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Mild winter could yield good gobbler hunt [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette :: BC-OTD-TURKEY-HUNTING:PG]

When junior hunters and mentored youth get the first crack at spring turkeys April 22, they can reasonably expect an exciting hunt.

A weak fall harvest and mild winter are expected to yield a lot of spring gobblers.

"Fall mast last year was spotty and turkeys responded by moving to those food sources, which in some cases meant they moved away from areas frequented by hunters," said Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wild turkey biologist, in a statement. "The fall turkey harvest dropped as a consequence. And while that might have been bad news for fall turkey hunters, it's likely good news for spring turkey hunters because unfilled fall turkey tags typically lead to increased availability in the spring."

Mild winters are easier for turkeys to survive, and puts the hens on solid ground for spring breeding.

Captain Ian Robbins navigates the Snow Goose over the Chesapeake Bay Flats.

"That should lead to a healthier turkey population and might put gobblers on a timeline to be exceptionally fired up when the season begins," Casalena said.

During last year's spring gobbler hunt, 35,966 spring turkeys were taken. That's a lower harvest than the previous two spring harvests of about 41,200 each, but similar to spring harvests from 2010 through 2013. About 67 percent of turkeys taken in the 2016 spring hunt were adult gobblers, 23 percent were jakes, 2 percent were bearded hens and 7 percent were males of unknown age.

Last year, the Game Commission sold a record 19,796 second spring gobbler tags, a 10 percent increase over the previous record of 18,085 licenses sold in 2014. Second-license sales led to an additional 3,841 extra bearded turkeys being taken last spring, the second-highest total since the license first was offered in 2006.

"Hunters who want to ensure their best opportunity to hunt as many days of the season as they can need to buy the license soon," Casalena said. "There's promise for a great season."

The second spring gobbler license is available for sale only prior to the start of the season, which starts April 29.

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