Pennsylvania's 2006 Wild Turkey Forecast

Pennsylvania's 2006 Wild Turkey Forecast

What's in store for Keystone State spring turkey hunters in 2006? Our expert has the current update and predictions for your WMU this season.

Due largely to below-average reproduction in certain areas, some Pennsylvania gobbler hunters may need to work a bit harder this spring to find gobblers, at least compared to last year.

Still, there will be plenty of opportunities for those willing to put in the time necessary to find and pattern local flocks.

Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's top wild turkey biologist, manages a wealth of information regarding the recruitment of wild turkeys for the past few years, as well as harvest statistics. She bases her predictions for the coming year on her best information at any given time.

Casalena said the estimated statewide wild turkey population last spring was 323,500 birds. That was 5.4 percent lower than the previous year, and 6.4 percent below the previous five-year average of 359,300 turkeys. She pointed out, however, that the number was still 6 percent higher than the baseline figure of 305,200 birds established in 1995.

"These recent decreases are mainly due to below-average reproduction during the last three summers, which followed the snowy winter of 2002 and below-average mast crops, acorns and such," she explained. "Recruitment in 2006 will depend on spring weather conditions. A warm, dry spring will translate into successful reproduction. A cold, wet spring will translate into another year of poor recruitment. However, current wild turkey populations in many areas of the commonwealth remain at or above the long-term average."

Because most bagged birds are relatively young, hunters see rapid swings in wild turkey populations. Jakes taken this spring will be from the hatch of 2005, and 2-year-old birds -- often considered the most vocal and easiest gobblers to call in -- will be from the 2004 breeding season. Thus, the recruitment of birds from the past two years is an important consideration for this year's hunters.

"The statewide average turkey recruitment in 2005 was 18 percent lower than in 2004 and 12 percent lower than our baseline year of 1995, as indicated by our Turkey Summer Sighting Index," reported Casalena. "It was 30 percent below the previous five-year average, which contained the highest indices on record. With below-average recruitment during the past three springs, hunting prospects in many wildlife management units will also be below average. However, Pennsylvania is a diverse state, and hunting success will vary depending on the locale."

Casalena's predictions were made prior to knowing the impact of last year's winter on wild turkey populations.

"Although winter turkey mortality typically is not a major issue in Pennsylvania, it can cause some localized population fluctuations," she noted. "The main concern with winter conditions typically is not with gobblers, but with breeding hens. A harsh winter may cause hens to enter the breeding season in poor physical condition, thus reducing their ability to initiate a nest."

Last season, spring hunters bagged approximately 38,820 bearded birds. The harvest was about 5 percent lower than the harvest in 2004, when 41,017 jakes and gobblers were taken. Casalena said the 2005 spring harvest was 12 percent below the previous 10-year average of 44,158 birds.

"The 2004 harvest was slightly below our harvest goal," she explained, "which is to maintain or exceed the 1995 level of a preliminary harvest of approximately 40,400 turkeys. The recent declines in turkey harvests are mainly due to below-average reproduction coupled with slightly longer fall turkey-hunting seasons in some wildlife management units. With the decreased fall season lengths the PGC instituted in some WMUs, coupled with a few years of above-average reproduction, the turkey population and spring harvests could again attain the record levels we saw in 2001."

To best manage the commonwealth's wild turkey populations, the Game Commission breaks the state up into 22 separate wild turkey management units. Factors such as geology, elevation, vegetation, climate, amount of privately and publicly owned forestland, and human population were taken into account when the wildlife management units were created several years ago.

Casalena's comments on past harvest numbers and predictions for the coming hunt are based on these WMUs. Maps showing the locations of WMUs are found in the 2005-06 Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations supplied with each hunting license.

Unit maps may also be viewed on the Game Commission's Web site by logging on to www.pgc.state.pa.us. Click on "Hunting and Trapping" on the left side of the page, then click on "Wildlife Management Units" on the lower right side of the page.

"The highest 2005 harvests were in WMUs 2D (3,006), 4C (2,831), 4E (2,508) and 1B (2,427), accounting for 6.7 percent, 6.3 percent, 5.5 percent and 5.4 percent of the statewide harvest," explained Casalena. "As expected, the smallest harvests occurred in WMUs 5D (101) and WMU 5A (512), where we are restoring turkey populations. Because the spring season opens after breeding has occurred and we harvest only the males, we can maintain a spring turkey season while restoring the population.

