Spring weather impacts the survival of turkey poults.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
These next few weeks are going to be the critical ones.
But not necessarily the determining ones. Not in terms of immediate management anyway.
Weather, and bad weather at the wrong time especially, impacts turkey populations, said Ian Gregg, game management division chief for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“And really, we’re getting into the critical time right now,” he said. “Now is really when poults start to hatch and be out on the landscape.
“A sustained period of cold, wet weather is always a bad thing for reproduction.”
No matter what comes to pass, though, it won’t impact turkey seasons this fall.
Hunters can shoot hens in autumn. In years with wet springs, it might pay to shoot fewer of them in fall, Gregg admitted, as the size of the hen harvest determines future populations. In warm, dry springs, hunters could probably stand to take a few more.
The “problem,” as it were, is that seasons are set in April, before anyone knows what the weather will bring.
“So we aren’t going to be able to course correct for any one year based on that year’s weather,” he said.
That’s the way things have always been in Pennsylvania and it’s not changing.
But there is one new wrinkle coming. It won’t impact the setting of seasons, necessarily. But it is intended to better explain to hunters what decisions are being made and why.
The commission is right now updating its statewide turkey management plan. This will be the third version.
The first turkey plan, which covered the years 1995 to 2005, focused on trapping and transferring turkeys around the state. The second, which covered 2006 to 2017, focused heavily on research, such as hen survival, harvest rates and movement.
This third plan, which will cover the years 2018 to 2027, focuses on how seasons are set.
Specifically, Gregg said, it will create a “decision model” – a sort of regimented “if this, then that” design – that will guide things like the setting of season lengths.
“It should be more consistent and more transparent to get to the recommendations we bring to the board each year for fall turkey seasons,” Gregg said.
And for when those wet, cold springs occur, he said the commission will be able to look at long-term population data and base seasons off of those. One good or bad spring won’t impact decisions so much as trends one way or the other.
“That’s why we emphasize fall season management. Because, although there are a gazillion factors that play into these population trends, the one thing that we can control most directly is hen mortality during the fall seasons,” Gregg said.
In the meantime, the turkey plan was reviewed by agency staff, including all bureaus and region offices. Those comments are being incorporated now.
After that, probably before the end of June, it will go out for public comment, Gregg said. That will span 60 days.
Those comments will be summarized and presented to commissioners before their September meeting. At that time, they’ll be asked to adopt the plan, Gregg said.