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Spring Turkey Season and Ongoing Research

I was on my way home one morning last week from sipping some coffee with friends at a nearby McDonald’s when I glanced over at a still snow-covered field, and much to my surprise, I spotted two gobblers. I was even more impressed when I saw how long their beards were-definitely trophy birds. That sighting quickly got me thinking that it would soon be time to do some serious scouting and get my spring turkey hunting gear together.

The fact is the spring turkey season kicks off on April 30 and runs to May 31; there is also a Youth Hunt for properly permitted and mentored youth sixteen and under. A second spring gobbler license can be purchased prior to the season opener, but only one gobbler per day can be taken. Hunting hours are from one half-hour before sunrise to noon from April 30 to May 14. The hunting hours change starting on May 15 to May 31, when you are permitted to hunt from one half-hour before sunrise to one half-hour after sunset. I kind of like that change of hunting times in the latter part of the season. In years past when you could only hunt mornings, I remember nailing one of my biggest gobblers ever when he finally got within shooting range with only 15 minutes of hunting time left; it would have been very disappointing to have to get up and walk out at noon with some good hunting hours left in the day.

I must admit that when I talk to other turkey hunters about the upcoming spring season, I am hearing different reports regarding turkey sightings. In some areas, I’m being told that very few turkeys are being seen, but I have been fortunate to see a fair number of birds last fall and even some into the winter months. In the past month or so, I have even been seeing a group of about a dozen turkeys that all appear to be gobblers.

However, with some lower numbers of turkey sightings being reported, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been working on some new approaches. More specifically, the Game Commission has been involved in an ongoing winter population study and a large-scale study of hens. Up to March 15 this past winter, the Game Commission had been asking for the public’s assistance to help find turkeys to trap. Participants were asked to report to the Game Commission any flocks that they saw. It’s important to note that the turkeys were not removed from the area, but they were simply trapped, leg-banded, and then released back on the same site where they were first reported.

Part of the winter trapping program that will continue through to the year 2025 includes placing transmitters on hens. Approximately 100 transmitters will be deployed each winter so that the Game Commission will be monitoring 400 or more hens. It will be one of the largest turkey study projects ever put together, and it’s hoped that many questions can be answered regarding hen population dynamics.

Hopefully, the Game Commission study will reveal some crucial information that may help improve turkey populations throughout the state. In the meantime, I’m beginning my own study; I’ll ask my wife to do the driving, and I’ll keep my eyes peeled in the woods and fields.