Sunday, October 31, 2010

Turkey Population Above 5-year Average As Season Arrives

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pennsylvania's new-look fall turkey season is set to begin.

In years past, the fall season was a one- to three-week affair, depending on what part of the state you were hunting in. Everywhere, though, the days of the season ran consecutively.

No more.

This year, in an effort to attract more hunters, Pennsylvania Game Commissioners changed the dates of bear season. It will open on a Saturday, Nov. 20, take Sunday off, then resume Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 22 and 23.

That resulted in the fall turkey season getting split. It opens as early as this Saturday in some units, as late as Nov. 13 and 16 in others. In all cases, it closes no later than Nov. 19 and stays closed until Nov. 25, after the bear hunters have left the woods. What hasn't changed is that there will be plenty of birds out there.

Mary Jo Casalena, the commission's wild turkey biologist, rated populations as "excellent," at an estimated 360,000-plus birds. "The state's wild turkey population is above the five-year-average thanks to good reproduction the past three springs and generally conservative fall season lengths, which minimizes the overharvest of hens," she said. All of those birds are scattered, though, with flocks excellent in some places and just fair in others.

Doug Dunkerly, land management group supervisor for the commission in Allegheny, Beaver, Greene and Washington counties, said those latter two counties in particular have flocks containing as many as 200 birds.

"This area continues to produce lots of turkeys," he said. In Butler County, some of the birds hunters encounter this fall might be smaller than usual — a byproduct of late besting resulting from a later winter — but birds remain numerous and widespread, said wildlife conservation officer Randy Pilarcik. "They are being seen in all types of habitats from the big woods of Moraine State Park to the farms and even in the residential areas of the district," he said.

In the more mountainous areas of Somerset and Cambria counties, though — where deep snows lingered all winter — turkey numbers may be down a bit, according to field reports.
Roger Brown rates the fall turkey hunting in Somerset to be only fair, for example. "The birds I have seen have been with one or two other birds, rather than the larger flocks I usually see them in," Brown said. The real trick for hunters, no matter where they go, may be finding the turkeys.

Casalena said this year's widespread abundance of acorns "will keep turkeys and flocks dispersed throughout the woods, making them harder to locate and hunt." "Acorn production seems good locally and the key to locating birds will be finding roosting and feeding areas," agreed Stephen Leiendecker, a wildlife conservation officer in southern Westmoreland County.

Fall turkey hunter success peaked in 2001, when 21 percent of hunters bagged a bird. That dropped to 16 percent in 2007 and 2008 and fell to 13 percent last year, when hunters killed 20,934 birds. That was 20 percent less than the five-year average of 26,082.

Casalena said she's expecting something similar this year. The key, as always, will be to just get out there and give it a try. "While turkey sightings in the county are down from last year, the area still supports a large number of birds," said Beaver County conservation officer Matthew Kramer.

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