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Spring turkey hunters gobble up chances to bag birds

Everybody Adventures
| Saturday, April 14, 2018, 6:43 p.m.
Pennsylvania's turkey population isn't what it once was. But plenty of birds remain, and hunters still enjoy pursuing them.
Pennsylvania's turkey population isn't what it once was. But plenty of birds remain, and hunters still enjoy pursuing them.

Pennsylvania's most avid spring turkey hunters are going all in.

With the 2018 season fast approaching — the youth-only spring gobbler hunt is April 21, the regular season April 28 to May 31 — expect more than a few to buy a second turkey tag.

That's been the trend.

Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's turkey biologist, said sales of a second gobbler tag have increased every year they've been available. Last year, the commission sold 20,529.

"And that is another record year. It just keeps going up each year," Casalena said.

That's true even though harvests overall have been good but not historic.

Pennsylvania's record spring gobbler kill came in 2001, when hunters took 49,186. The highest take on record in the last decade was in 2009, when they got 42,478, according to commission figures.

In 2017, by comparison, they killed 38,101.

"This is pretty similar to the previous 10-year average," Casalena said. "But it was below the previous three-year average of about 39,500.

"Turkeys have had it tough the last two years. Wet springs have really hurt survival of poults."

Still, last fall was marked by abundant food, namely acorns. And the winter was, for the most part, a mild one from a turkey perspective.

So given all that, she's expecting a harvest of 36,000 to 38,000.

Only a relatively small percentage will fall to those hunters looking to fill their second tag.

Last spring, 5,049 — or about one in four — punched that ticket.

That's below average compared to first tags, Casalena said.

None of that has impacted participation, though.

"The number of spring turkey hunters has remained relatively stable since 1983, at just under a quarter million," Casalena said.

There were roughly 215,000 spring turkey hunters in Pennsylvania in 2016. That dropped in 2017, but she believes that was a one-year "anomaly."

Better days might be ahead for those who stick with the sport, too.

Back in 2001, Pennsylvania was home to an estimated 280,000 turkeys, Casalena said. That started dropping in 2010.

"Basically we had a double whammy with our turkey population. We had an unexpected spring decline, doubled with, in 2010, we established the three-day Thanksgiving fall turkey season," she said.

That three-day season, time has shown, is equivalent to adding an entire week to the fall seasons. And fall seasons, Casalena said, impact populations because hunters kill hens.

The good news is the turkey population has been climbing since, if ever so slightly, Casalena said.

And changes to fall seasons — mainly contractions in some wildlife management units — should allow that to continue, she added.

The 2016 population was estimated at 216,800 birds. It's between 210,000 and 220,000 now, Casalena estimated.

The commission's goal is to get the population to about 240,000, Casalena said.

Habitat will be the key, it seems.

The agency's 10-year turkey management plan is undergoing a scheduled revision. Casalena said it will focus largely on carrying capacity, both biological and social.

"Our emphasis going forward in the next 10 years is really landscape-level habitat management," she said.

That means creating and managing places the birds can thrive, she said.

The plan is to undergo review both within the agency and by National Wild Turkey Federation partners. When a final draft is ready, it will be presented to Game Commissioners for approval.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

Article by Bob Frye, Everybody Adventures,

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