"The average statewide harvest density that year was 0.86 turkeys harvested per square mile," Caselana said. "WMU 4C exhibited the highest spring harvest density (1.56), followed by WMU 2B (1.49) and WMU 4E (1.44)."

Looking at 2004 harvest numbers in greater detail, Casalena explained exactly where the best areas were.

"The highest 2004 harvests were in WMUs 2D (4,004), 1B (2,959) and 4C (2,629), accounting for 9.8 percent, 7.2 percent and 6.4 percent of the statewide harvest. As expected, the smallest harvests occurred in WMUs 5A (506) and WMU 5B (553), where we are restoring turkey populations.

"The average statewide harvest density was 0.91 turkeys harvested per square mile. As with the fall harvest, WMU 2D had the highest spring harvest density (1.61), followed by WMU 2B (1.46) and WMU 4C (1.45). We don't have estimates of hunter effort or success rates.

"The final 2004 fall turkey harvest was approximately 25,868 turkeys statewide. This was 6 percent below the preliminary fall 2003 harvest (27,413) and 21 percent below the previous 10-year average (32,560). The highest harvests were in WMUs 2D (2,246), 2G (1,933) and 2C (1,767), making up 8.7 percent, 7.5 percent and 6.8 percent of the statewide harvest, respectively. The smallest harvests occurred in WMUs 5D (19), WMU 5C (417) and 3D (884). The fall season was closed in WMUs 5A and 5B. The average statewide harvest density was 0.57 turkey

s harvested per square mile. Harvest densities were highest in WMUs 2D (0.90), 4B (0.90) and 4E (0.87), and lowest in WMUs 5C (0.02), 5D (0.19) and 3D (0.40)."

What follows is a by-WMU prediction of spring turkey populations for the coming spring hunt, as supplied by biologist Casalena. Keep in mind that these predictions are based on existing harvest and population estimates and don't allow for winter mortality.

WMU 1A

In most of this WMU (except Beaver County), expect to continue to see a decline from the peak harvest in 2001 of 1.9 gobblers harvested per square mile. The unit will still show a good harvest and should still be above the statewide average. Two-year-old gobblers should be abundant in Beaver County, due to the excellent hatch in 2004, but there will fewer jakes, due to the lower predicted hatch of 2005.

WMU 1B

Turkey harvests peaked in 2001 and have been declining slightly since then, but remain above the statewide average. Even so, the preliminary 2005 spring harvest of 2,427 bearded birds was the fourth highest in the state for 2004 and accounted for 5.4 percent of the harvest. Expect to see another slight decline in harvest, due to lower recruitment in 2004 and 2005. But there are some old longbeards that can be a great challenge to hunt.

WMU 2A

Harvests peaked in 2001 when hunters reported killing twice the statewide average. Harvests are still expected to be well above the state average, but about the same or slightly below 2005 because the number of jakes and 2-year-old birds continues to decline from the highs during 1999-02.

WMU 2B

Two-year-old gobblers will be abundant in 2006, but jakes will be in short supply due to the poor recruitment of 2005. This WMU showed the second-highest harvest per square mile during the spring 2005 season behind WMU 4C. So even though this is an urban WMU, hunters are succeeding in acquiring access to huntable flocks. For additional opportunities, seek non-traditional areas, since these may produce some excellent hunting.

WMU 2C

The turkey population and spring harvest peaked here in 2001 and have been declining slightly since. Even though the spring 2005 harvest was the fifth highest in the state, the harvest density (harvest per square mile) was below the statewide average. Expect this spring's harvest to be equal to or slightly above last spring's numbers due to better recruitment than 2004, even though recruitment in 2005 was still below average. There will be fewer 2-year-old gobblers, but more jakes than in 2004.

WMU 2D

The turkey harvest peaked in 2003 at well above the state average, but has been showing a slight declining trend. WMU 2D had the highest spring harvest in 2005 (3,006) and constituted 6.7 percent of the total state harvest.

However, recruitment has decreased in the last two years, so we expect harvests to be slightly lower than last year, but still well above the state average. Hunters should still have better than average success here.

