Good morning and happy Easter.
If the cliche holds true, we should be up to our kazoos in May flowers soon. We can only hope that Mother Nature will be kinder to the hunters this Saturday, the opening day of spring gobbler season than she was to trout fisherman on their opener two weeks ago. But whatever the weather, we'll be out in force on Saturday for this long awaited day.
Gobbler hunting should be very good this season. Weather was good for the poult hatch the previous two years so there should be plenty to choose from this season. Last year, hunters took 44,788 bearded wild turkeys in the spring gobbler seasons (43,201 first harvests and 1,587 second harvests via the special spring gobbler license) from an estimated statewide spring population of about 360,000 according to Game Commission numbers. You still have time to get the second spring turkey license and you can do it online.
Pennsylvania has one of the finest wild turkey populations in America. We also have more wild turkey hunters, on average, than any other state (232,000 spring hunters; 172,000 fall hunters) and the highest harvests (41,000 spring; 24,000 fall) The preliminary 2010 spring gobbler harvest surpassed 2009 as the fourth highest preliminary harvest on record. It is eight percent above the previous three-year average, and five percent above the previous 10-year average, which included a period when Pennsylvania logged five consecutive harvests of more than 40,000 gobblers. We may approach that level again because the 2011 harvest is expected to be between 40,000 and 42,000 bearded birds. Recent spring and fall harvests are: 44,639 spring gobblers and 20,934 fall turkeys in 2009; 42,437 spring gobblers and 24,288 fall turkeys in 2008; 37,992 spring gobblers and 25,369 fall turkeys in 2007; and 39,339 spring gobblers and 24,482 fall turkeys in 2006.
Knowing that this state does have more spring gobbler hunters than just about any other state, it will also seem as though they are all hunting where you have chosen to hunt. Trying to lure a gobbler to your position is indeed a solitary endeavor and the constant parade of hunters, loudly trumpeting calls of every sort makes this quest difficult immediately. We need more patience to put up with the onslaught of interference from other hunters than we do to cope with the gobblers.
This day, certainly, a circumspect hunter will employ fluorescent orange. Though it is not required by law now to wear it while walking around, at least put some around your calling position and always have it readily available to yank out and display if you see another hunter.
And since other hunters will not be wearing orange it is up to you to take the second and third look to be sure that what you are about to fire on really is a gobbler. Most spring accidents are the "victim mistaken for game" variety.
My own opening day tactic is to be very laid-back in my movements and in my calling. I try to sound like a hen that is also cautious because of all the activity. Since a lot of hunters leave the woods by 10 a.m. to go trout fishing, I do very little calling until then.
That's my tactic on public land, on opening day. If you are on very private ground, you can be a bit more aggressive. But never assume that because you are on posted ground that someone else has not sneaked or strayed onto the property. I've had a number of such experiences.
I was hunting in Missouri with Jody Hugill of State College on the private land owned by the Lohman Call Company. We were assured that no one would be on that property but before daylight we ran smack into a hunter who had come over onto the land anyway. WE were surprised and spooked by that encounter that day.
I was hunting in Texas a few years ago on a private 17,000 acre ranch that was completely isolated by a 12-foot high fence. Yet later that morning, our party happened to spot movement in the brush and it turned out to be several illegal aliens who had swum the Rio Grande River and scaled that fence.
So never assume you are alone. Always assume that whatever you see and hear is another hunter. Always take a second or third look before you pull that trigger.