Spring turkey hunting season runs April 30 through Tuesday, May 31
HARRISBURG — Timing alone would make it special. Pennsylvania’s upcoming spring gobbler season — the state’s only big-game hunt outside of fall and winter — takes place when the world seems new, freshly green and alive.
This year’s season began last Saturday with a one-day hunt for junior and youth mentored hunters. However, for everyone else the season begin this past Saturday (April 30) and will run through Tuesday, May 31.
But it has a lot more going for it than just that.
Gobbler hunting is huge on excitement, too. There are few things as thrilling as calling in a wary turkey. No wonder more than 150,000 hunters take to forests and fields each spring to chase these birds.
Plenty of opportunity awaits them, as usual. In fact, Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said the statewide flock — always among the largest anywhere in the East — is likely bigger right now than at any time in the last few years.
She credited that increase to a number of factors.
First, 2021’s recruitment — or influx of new turkeys into the population — was very good, courtesy of warm, dry weather last spring and, in places, lots of cicadas to eat. Survey work revealed 3.1 poults per hen, on average, statewide.
“That was our highest ratio since we began monitoring recruitment,” Casalena said.
A smaller-than-usual spring 2021 harvest and shorter fall turkey seasons in some Wildlife Management Units, coupled with a statewide elimination of rifles for fall turkey hunting, also surely boosted flocks.
“That should all translate into a lot of high-spirited jakes on the landscape,” Casalena said. “Hunters should find a larger-than-normal percentage of older, 3-year-old turkeys out there, too. So there’s certainly reason for optimism again this year.”
Those birds won’t necessarily be easy to harvest; neither jakes nor older birds typically are as vocal as 2-year-olds, she added. But hunters can up their odds of tangling with a tom turkey by preparing before opening day.
Casalena recommends scouting, looking either for actual birds, turkey sign such as droppings, feathers, scratchings and tracks, or at least places where turkeys might be, like openings close to and easily accessible from roosting areas where gobblers prefer to strut.
All the while, back home, practice calling.
“The most important call is the hen yelp,” Casalena said. “The hunter wants to imitate a hen to attract the gobbler to come within range. After that it’s a matter of practicing and learning other calls like the different cackles and purrs and understanding when to use each. Friction calls have great sound and pitch, while mouth calls are the most convenient, especially when being still is important.”
None of that guarantees success, of course. About 15% of hunters harvested one gobbler last spring overall. About 18% of the near-record 25,210 people who bought a special spring turkey license, or second gobbler tag, took a second. Those figures are comparable to long-term averages.
But the only hunters to fill their tags are those who go out and hunt. So this spring, visit turkey country and see what happens.
“There’s never a bad time to be in the woods, especially when getting out offers the chance to square off with one of our amazing if unpredictable gobblers,” Casalena said.
Hours, licensing and regulations
Hunting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at noon for the first two weeks of the statewide season (April 30-May 14). Hunters are asked to be out of the woods by 1 p.m. when hunting hours end at noon. This is to minimize disturbance of nesting hens.
From May 16 through May 31, hunting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. The all-day season allows more opportunity at the point in the season when hunting pressure is lower and nesting hens are less likely to abandon nests.
During the spring gobbler season, hunters may use manually operated or semiautomatic shotguns limited to a three-shell capacity in the chamber and magazine combined. Muzzleloading shotguns, crossbows and long, recurve and compound bows also are permitted. For a complete list of regulations, consult the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, available on the agency’s website.
Only bearded birds may be harvested during the spring season, and hunting is permitted by calling only. Hunters should refrain from knowingly harvesting bearded hens because they do nest and raise broods.
There is no requirement for hunters to wear fluorescent orange during the spring turkey season, though wearing it is recommended while moving.
Blinds used while turkey hunting must be manufactured with man-made materials of sufficient density to block movement within the blind from an observer outside the blind. Blinds must completely enclose the hunter on all four sides and from above. It is unlawful to hunt turkeys from blinds made of natural materials such as logs, tree branches and piled rocks.
