FRANKLIN — Welcome to all-day turkey hunting, which begins today for the first time in Pennsylvania hunting history.
Terry Wills, supervisor at the Northwest Pennsylvania Game Commission office in Franklin, said today is a historic day, now that turkey hunting is allowed throughout the day – from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
The full-day spring gobbler hours were approved by the Board of Game Commissioners last year, as part of the 2010-11 season and bag limits package.
Wills said out of the 49 states that have spring gobbler hunting seasons, 34 allow all-day hunting for all or part of the season, with Pennsylvania formerly one of the hold outs.
Maryland, Ohio and Virginia are three states located near Pennsylvania that allow full-day turkey hunting for all or part of the season, Wills said, adding that this day-long allowance is not new in the nation but it is new in Pennsylvania.
Wills said that this is an opportunity to increase the opportunity for recreational hunting for people who can't get out in the morning hours.
"I don't know that there was a lot of pressure from spring turkey hunters in our state," he said. "I certainly think that spring turkey hunters who've hunted in other states where they can hunt all day had an interest in it."
Wills said the reason the Game Commission did not permit all-day turkey hunting before was due to the hens heading in to nest at noon.
"Based on our research at the Game Commission, most hens are in the later stages of nest incubation, at which point they are less likely to abandon their nests if disturbed," he said.
Wills said that the sub-species of turkey hunted in Pennsylvania is the Eastern Wild Turkey, and it is the most common nationwide.
Philip Ferrare, regional director of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in Pennsylvania, located in Brookville, said that hunting turkeys all day during the spring gobbler season has been a long time coming.
Ferrare said the NWTF's mission is very simple.
It is all about the conservation of the wild turkey and preservation of hunting heritage, Ferrare said, adding that there's a formula that is used in regard to hunting regulations.
"If there's no harm to the resource, and it increases hunting opportunity, the NWTF is for it no matter what it is," Ferrare said. "If a regulation that is passed by the Game Commission that allows turkey hunters to hunt more, and scientific-based data doesn't show any effect on turkey populations and will increase a hunting opportunity, especially with a family, the NWTF is behind it."
Ferrare said in the early days of conservation of wild turkey, there was a scientific, biological reason that stated that the Game Commission should have the hunters out of the woods by noon to give the hens more time to sit on their nests.
"It was believed that if a hen was kicked off its nest it would not return," Ferrare said, adding that over time that theory has been disproved.
"There are 34 other states that have accumulated data over the years that shows that all-day hunting doesn't have any effect on the nesting hens," he said. "I'm a middle- aged guy. When I was a kid hunting was everything. Now, today you have video games and sports."
The more that young people can get involved in hunting at a younger age, the more the seed is planted for hunting, he said.
Ferrare said with increased hunting hours, the more opportunities there are for parents to take children hunting after school or on the weekends.
Doug Aaron, of the Gobblers Knob Chapter of the NWTF in Punxsy, said the spring hunt is for bearded (feathers that hang from a male turkeys' chest) birds only, and no one should be hunting hens.
Aaron said the best time he ever had was when he was scouting turkeys with his granddaughter.
"We were walking through woods and heard a gobble," Aaron said, adding that he called the bird in with a hen call.
"That gobbler came up to us while we wearing camouflage clothing, stopped and looked at us and gobbled," Aaron said. "My granddaughter’s eyes were bugging out, and that sold her and me on turkey hunting."
Aaron said that he's never hunted turkeys in the afternoon before, but he's looking forward to giving it a try.
To further expand opportunity, the Game Commission extended the spring gobbler season through May 31 last year.
Wills said that change was implemented to provide additional recreational hunting without impacting the resource.
For more information on turkey hunting bag limits and regulations, visit the agency’s Web site www.pgc.state.pa.us .