It is fair to say that most turkey hunters should expect to have a good chance of tagging a spring gobbler during the 2019 spring gobbler seasons, which gets underway with the mentored youth hunt this coming Saturday and the regular season that opens Saturday, April 27 and continues through Friday, May 31.
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, the statewide estimated population remains at slightly more than 229,000, as it was prior to the 2018 spring season. That overall population represents approximately more than the previous 10-year average and seemingly indicates favorable bird numbers and hunting conditions.
There are several caveats, however, that could work against the casual hunting – beginning with the more-than 40,000 gobblers taken last season. Then there was the late spring and early summer of 2018 when the Credence Clearwater Revival song “Who’ll Stop The Rain” became a legitimate concern for turkey hunters.
“Because of the record-setting rain last year, agency personnel conducting field research saw evidence of the ‘wet hen effect,’ which occurs when birds are unable to dry their feathers because of continued soaking,” Casalena said. “Wet springs are associated with greater potential for predation of nests and hens may be more prone to abandon nests in wet weather.
“Biologists believe predation rates increase in wet weather because of scenting conditions. Wet hens may leave a more significant scent trail allowing predators to be more successful at finding nests, and because most predators hunt at night, both the hens and eggs are at risk.
Breeding can begin as early as the end of March, when winter flocks disperse, and a hen can be bred by the gobbler daily, with the sperm held in the hen’s oviduct for up to four weeks. Once successful breeding is sufficient to fertilize the eggs for an entire clutch, or sometimes two clutches if the hen loses her first nest and successively re-nests, she begins laying an egg nearly every day until her nest contains 8-15 and begins incubating constantly after all eggs are laid.”
Casalena said the average Pennsylvania incubation date begins May 8 for adult hens and May 13 for juvenile hens. If breeding was success the average hatch date is June 3 for adults and June 10 for juveniles was June 10, and if the hens had to re-nest the average hatch date is July 9 for adults and July 11 for juveniles.
Although the statewide population of wild turkeys is in a slight decline from the record-highs of a few years ago, Pennsylvania still ranks as one of premier destinations for hunting spring gobblers. Preseason scouting and persistence during the season are the keys to filling a tag.
“Hunting pressure throughout Pennsylvania tends to be highest during the first week of the season, when 40 to 50 percent of the season harvest is taken, and Fridays and Saturdays,” Casalena said. “Scout several areas for this reason, hunt during other portions of the season and seek more secluded locations for less hunting pressure.
“Patience and stillness with Pennsylvania turkeys is the key, as Pennsylvania birds seem to be more wary than those in many other states, especially for birds in older-age classes and those that have been worked by other hunters. Even though these gobblers might quiet down after the first week of the season, chances are some are still there later in the season and are just not as vocal,” Casalena said.
“In terms of gobbling and gobbler response to hunters, the best hunting tends to be where the two-year-old gobbler population is strong, and this changes annually depending on location. Therefore, pre-season scouting helps determine where those mouthy gobblers are hanging out, but remember patience and stillness may work well on these birds.”
All of which means it is fair to say chances are good this year of filling a spring gobbler tag.
(Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association)