Blinds that represent the fanned tail of a gobbler do not hide all hunter movement, and therefore are unlawful to use in Pennsylvania.
It is unlawful, as well as unsafe, to stalk turkeys or turkey sounds. All hunters need to wait patiently and properly identify their targets prior to pulling the trigger. When in a stationary position, a hunter should sit with his or her back against a large tree, rock or other barrier that shields movement and offers protection from others who might approach from the rear.
Turkey hunters should not wear clothing that contains black, like the color found on a turkey’s body, or red, white or blue, like those on a turkey’s head.
Pennsylvania hunters again this year can purchase a license to harvest a second gobbler in the spring season, but only one gobbler may be taken per day. This license must be purchased no later than April 29, the day before the statewide season begins.
The $21.97 license ($41.97 for nonresidents) may be purchased online but cannot be printed at home, so purchasing it directly from an issuing agent might be the better option. The same goes for general hunting licenses. General hunting licenses purchased online also are sent by mail, and shipping charges apply.
Successful turkey hunters must immediately tag their bird before moving it from the harvest site and are required by law to report the harvest to the Game Commission.
Hunters, by law, must report harvests within 10 days.
Reporting harvests is key to turkey management, as it allows the Game Commission to more accurately estimate harvest and population totals.
Hunters can report turkeys in any of three ways: by visiting www.pgc.pa.gov and clicking the blue “Report a Harvest” button near the top of the home page; by calling 1-800-838-4431; or by filling out and mailing the harvest report card in the digest hunters get when they buy a license.
Have your harvest tag in front of you when reporting to be sure you can provide all of the requested information.
Hunters also are asked to report any turkeys they harvest with leg bands. Information collected on those birds — which are legal to take — helps estimate spring harvest rate and annual survival rate by Wildlife Management Unit, Casalena said. That’s critical to developing the state’s turkey population model.
Leg bands feature a toll-free number or email address for reporting.
Be aware of ticks
There’s a lot to love about hunting in springtime, but ticks aren’t one of them.
Ticks are active at this time and potentially carry Lyme disease or other tickborne illness. So spring gobbler hunters are wise to take precautions.
To start, treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, an insecticide that disrupts the nervous system of ticks, paralyzing and often killing them.
Be sure to read the label’s instructions regarding application, which must be done in a well-ventilated area while avoiding skin contact with the agent. Most products containing permethrin guarantee effectiveness for six weeks – enough to last all turkey season – or six washes in the laundry, at which time garments and gear can be retreated.
Even with treated clothes, though, there’s still a chance you’ll bring a hitchhiking tick into your house alive. Those odds drop if hunting clothes are removed and left on the porch or garage before going inside.
You’ll still want to check your body thoroughly for ticks after each time in the woods, especially those body-heat centers including the waistband, underarms, between the legs and on the back of the knees that ticks prefer. Showering as soon as you can after being outdoors can wash off unattached ticks and allows you to more thoroughly look for them. Use a mirror for hard-to-see places.
And don’t forget to take other steps to block ticks from making it to your skin in the first place. Tuck in your shirt. Tuck your pant legs into your boots or socks or consider wearing gaiters. And tightly cinch knee-high rubber boots.
Turkey hunters should be aware that multiple cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus have been detected in wild birds in Pennsylvania.
HPAI is a disease that can infect domestic and wild birds. It can also infect humans, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that the current HPAI outbreak is primarily an animal health issue that poses low risk to the health of the general public. No human cases related to this avian influenza virus have been detected or reported in the United States.
Still, hunters should take some common-sense steps to protect themselves:
• Harvest only healthy-looking birds.
• Wear gloves when handling any wild birds, and change gloves and disinfect hands between handling live birds.
• Change clothing as needed, especially if visibly soiled or if any birds handled made contact with your clothing.
• Change clothing, including footware, and wash hands well before coming in contact with any pet birds or domestic poultry.