Time for tricks, treats and wild turkey

The Southern Berks News - - SPORTS - By Tom Ta­tum

In a co­in­ci­dence splashed with serendip­ity, Penn­syl­va­nia’s fall turkey hunt­ing sea­son cor­re­sponds per­fectly with the fall hol­i­day sea­son, es­sen­tially stretch­ing from just be­fore Hal­loween to Thanks­giv­ing day in many of the state’s Wildlife Man­age­ment Units (WMUs). It should come as no sur­prise that diehard Key­stone State turkey hunters can be ex­pected to forsake those su­per­mar­ket But­ter­balls, pre­fer­ring in­stead to grace their Thanks­giv­ing Day ta­bles with wild, free-rang­ing hens, gob­blers, and Jakes.

To that end, Penn­syl­va­nia’s wild turkey sea­son be­gan this Satur­day, Oct. 27, in most parts of the state, but the du­ra­tion of the sea­son is de­ter­mined by Wildlife Man­age­ment Unit, al­though, in fact, fall-turkey hunt­ing is closed in some ar­eas (like ours). The fall sea­son is closed in WMUs 5C and 5D, an area which en­com­passes all of Delaware, Bucks, and Mont­gomery Coun­ties here in our south­east­ern neck of Penn’s Woods. This also in­cludes al­most all of Ch­ester County and most of Berks County. Those por­tions of Ch­ester and Berks County that fall within the bor­ders of WMU 5B of­fers a very ab­bre­vi­ated fall turkey sea­son run­ning from Oct. 30 through Nov. 1. The three-day, Tues­daythrough-Thurs­day sea­son in WMU 5B marks the sec­ond straight year the WMU has been opened to fall-turkey hunt­ing, a re­sult of suf­fi­cient re­bound in pop­u­la­tion trends, ac­cord­ing to Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion wild turkey bi­ol­o­gist Mary Jo Casalena.

The sea­sons for the re­main­ing WMUs are as fol­lows: WMU 1B – Oct. 27Nov. 3; WMU 2B (Shot­gun and archery gear only) – Oct. 27-Nov. 16 and Nov. 22-24; WMUs 1A, 2A (Shot­gun and archery gear only in Al­legheny County), 4A and 4B, – Oct. 27-Nov. 3 and Nov. 22-24; WMUs 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E – Oct. 27-Nov. 10 and Nov. 22-24; WMU 2C – Oct. 27-Nov. 16 and Nov. 22-24; WMU 5A – Nov. 1-3; The three-day Thurs­daythrough-Satur­day sea­son re­mains in­tact in WMU 5A to pro­vide greater op­por­tu­nity for hunters whose sched­ules do not al­low for a week­day hunt.

Un­like the spring turkey sea­son in which hunters are per­mit­ted to har­vest only bearded birds, any turkey can be har­vested in the fall sea­son. And since re­search shows that over­har­vest­ing hen tur­keys can im­pact the pop­u­la­tion, fall sea­son lengths are ad­justed by WMU based on avail­able pop­u­la­tion data.

“Young male tur­keys, also known as jakes, are dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish from fe­males,” Casalena said. “Our re­search shows fe­males, both ju­ve­nile and adult, com­prise a larger por­tion of the fall har­vest than males, and our man­age­ment and re­search also have shown that we shouldn’t over­har­vest fe­males, so we shorten the fall sea­son length when turkey pop­u­la­tions de­cline to al­low them to re­bound.”

Last year’s fall har­vest of 9,266 was down from 10,844 in 2016 and was 37 per­cent be­low the pre­vi­ous three-year av­er­age of 14,718, likely due to a com­bi­na­tion of a de­crease in fall hunt­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion, pos­si­bly due to our aging hunter pop­u­la­tion, or hunters switch­ing to archery deer and bear hunt­ing, 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 noted that acorn, beech and cherry pro­duc­tion also var­ied across the state, with most ar­eas hav­ing av­er­age to be­low-av­er­age hard mast pro­duc­tion. How­ever, a lack of these food items tends to keep flocks con­gre­gated where the food ex­ists and, there­fore eas­ier for hunters to find, thus in­creas­ing fall turkey har­vest, she said. Keep in mind you may be search­ing for miles in the big woods be­fore lo­cat­ing a flock, so a hunt­ing dog is very help­ful for fall turkey and may in­crease hunter suc­cess. Hunters who en­joy hunt­ing other species with a dog know how re­ward­ing it is to share the ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­cite­ment with their dog, and the same is true for fall turkey hunt­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Casalena, the fall sea­son is a great time to in­tro­duce a novice turkey hunter to the sport. “It’s not only a great time to be in the woods, but novice turkey call­ers can be just as suc­cess­ful as a pro when mim­ick­ing a lost turkey poult,” she said. “And once a flock is lo­cated, I re­mind hunters that tur­keys are tipped off more by move­ment and a hunter’s out­line than flu­o­res­cent or­ange.”

The Thanks­giv­ing three­day sea­son pro­vides ad­di­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for par­tic­i­pa­tion, and is also a very suc­cess­ful sea­son with about 20 per­cent of the har­vest dur­ing those three days.

Last year’s fall hunter suc­cess rate of 9 per­cent was sim­i­lar to the pre­vi­ous four-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.

Hope­fully hunter suc­cess isn’t mea­sured only by whether a turkey is har­vested. En­joy­ing time afield with fam­ily, friends, a hunt­ing dog, and/or men­tor­ing a hunter also qual­i­fies a hunt as suc­cess­ful.

For the record, we do have wild tur­keys here in the south­east cor­ner of the state, just not too many. In a some­what ironic twist, on Satur­day’s open­ing day I spot­ted a small flock of about half a dozen tur­keys feed­ing in a field just south of West Ch­ester. Al­though hunt­ing for spring gob­blers is per­mit­ted here, we don’t yet have a healthy enough turkey pop­u­la­tion to per­mit hunt­ing in the fall, and these un­con­cerned birds seemed to know it. Maybe some­day.

The an­nual white­tail rut, aka the deer herd’s breed­ing sea­son, is ramp­ing up. What may be good news for bowhunters is bad news for mo­torists. Rut­ting bucks will be chas­ing does all over the coun­try­side while clue­less year­lings are of­ten aban­doned and end up play­ing in traf­fic with deadly re­sults. Be­ware of deer on our road­ways, es­pe­cially at dusk and dawn. Don’t be one of those un­for­tu­nate, inat­ten­tive mo­torists who puts the “BAM” in Bambi.

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