From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

5 Environmental Factors Influencing Turkeys

turkey an poult.Dingel

PGC Photo: Jake Dingel

Turkey populations in Pennsylvania as well as the entire Northeast region have been declining during the past decade.

Five factors influence turkey populations and the interactions of these five factors have changed over the last 25 years. These factors are: habitat, weather, predation, disease and hunting mortality.

During the 1990s turkeys exhibited rapid population expansion facilitated by a combination of: restoration (trap & transfer), suppressed predator populations (much more trapping than today and rabies was more evident), more controlled hunting seasons, and a more diverse landscape than exists today.

5 environmental factors have changed since turkey population restoration, which likely negatively affect turkey populations.

  1. Landscape level habitat changes, that is, a decline in: amount of interspersion of different habitat types (too many mono-cultures), habitat quality (particularly due to exotic species replacing native species), mast-producing trees (particularly oaks and cherry), younger age-class forests (therefore, less food diversity for wildlife), nesting brood cover for turkeys (due to the above and to declines in shrubby and herbaceous cover)
  2. Unpredictable weather (climate change), which has caused more extreme weather events with more spring rain and winter precipitation,
  3. Increased predator densities and wider distribution –  Predation typically only limits local turkey populations. But, high predation rates may be symptomatic of a landscape with poor habitat quality causing turkeys and their young to be more vulnerable to predation,
  4. Unforeseen effects from disease – we currently do not know the effects of disease on productivity, immunity, & energy assimilation, and how disease may interact with other population influences, such as habitat & weather,
  5. Harvest regulations (thereby changing hunting mortality) – spring harvest of males after breeding has occurred (such as PA’s regulations) have proven to be sustainable. However, fall hunting mortality can affect populations due to harvest of hens. Our recent 5-year study showed that fall harvest rates of hens in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) with 2-week + 3-day Thanksgiving seasons are 2-7%, and in WMUs with 3-week + 3-day Thanksgiving seasons are 4-9%. When populations were expanding research showed that a 10% harvest rate was sustainable. Now that populations are declining, the sustainable harvest rate obviously is lower, but what that rate is we are not sure. Therefore, we have been decreasing fall season length to decrease the harvest rate.

The interaction of these factors, such as a high fall harvest rate coupled with poor poult production due to adverse spring weather with poor habitat quality, predation and minor disease, impact populations. Several consecutive years of this add up to severely limit the population.

What the new ‘normal’ turkey population level will be in the years ahead depends on how these interactions play out. However, we all can help turkey populations.

What we all can do to help turkeys:

Improve habitat quality (this helps buffer the negative effects of the other factors), help protect existing habitat, report any potentially diseased turkeys so we can monitor disease more intensely, begin trapping furbearers (selling furs can provide some income too)(this won’t eliminate predation but will help keep it in check on a local level), and during fall turkey season, if given the opportunity, harvest a young-of-the-year bird because the adult females have the highest nest success the following spring.

Mary Jo Casalena, Wild Turkey Biologist

Pennsylvania Game Commission


Antlered Female Deer


Reports of antlered female white-tailed, black-tailed, and mule deer go back more than a century and have been noted throughout the whitetail’s range.  Prevalence data vary.  It was reported that 1 in 4437 “bucks” were actually antlered females harvested in Pennsylvania.  Thirty years ago, it was generalized as 1 in every 1000-1100 adult females had antlers. However, reports of antlered females have not increased with the increase in either-sex harvest across the whitetail range.

Most antlered females have velvet-covered pedicels or small spikes with some branching, and can produce fawns. Antler development is a complex interaction of hormonal cues.  Researchers have noted that females can have a testosterone surge caused by a hormone imbalance, first pregnancy, tumors, or degenerative conditions of the ovaries or adrenal glands. This single surge can cause the growth of antlers in velvet.  Postmortem examination by researchers around the country indicates that does with antlers in velvet tend to be reproductively functional, or to have complete but malformed reproductive tracts, or to be true hermaphrodites in which the ovaries are more developed than the testes.

Adult females with hardened antlers have been reported but far less frequently than those with velvet antlers.  These animals are usually males possessing female external genitalia.  These animals are likely a male pseudo-hermaphrodites – teats present but unlikely to have ovaries or uterus with testes and penis present but not externally visible.  A case in South Carolina described a six-point with antlers in velvet that externally appeared to be a doe but only vulva, clitoris, vagina, and cervix were present.  The testes were located in the body cavity.

Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Management Section

PA Game Commission

Black Bear

Today at noon during a live Facebook video, Big Game Scoring Program Coordinator Bob D’Angelo will demonstrate how to properly score a black bear skull.

He will be available to answer your questions at the end. Just type them into the comments section under the video. We hope you can join us today, but if not the video will be recorded and posted for later viewing.


Learn How to Score Your Buck

Do you want to learn how to score your buck antlers?

Friday at noon, join us LIVE on Facebook as Pennsylvania Big Game Scoring Program Coordinator Bob D’Angelo demonstrates the official scoring process.

There will be a short question and answer period following the demonstration.

