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Saturday, April 02, 2011

All-Day Spring Gobbler Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, April 2, 2011.)

The upside of afternoon hunting is
that legal hunting hours increase
by more than double.
Pennsylvania spring turkey hunters are getting ready for something new – all-day hunting during the last half of the April 30-May 31 season.

As in the past, for the first two weeks hunters may hunt only until noon. Then, from May 16 to May 31, legal hunting hours extend from a half-hour before sunrise all the way to a half-hour after sunset.

How will this affect hunters? Will it mean more hunters buy the second spring gobbler tag? How many more turkeys will we kill? Will it create enforcement issues?

The Board of Game Commissioners, Wildlife Conservation Officers, and hunters will be watching closely to learn the answers to these and other questions.

All-day hunting is common in many other states. And in those states, afternoon hours have posed little or no problem. So why not extend the hours in Pennsylvania?

Hunters from states with afternoon hunting will tell you that hunting turkeys later in the day is more challenging. Gobblers aren’t as vocal then, so they’re harder to locate. Most Pennsylvania hunters see it that way – it won’t be any easier to harvest a late season afternoon bird than a morning bird.

Others, expecting the worst, think afternoon hunting will ruin the spring gobbler season. They say hunters who don’t have calling skills will wait at a roost site and shoot a gobbler on his way home to bed. They say hunters will be willing to shoot gobblers off the roost after dark. They say when a gobbler is hunted in the evening, he’ll be much less responsive in the morning.

My take on it isn’t so pessimistic. Will gobblers be easier to kill in the evening as they make their way to the roost? Probably not. Turkeys often change their roosting spot from night to night, so evenings won’t be any easier to hunt than mornings, when gobblers announce to the world exactly where they are.

Will hunters be more inclined to shoot gobblers off an evening roost? I doubt it – only the ones who are willing to do it in the morning will consider doing it at night.

Look at it this way – in the morning if you shoot a turkey off the roost, at least you have daylight to find him. At night, he’ll be much harder to find. A gobbler might fall to the ground flopping and it won’t be easy to chase him down in the dark, or he might set his wings and glide. Either way, he won’t have to go far to make himself difficult to find.

Of course, on that point I have no idea what I’m talking about. Maybe someone who “hunts” that way will chime in and tell everyone how he does it.

The upside of afternoon hunting is that legal hunting hours increase by more than double. So, hunters won’t feel as pressured to get their hunting time in during the first two weeks. They won’t be as concerned about early season weather. Hunters who used to roost gobblers in the evening will now be taking hunting excursions – if they don’t succeed in the evening at least they’re more likely to know where to go for a sunrise hunt.

Hunters who don’t like early morning wakeups might sleep in more often, reducing competition for hunting areas during the traditional hours. Then they might hunt later into the season.

Beyond that, will hunting tactics change? Not much. In the afternoon turkeys spend most of their time feeding, resting and grooming, so hunters will need to find where these routines take place. Once you find those places, being less mobile and making soft, contented calls will be the norm for successful afternoon hunts. And I suspect that an afternoon gobbler will be no different than a late morning gobbler. If you get one to sound off he probably wants to be with a hen, so your odds of killing him go up.

It’s hard to say whether late season afternoon hunting will contribute significantly to higher success rates. By midseason, many hunters have already harvested their gobblers – or given up – so fewer hunters will be in the woods. But because turkeys are less vocal and less aggressive in the afternoon, I suspect most spring gobblers will continue to be taken in the mornings.


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