Wild Turkey Hunting FAQs
Yes, in most Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) there is a fall season (no fall season in WMUs 5A, 5B & 5D), and the spring gobbler season is open statewide.
B. Can I hunt turkeys on Sunday in Pennsylvania?
No, turkey hunting is closed Sundays in Pennsylvania.
C. Spring Season
Why is there a spring turkey season while turkeys are nesting? The spring season is limited to bearded birds only, the season is timed to begin after the males have mated the hens and hens have begun incubating their nests (so they are the least prone to harvest at this time), males do not assist with nest incubation or raising the young, and one gobbler will breed with several females.
Why is the spring season in May? Why not begin earlier? Although many hens are bred by April 15th, the peak of nesting (incubation) does not occur until about May 1. The average Pennsylvania statewide incubation date from a ten-year study, 1953-63, was April 28. More recently, during a radio-telemetry study (1999-2001) on South Mountain in southcentral Pennsylvania, the average incubation date for adult hens was May 8, and May 13 for juvenile hens. Juvenile hens often breed later than adults.
Our spring season is timed to begin around the average peak of incubation, the Saturday closest to May 1. Opening the season any earlier would create additional breeding and nesting disturbance, and illegal hen mortality. Once hens have begun incubating, they are less likely to come to a hunter's call or abandon their nest. Research in Missouri, Virginia and West Virginia showed that losses of hens during the spring gobbler season were greater when the season opened before the peak of incubation. Losses of hens to illegal harvest in those studies ranged from 2.5 percent in West Virginia, 5.2 percent in Missouri to 6.0 percent in Virginia. Virginia's higher hen mortality may be due to the season beginning prior to the peak of incubation in most years. In an ongoing study in Ohio, hen losses during the spring gobbler season have been in the range of 5.0 percent. If 5 percent in Pennsylvania are harvested, this translates to more than 2,200 hens killed. However, a study conducted from 1974-89 in northcentral Pennsylvania showed an average hen loss of 22 percent during the spring season. Beginning the season earlier in Pennsylvania may have substantial impact considering the large number of spring turkey hunters. Pennsylvania has more spring turkey hunters than most other states (230,000), with no regulation on hunting pressure. Therefore, our season structure remains conservative to protect the resource.
Even during early springs, when vegetation leafs out earlier than average, the timing of wild turkey nesting does not vary noticeably. Nesting is more dependent on the length of daylight hours than the timing of spring green-up. Therefore, opening the spring gobbler season earlier may negatively impact nesting activity throughout the state.
When the season first began in 1968, the season did not open until May 6. So the current season actually opens earlier than it used to. There was a 4-year period, 1987-1990 when the season opened earlier with the earliest opening day being April 21 (1990). Read
"Setting the Spring Season" (PDF) or visit PANWTF.org's Bob Eriksen's article
"Setting the Season" (PDF).
Would hunters hear more gobbling if the season opened earlier? No. A recent study in Iowa found that hunting activity suppresses gobbling. No matter when the season begins, gobbling activity will decrease once hunting begins. Read
"Setting the Spring Season" (PDF).
Why can I only hunt until noon for the first half of the season? The spring turkey season is open during the nesting season and incubating hens most often leave their nests during the warmer parts of the day, typically the afternoon, to feed, defecate and drink once the air temperature has warmed sufficiently that the eggs will not cool too much while she is gone. The idea of restricting hunting to the morning is to protect nesting hens from disturbance, nest abandonment and accidental harvest, the threat of which is much greater early in incubation. Extending hunting hours during the second half of the season undoubtedly results in more hens being flushed from their nests, but the effects of this are expected to be local in nature and have a negligible impact on statewide recruitment rates.
Why can I shoot a bearded hen in the spring? Many hunters rely on the beard as the major factor in determining whether the turkey they see is a tom or a hen. Because bearded hens are not common and most hens are already nesting in the spring season, many wildlife agencies allow hunters to take bearded birds believing that the harvest of bearded hens will be quite small. However, hunters should still be discerning and try to avoid taking bearded hens.
Why did the Pennsylvania Game Commission establish a special spring gobbler license?
D. Fall Season
Why can I shoot a turkey of either sex in the fall? First, it is difficult to tell the sex of young-of-the-year turkeys during the fall, and, they remain in family flocks (mixed sex) throughout the fall. Secondly, research has shown that we can safely harvest 10% of the fall population (both sexes) without causing future population declines.
Why does the fall season length vary among Wildlife Management Units? The fall season length is the Game Commission's primary tool for regulating wild turkey populations. Fall seasons are shortened, or closed, when turkey populations trend downward, and are lengthened (up to 3 weeks) when the populations trend up for a 3-year period.
Why does the fall season length change year to year? See above.
What is the history of fall turkey seasons in PA?
How does the PGC regulate the turkey population? Wild turkey population levels are managed through regulating the fall either-sex harvest. Allowing the harvest of females during the fall provides us the opportunity to manage the population. In areas being managed for higher turkey populations, the fall season is short or closed altogether. Areas with stable or increasing populations can withstand longer fall seasons. Because all licensed hunters in Pennsylvania can participate in turkey hunting, we manage fall turkey harvests through regulation of fall hunting season lengths within WMUs. Read
Turkey Management Plan - harvest management section - fall turkey hunting season (PDF).
E. Turkey Hunters
How many turkey hunters are there in PA?
Does PA have limits on the number of turkey hunters in an area? No, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's philosophy is to allow equal access to all hunters and to allow hunters to self-regulate their densities. Therefore, we are cautious with establishing turkey hunting seasons; such that the spring season opens after hens begin incubating their nests (gobblers don't assist with incubating), and we maintain conservative fall season lengths to avoid overharvests.
F. Hunter Success
How successful are PA turkey hunters? Fall hunter success averages about 17%. Spring hunter success averages about 19%, both of which are comparable with other mid-Atlantic states.
What is the turkey harvest in PA? Turkey harvests in Pennsylvania are higher than most other states thanks to excellent habitat, conservative fall turkey hunting seasons and a strong turkey hunting tradition. (Harvest Maps).
When should I call? ONLY when you have properly set up. Never walk and call, even when wearing florescent orange.
Will wearing orange hurt my chances of harvesting a turkey? No, movement and sound are the most important factors for being successful.
What size shot should I use?
Turkey Laws and Regulations.
How can I become a better turkey hunter?
Hunting Safety Tips (PDF)
PA Safety & Success Brochure (PDF)