There's Still Time for Turkeys

John Hafner photo

Much of America enjoyed an early spring this year, with many flowers, shrubs and trees greening up as much as a month ahead of schedule. That caused many turkey hunters to theorize that the birds would also breed well ahead of schedule, possibly resulting in less-than-ideal calling conditions during turkey seasons.

Well, although the woods here in Pennsylvania are already as thick as can be, the latest results from an ongoing Pennsylvania Game Commission telemetry study of hen turkeys indicates that nesting this year will take place just about the same time it always does. According to Mary Jo Casalena, the commission's wild turkey biologist, that's because wild turkey nesting is triggered more by photoperiod (the amount of daylight each day) than weather, and though weather fluctuates from year to year, the amount of increasing daylight remains consistent.

So, in spite of the weather (and the fact that it's getting hard to see much in the woods), the bottom line is that turkey-hunting opportunities should be pretty much as good as they always are. And that's good news for hunters such as me, since I'm still chasing my Pennsylvania bird and have a couple weeks remaining to get the job done.

Here's a copy of the Game Commission's full press release, which contains some interesting data:


All-day season begins May 14

HARRISBURG — For those spring gobbler hunters who may feel the hunt is already over because of the early spring, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials report that there is still plenty of time to harvest a gobbler.

"Our three years of radio-telemetry data show that hen turkeys did not begin incubating nests any earlier this year than the previous two years, even though we experienced a warm, dry early spring" said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. "That's because nesting is triggered more by photoperiod (amount of daylight) than weather. So, that warm spell we experienced in March was just a bit too early for most hens to begin laying eggs."

Hen turkeys wait until they lay a complete clutch before they begin the 28 days of incubation. This ensures the entire clutch hatches within a 24-hour period. Also, hens readily abandon nests during egg-laying if they are disturbed, so it makes sense not to incubate until she's sure of her nest location.  

"We've been monitoring when radioed hens begin incubating their clutches, and comparing the dates to data collected back in the 1950s and 1960s across the state to determine if Pennsylvania hens are now nesting earlier, and they aren't," Casalena said. "The average date of nest incubation remains around the first week of May.

"This should be welcome news for most Pennsylvania turkey hunters because now that these hens have begun incubating, gobblers are becoming lonely and may come to a hunter's call more readily. So, do not give up hope, there is still plenty of time to harvest a tom."

The Game Commission radio-telemetry study continues for two additional springs, and agency biologists will continue to record nest incubation dates of each radioed hen.

"With more than 50 radioed hens each year thus far, we have a decent sample size," Casalena said. "This year, we only recorded one early nester, an adult hen beginning incubation March 29. But, last year, with the cool, wet spring, our earliest incubation date was three days earlier, March 26. In 2010, we didn't have a hen begin incubation until April 6."

The early spring did, however, cause leaves to emerge early, which will make it more difficult for hunters to hear and see their target.

"With the early green-up, it will be even more important to consider using a fluorescent orange band to alert other hunters to your stationary location or to wear some orange while moving," Casalena said.

Pennsylvania turkey hunters also are reminded that, beginning on Monday, May 14, they will be permitted to hunt from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. The expanded hunting hours will continue through the last day of the season, which is Thursday, May 31.

"The 2011 spring gobbler season was the first year of all-day hunting during the second half of the season, and the overall harvest was a slight decrease from the 2010 harvest," Casalena said. "Afternoon harvest comprised six percent of the total reported harvests and 22 percent of the harvest during the all-day portion of the season.  During the all-day season, 78 percent of the harvest occurred before noon."

For the afternoon segment, Casalena said the majority of the harvest occurred between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the last reported harvest at 8:35 p.m. (NOTE: Hunting hours closed between 8:39 p.m. in the eastern part of the state, and 9:11 p.m. in the western part of the state.)

"The Game Commission will continue to monitor the afternoon harvest in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge the impact of all-day hunting," Casalena said. "Of the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, 34 have all-day hunting for all or part of the season, including Maryland, Ohio and Virginia."

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