more vulnerable to predators.

As for poults, when they get wet they often can’t thermo-regulate their body temperatures and can die. Rain-soaked poults are often noisy as well, peeping because they can’t get warm. Those calls can attract the attention of predators, according to Casalena.

Finally, rainy weather hampers the primary food source for poults — insects. In cool, wet weather, Casalena said, insect hatches aren’t as prevalent, causing the poults to eat less and grow slower.

On a positive note, hens that lost their first nests or poults this spring likely had a second chance.

“Last winter we had a good mast crop and the weather wasn’t horrendous, so hens came into the spring breeding season in good body condition,” she said. “They were able to re-nest if they had to, and that saved us from a bust in recruitment this year.”

Last year’s fall harvest of 10,844 was 35 percent below the previous 3-year average of 16,688, likely due to a combination of a decrease in fall hunting participation, shorter fall season lengths in many WMUs, below average turkey reproduction (translating to smaller-sized turkey flocks) and abundant acorn crops in much of the state, which tended to scatter flocks, making them more difficult to locate, Casalena said.

“Turkey reproduction this summer varied across the state with above-average recruitment in some Wildlife Management Units, but below average in neighboring WMUs, so it’s best to get out and see for yourself what the reproduction was like in your area,” Casalena said.

Casalena said acorn, beech and cherry production also varied across the state, with beech nut, white-oak acorn and soft mast production, such as apples and grapes, seeing average to above-average production in many areas, but below average food production elsewhere. Areas with abundant food sources tend to make the flocks more nomadic and, therefore harder for hunters to find. Whereas lack of food tends to keep flocks congregated where the food exists and, therefore easier for hunters to find, she said.

Last year’s fall hunter success rate of 9 percent was similar to the previous three-year average. Fall hunter success varies considerably depending on summer reproduction, food availability, weather during the season, and hunter participation. Hunter success was as high as 21 percent in 2001, a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as 4 percent in 1979.

Hunter participation has also varied in the fall season over the last few years. After rising from 123,000 in 2012 to more than 200,000 in 2014, Casalena said hunter participation in the fall season dropped to 128,000 last year.

“We’ve been trying to figure it out,” she said. “There is a general trend across the country of fewer fall turkey hunters, while the spring season in Pennsylvania has remained consistent with 220,000 to 230,000 hunters.”

The drop in fall turkey hunters puzzles Casalena, who said the season is an enjoyable way to hunt.

“It’s fun. You can go out first thing in the morning and try to find birds on the roost, or in the middle of the day and search for feeding flocks. You don’t even need to be that quiet because you’ll likely hear them feeding before they hear you,” Casalena said.

An added bonus of the fall season is the tactic of scattering flocks and calling the birds back in.

“You’re always moving around trying to find turkeys and looking for sign. It’s about looking for food sources, scratchings and patterning flocks,” Casalena said. “You’re walking and calling, and you’re interacting with turkeys.”

Fall turkey hunters are allowed to take one bird of either sex. Mature gobblers are often found together in flocks, while brood flocks consist of hens and poults.
http://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/web1_fall-turkey.jpgFall turkey hunters are allowed to take one bird of either sex. Mature gobblers are often found together in flocks, while brood flocks consist of hens and poults. Jake Dingel/PGC
Scattering a flock and calling birds back in is the most effective way to hunt turkeys in the fall. Young birds are often eager to respond to calls, as are mature hens attempting to re-assemble the flock.
http://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/web1_fallturkeys2.jpgScattering a flock and calling birds back in is the most effective way to hunt turkeys in the fall. Young birds are often eager to respond to calls, as are mature hens attempting to re-assemble the flock. Jake Dingel/PGC
Turkey season opens on Saturday, Oct. 28.

By Tom Venesky

[email protected]

TALKING TURKEY

Fall turkey season dates

WMU 5B will be re-open for three days this year, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. WMU 4E has been reduced from three weeks to two, not including the three-day season over Thanksgiving.

In most of the state, the fall turkey season opens Saturday, Oct. 28. The seasons are as follows: WMU 1B – Oct. 28-Nov. 4; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow) – Oct. 28-Nov. 17 and Nov. 23-25; WMUs 1A, 2A, 4A and 4B, – Oct. 28-Nov. 4 and Nov. 23-25; WMUs 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E – Oct. 28-Nov. 11 and Nov. 23-25; WMU 2C – Oct. 28-Nov. 17 and Nov. 23-25; WMU 5A – Nov. 2-4; WMU 5B – Oct. 31-Nov. 2; WMUs 5C and 5D – CLOSED TO FALL TURKEY HUNTING.

Fluorescent orange requirements

In most parts of the state, hunters participating in the fall turkey season are required, while moving, to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined. Orange must be visible from 360 degrees.

Hunters may remove their orange once in a stationary location, providing that a minimum of 100 square inches of fluorescent orange is posted within 15 feet of the location and is visible from 360 degrees.

In WMU 2B, which is open to shotgun and archery hunting only during the fall turkey season, turkey hunters, while moving, must wear a hat containing at least 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material, visible from 360 degrees. While fluorescent orange is not required at stationary locations in WMU 2B, it is strongly recommended.

Archery hunters who are hunting either deer or bear during the overlap with fall turkey season also must wear a fluorescent orange hat at all times when moving. The hat must contain at least 100 square inches of solid, fluorescent orange, visible from 360 degrees, and may be removed once in a stationary location.

Since fluorescent orange requirements have been in place for the fall-turkey season, fall turkey hunting shooting incidents have decreased from 38, three of them fatal, in 1990, to none in 2012 and 2016, and one each year from 2013-2015.

Pass up big hens

Casalena recommended fall turkey hunters to consider harvesting a smaller, young hen as opposed to a mature bird in the fall. The adult hens are proven to be successful breeders, she said, and they have a much higher chance of rearing poults again next spring. Hens that are nesting for the first time have the lowest probability of raising young, she said.

“Adults have a much higher chance of reproducing successfully, so why take that out of the population?” Casalena said.

Leg-banded turkeys

Casalena also reminds hunters to report any leg-banded turkeys they harvest or find.

Leg bands are stamped with a toll-free number to call. Although the agency’s research project is completed and rewards are no longer valid, the information provided is still beneficial and hunters can learn the history of the bird.

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky


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