WMUs 2E And 2F

Harvests have been declining slightly from the peak in 2001 and have been below the state average. Below-average recruitment over the last three years will likely decrease this spring's harvest slightly and is expected to be below average again.

WMU 2G

The harvest has been declining slowly since the peak in 2001 and remains below the state average. The below-average recruitment has been slowly increasing since 2003, so expect the spring harvest to increase slightly from its record low in 2005.

WMU 3A

The 2005 turkey harvest showed the second-highest recruitment on record (highest was in 2002), so hunters should expect an abundance of the quieter jakes during the 2006 spring season.

Spring harvests have declined since their peak in 2001. Harvest densities are below the state average, but with the low levels of older birds and abundance of jakes, hunters have the potential to increase harvest levels in 2006 if they can successfully call in the quiet jakes.

WMU 3B

The spring harvest has declined since the peak in 2001, and the kill dropped sharply in 2005, with harvest densities falling below the state average in 2005. Recruitment was similar in 2004, so expect the spring 2006 harvest to be similar to 2005.

WMU 3C

This WMU maintains higher harvest densities than the state average.

Even though there will be fewer 2- and 3-year-old gobblers, a record number of turkeys were sighted in summer 2005, so it appears that recruitment was excellent, providing hunters with an abundance of jakes for 2006.

Low nesting success in 2003 and 2004 caused the spring 2005 harvest to decrease. Expect spring 2006 harvest to be slightly better than 2005, which still translates to good-to-excellent hunting.

WMU 3D

Recruitment in 2005 was slightly below average, but better than the previous two years. Therefore, there will be plenty of jakes but fewer 2- and 3-year-old gobblers.

There may still be many of the wary and challenging 4-year-old gobblers, due to a record recruitment in 2002. Expect this spring's harvest to increase slightly if hunters successfully call in the jakes and 4-year-olds.

WMU 4A

With record recruitment during the last two summers (2004 and 2005), expect the spring 2006 harvest to be above average and slightly above the 2005 harvest. Fall seasons were decreased to two weeks in 2004, which may be helping increase the population.

WMU 4B

Many parts of this WMU had record-low or near-record-low reproduction in 2005 and 2003, but near-record-high reproduction in 2004. With many 2-year-olds available, expect to hear more gobbling this year. But harvests may decrease due to the absence of jakes and 3-year-old birds.

WMU 4C

Prospects look excellent in this WMU, since summer reproduction during the last two years was above average. Expect this spring's harvest to be similar to last year and well above the state average.

Last spring, this WMU exhibited the second-highest harvest and the highest harvest density (birds harvested per square mile).

WMU 4D

Spring harvest densities here are consistently below the state average and have been decreasing slightly since the high in 2001. Summer reproduction during the last two years has been about average for this WMU, so expect spring harvests to be also similar to last year.

WMU 4E

Prospects are excellent in this WMU because summer reproduction estimates during the last two years were at record highs.

This WMU exhibited the third- highest harvest and harvest density (birds harvested per square mile) last spring.

There will be an abundance of jakes and 2-year-old gobblers in the spr

ing population, but a short supply of 3-year-old birds.

WMUs 5A And 5B

These units are being managed with closed fall turkey-hunting seasons to help restore stalled populations. Recruitment tends to fluctuate considerably from year to year. These units need several consecutive years of excellent reproduction for the populations to recover substantially.

WMU 5A

Although recruitment during 2005 improved over the previous two years in parts of this WMU, it was still slightly below average. Expect the harvest to be similar to last year.

WMU 5B

Recruitment in 2005 was below average but slightly above average in 2004. Expect the harvests to be similar to last year.

WMU 5C

Even though turkey recruitment in 2004 was low, last year's spring harvest was above average for this unit, and the harvest density was similar to the statewide average.

Recruitment in 2005 was slightly higher, so expect the 2006 spring harvest to increase slightly.

WMU 5D

Harvests in this urban unit are the lowest in the state. With below-average recruitment during the last two years, expect harvests to decrease. However, there may still be an abundance of wary 3-year-old gobblers.

The 2006 spring gobbler season opens April 29 and runs through May 27. The daily limit is one bearded bird, with a season limit of two. A second spring gobbler may be harvested by hunters who posses a valid special wild turkey license.

A youth hunt will be conducted on April 22 for eligible junior hunters.

For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Harrisburg office at (717) 787-6286.

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