With Thanksgiving and a genuine wild turkey dinner on the horizon, and Pennsylvania’s fall turkey season only days away, turkey hunters have good reason to be excited.
Many of Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Management Units (WMU) open Nov. 2 and turkey hunters are scratching around trying to get ready for what appears to be good season.
“Game Commission biologists and WCOs in the field are forecasting a good fall season for state turkey hunters,” Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northwest Region Information Officer Chip Brunst said.
What kind of numbers could we see?
In the latest data available from the PGC, there were more than 40,000 turkeys killed by hunters during the spring 2018 season.
WMU 1A (which includes Mercer and Lawrence counties and part of Crawford County) had 3,211 spring gobblers harvested, and Area 1B (which includes part of Crawford County and all of Erie County) had 1,307 gobblers taken. Cambria County is included in WMU 2E and 2C, which had 1,184 and 2,197 turkeys bagged, respectively.
If you are looking for an area with a higher turkey population, explore the more mountainous, central part of the state, which traditionally sports higher harvest numbers.
To get ready for a good season, avid turkey hunters are meticulously tuning, sanding and chalking turkey calls. In addition, most are likely practicing turkey calls such as the basic yelps, cutts, cackles and purrs. And with the season just days away, most turkey hunters have started scouting, have their gear ready and shotguns patterned.
While spring turkey hatch success is affected by predators and weather, Mother Nature has helped for this season. With a hot and soggy summer, there is an overabundance of quality turkey foods, such as grasses, clovers and farm crops (soybeans, corn and oats).
Forest foods such as beechnuts, white and red oak acorns are plentiful and most apple and other fruit trees are loaded with fruit. Turkey flocks did not have to travel very far to find quality food sources this spring, summer and early fall. This means there should be fatter and plumper turkey for the sportsman’s Thanksgiving roasting pan.
The soggy spring, however, did put a damper in some areas.
“Some hens were unable to hatch their first clutch of eggs and this always causes hens to make a second nest and attempt a second hatch,” Brunst said. “This explains certain areas having younger, smaller poults this fall.”
Another concern for turkeys this season is the expanding fisher populations and other predators. The fisher is a mid-sized carnivore, the second-largest member of the weasel family in Pennsylvania.
“Yes, fishers do and will kill turkeys but the biggest threat to wild turkey nesting is raccoons,” Brunst said. “Raccoons are very good at finding and eating turkey eggs and always pose a constant threat to turkey populations across the state.”
Despite that, there’s optimism for the season.
“Field reports show lots of turkeys and populations are above average in some areas,” Brunst said.
TIPS FROM THE FIELD
Since I’ve been hunting turkeys throughout Pennsylvania for over 50 years, I can’t help but throw out a few turkey hunting tips.
While turkeys aren’t necessarily that hard to hunt or harvest, hunters must first understand some basics. As quick as hunters understand these facts the quicker they’ll be a better turkey hunter.
First, understand that ever since the turkey was an egg, something has been trying to eat them. From raccoons, coyotes, foxes, fishers and skunks, turkey eggs are a delicacy.
If the turkey does manage to get out of the egg, the same predators eat them, along with an occasional black snake. In addition, a host of avian predators such as hawks, eagles and owls relentlessly hunt turkeys.
Now, if the turkey manages to survive this onslaught, plus inclement weather, the fall hunting seasons opens and thousands of hunters try to bag their Thanksgiving dinner. The point is: This is why wild turkeys are constantly on guard, alert, spooky and to ready disappear at a moments notice. If they catch any hunter movement whatsoever, they usually take off.
When calling in the fall, I try several different turkey calls like, slate, box and mouth calls to see what works best. If they still are hesitant to come in close and are not watching you, try loud scratching in the leaves like a hen looking for food. Older, usually call-shy, hunter-wise turkeys, can often be tough to hunt and call in as the season progresses. By now they’ve had about every trick in the book thrown at them and it takes something special on your part to coax them into the roasting pan.
In short, hunters need to utilize a host of some pretty simple tricks to turn the tide in your favor.
Sometimes I’ll throw in a hen’s fly-down cackle along with the sounds of flapping wings, made with my hat. This simple and effective tactic can sometimes bring in the wariest flock..
Here are some very effective turkey-getting tactics that I’ve used:
• In the fall turkeys aren’t that difficult to understand. Rule No. 1: Flocks are constantly on the move. Where they are today isn’t necessarily where they’ll be tomorrow. Hunt where there are turkey foods and fresh turkey scratching in the leaves and you will eventually find fall turkeys. Turkeys live a rather simple lifestyle, they require ample food, water and a safe roosting area. Throw in some secluded strutting and dusting areas and you have the ingredients for success.
• Probably the most difficult part of turkey hunting is mastering a few basic calls. A good turkey hunter doesn’t have to know a turkey’s complete vocabulary. Mastering the “yelp” is the best assurance for turkey success. The yelp is the call most often used by hens and hunters. It is the “everything is alright” call, so to speak. Hens communicate with other hens in the flock with this call. If the hunter can master some excited cutts, clucks, cackles and purrs, this will add to the hunter’s chances for success.
• Remember the fly-down cackle with the added wing beats at daybreak, made with your hat. Try imitating a feeding hen by making loud scratching sounds in the leaves with a stick or your hand.
• Turkeys are a flock bird and if you break up the flock then try to call the stragglers back in. They’ll usually sneak back in.
• When turkey hunting it’s always a good idea to keep your back against a big tree and be watching for the flock or a hunter sneaking in your direction.
JOHN CROOKS is a contributing writer for the Meadville Tribune, a sister paper of The Herald and The Allied News.