Turkey hunting through the spring looks to be promising
These are pretty good days to be a turkey hunter in Pennsylvania.
Consider that, as recently as 1990, hunters were taking a little more than 17,400 gobblers in the spring season. These days, that represents little more than a good week.
Last spring, for example, hunters killed 44,148 gobblers. That wasn't a record -- hunters killed more than 49,000 birds in the spring of 2001 -- but it was the fourth-highest kill ever recorded.
That's the good news. The better news is that the upcoming spring season -- it runs April 28 to May 26 -- looks as if it should be outstanding, too.
"Spring gobbler hunting looks promising throughout the state and should be as good, if not better than 2006, which was an excellent season," said Mary Jo Casalena, the Game Commission's turkey biologist.
This spring's harvest will be largely made up of young birds, Casalena said. There should be more jakes in the population this year than last, along with more two-year-olds. Three- and four-year-old turkeys will be more scarce, however.
About 240,000 hunters are expected to take to the woods to try and call in those birds this spring. Not all of them will be completely happy -- Gene Alwine, president of the National Wild Turkey Federation's Pennsylvania chapter-- told Game Commissioners this past week that turkey hunters do not like having to wear orange hats while moving from spot to spot.
But almost everyone agrees that turkeys are doing very well in Pennsylvania.
The key to getting one is to "pick a general hunting area, then scout it to determine where your best chances are for calling in a gobbler," Casalena said. Certain areas of the state hold more promise than others, though, of course.
The hunting in wildlife management unit 1B in northwestern Pennsylvania, for example, should be among the best in the state, Casalena said. The hunting should be early as good in unit 1A, where turkey populations are on the rise again.
In unit 2A -- site of some of the state's best turkey hunting in the early 1990s -- Casalena rates the outlook as just fair to poor compared to what existed just five years ago. Summer recruitment is still above the statewide average, however.
It's hard to predict how the hunting will be in unit 2B, which surrounds Pittsburgh, because of the lack of public land. But there should be good hunting for jakes in unit 2C, Casalena said.
Turkey harvest densities are still above the state average in unit 2D, but summer turkey sightings were below average. In the big woods of units 2F and 2G, the hunting looks to be fair, Casalena said.
The key, Casalena said, not matter where you hunt, is to hunt hard and long. A lot of gobblers are taken late in the season, so hunters would be wise not to give up too soon.
"When you do succeed, though, the experience is incredibly satisfying and you can rest assured you'll never forget a millisecond of the hunt," Casalena said.
One change spring gobbler hunting has seen in recent years is the increasing use of turkey decoys by turkey hunters. They've become more popular as they've also become more realistic looking.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, decoys can be particularly helpful if you're an inexperienced hunter -- or if you're a veteran guiding one -- because they take a bird's attention away from the caller and shooter.
Decoys have their downsides, too, though. They can actually spook heavily hunted birds, for example.
Here are a few tips for using a decoy, courtesy of the NWTF.
• A decoy should never be visible while being transported. Never carry an uncovered, identifiable decoy any distance.
• Establish a clear line of vision for at least 100 yards and then set your decoy about 20 yards from your position at a right angle to the line.
• Should you see another hunter, call out to them in a loud, clear voice so they know that decoy is not a real bird and shoot it -- and at you.
• If you are calling over decoys and then elect to move to a new location, check carefully to be sure no one is stalking your decoys.
- By Bob Frye