Acorns are abundant throughout most of the northeast region, and that may make it difficult for hunter to find turkeys when the fall season opens on Saturday, Oct. 27.
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Kevin Wenner, reports from agency personnel in the field indicate a bumper acorn crop across the region, particularly among red oaks.
With so much food available across the landscape, Wenner said it may be a bit more difficult to find birds that aren't concentrated on one food source.
They won't have to travel as much to find feeding opportunities, he said.
That means fall turkey hunters should plan on walking more and focusing their time along mature oak stands to find flocks.
Turkey numbers in the northeast are average, Wenner said. The early nesting season was productive, he said, but wet weather struck later on and may have impacted the broods that hatched later in the spring.
Statewide turkey numbers are excellent, according to PGC turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, despite cool and wet spring weather. Casalena said the conditions moderated quickly enough for most hens to successfully hatch broods.
The statewide turkey population this past spring, prior to nesting, was similar to the 10-year average, about 340,000 birds, and a 25 percent increase from its low in 2005, of 272,000, so there's a bountiful population of turkeys in Penn's Woods, Casalena said. This resurgence is due to several years of average to above-average reproduction coupled with generally conservative fall season lengths, which minimizes the overharvest of hens.
Hunter numbers and fall harvests, however, continued to decline last season. The 2011 fall harvest of 15,884 was 34 percent less than the previous five-year average of 24,049. Fall harvests have been declining steadily for the last nine years, mainly due to a decrease in the number of fall turkey hunters and shorter fall season lengths.
Wenner said the declining fall harvests didn't exactly equate to problematic levels when it comes to managing the population. If it did, he said, it's possible that season lengths and bag limits could be changed to achieve management goals, however that hasn't been discussed.
Still, with excellent turkey numbers across the state, the upcoming fall season could bring about a reversal in the declining harvest, even if food sources are abundant in the northeast.
Overall, I expect turkey hunters to enjoy higher success rates than last year when only 10 percent of fall turkey hunters harvested turkeys because of abundant mast crops, which dispersed flocks making them difficult to locate. Success this fall is expected to be much higher, at about 15 percent, similar to the previous five-year average, Casalena said. Hunter success has been as high as 21 percent in 2001, which was a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as four percent in 1979.
Local turkey flocks have experienced limited outbreaks of the avian pox virus, according to Kevin Wenner.
The virus is transmitted by biting insects such as mosquitoes and mites. It can also be spread via direct contact with infected birds and infected birds develop scab-like growths on their skin.
Wenner said a number of avian pox cases have occurred over the last several years in parts of Luzerne and Bradford counties.
The birds we've seen were either euthanized or already dead, he said. The cases have been very localized with only a handful of birds.
Wenner said the virus does occur throughout other areas of the state and has been here a long time. If you harvest a turkey that appears to have the virus, call the PGC Northeast Region Office at 675-1143. Wenner said a replacement tag could be issued.
For more information on avian pox and other wildlife diseases, visit the PGC's Wildlife Disease Reference Library at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
WMUs 1A, 1B and 2A (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Oct. 29-Nov. 12, and Nov. 24-26; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Oct. 29-Nov. 18, and Nov. 24-26; WMUs 2C, 2D, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D – Oct. 29-Nov. 12, and Nov. 24-26; WMUs 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C and 4E – Oct. 29-Nov. 18, and Nov. 24-26; WMU 5A – Nov. 1-3; and WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D – Closed to Fall Hunting.
Fall turkey hunters are reminded that they still are required to display their licenses on their outer garments, said Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl G. Roe.
The Game Commission is supporting legislation to remove the statutory requirement that licenses be displayed, and thereby allow hunters to place their hunting license in their wallet with other ID, Roe said. However, until such time as the General Assembly removes this statutory requirement, hunters and trappers will need to continue to display their licenses.
Roe noted the license can be pinned to a hat, sleeve or outer portion of the coat.