This video will also be recorded for later viewing on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Facebook page. You do not have to to have a Facebook account to view the public video.


Bubba Was Here


He’s of prime age and is available. He hangs with the bucks in the Yoak gang, but he is not the biggest or the baddest. He passed by on Tues. at 3 o’clock.

This is a lot to communicate, but deer can get this information from a quick whiff at any signpost. Bucks place signposts— licking branches, rubs and scrapes—year-round throughout their territory. Because bucks and does travel in different social circles, signposts facilitate communications for both sexes.

In the spring and summer, when tender new antlers are developing under a cushion of velvet, bucks communicate through the communal licking of branches. These branches usually are located over a trail or along the edge of a field, just above normal deer height. By mouthing the branch and sometimes rubbing it with their forehead or preorbital glands, bucks smell and taste “notes” left by other deer. Identities, status and social bonding can all be gathered through the nose. During summer, the licking branches are used by all bucks in the area, dominant or not; a one-stop gossip rag for all the deer in the neighborhood.

After their headgear has hardened and the velvet begins to shed, bucks begin tearing and rubbing the bark off bushes and trees with their antlers. Rubbing during and shortly after velvet loss is violent, as bucks thrash bushes to get a feel for what has been growing on their heads all summer. As the rut progresses, rubbing evolves into the more typical, highly visual buck rub. Once the rub is complete, bucks anoint it with their forehead gland. Some rubs are used year after year. Age plays a factor in rub making. Yearlings typically rub saplings no more than two to three inches in diameter, while a mature buck may rub trees six inches or larger. This work doesn’t go unnoticed, as bucks and does visit rubs.

The most complex signpost bucks use is a scrape. It is used most intensely just before the peak of the rut. A full scrape involves branch marking, pawing and urination. A scrape starts with an overhanging limb on which a buck will rub his forehead or preorbital gland. If the mood strikes him, he’ll even rattle the branch with his antlers. He takes the twig in his mouth and moistens it, thereby leaving his mark and detecting the mark of others using the scrape. Then he clears a 3- to 6-foot circle by pawing the ground, steps into the circle and urinates onto his tarsal glands while rubbing them together. Usually, only mature dominant bucks produce a significant number of scrapes. So while the whitetail spends its days in relative silence, plenty is being said. You just have to look, lick or smell.

By: J.T. Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist

-This article was originally posted in the Life & Times of the Whitetail.

Pennsylvania Elk Hunting FAQ


Applying for an Elk License

  • How do I apply for and check the status of an elk license application? Applicants can make application and check on the status of an elk license application through the Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) at Click the first radio button, scroll to the bottom of the page, click ‘Start Here’ and follow the prompts.
  • Which “preferred” hunt zone should I select? This is a matter of individual preference. Hunters have successfully harvested elk in every hunt zone. Carefully examine each zone considering road access and the amount of available public and private land. Note that your preferred hunt zone has no influence on your chances of being drawn. For example, if you select Zone 2 and are drawn after Zone 2 has been filled, you’ll simply be assigned to the next available zone. For more details, consult the Elk Hunt Zone Map Book (PDF), Annual Elk Harvest Maps, the Game Commission Mapping Center and maps of the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources’ state forests. Apply Online. The Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) is the site to apply for the elk license drawing and check the status of your application. Preference points can also be checked through PALS.
  • What are preference points? Preference points are accumulated for each unsuccessful application; you won’t see an accumulated point for the current year’s application. You can check your preference points through the Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) at Click the first radio button, scroll to the bottom of the page, click ‘Start Here’ and follow the prompts. If you believe there is an error, please contact the License Division at 717-787-2084. If you did not apply for an elk tag this year, your preference points will not expire; preference points are only lost if you are successfully drawn for an elk tag. You must apply in the current year to be entered into the drawing.
  • When is the license drawing? The annual drawing for elk licenses is scheduled to take place Saturday Aug. 20 during the Elk Expo at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette. Successful applicants who provide a phone number or email will be notified promptly by those methods, others will receive notification by postal mail.

Information for elk hunters


  • What are the elk hunting regulations? Please consult the current Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest for details about this year’s elk hunt.
  • How do I find an elk check station? Harvested elk need to be taken to the elk check station within 24 hours. The Elk Check Station is located at the Old Benezette School House in Elk County on the north side of Route 555 in Benezette on the west side of Trout Run. GPS Coordinates are 41.3154 N and 78.3874 W. Cell coverage on the elk range is sparse. Elk Check Station (map) (PDF)
  • How do I find permitted elk hunting guides? Elk Guides are regulated by the Game Commission and the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources and offer various services to the hunter. Those individuals drawn for elk licenses will be provided a list of permitted guides before the hunt, although guides are not required. Employing the services of an elk guide/outfitter is completely up to the hunter
  • How much does an adult elk weigh? An adult bull may weigh 600-1,000 pounds and an adult cow may weigh 400-600 pounds. Part of your hunt plan should include how to field-dress and move the animal from the kill site to your vehicle and on to the check station. Regulations prohibit the use of motorized vehicles, including ATVs on state-owned property, with few exceptions. The animal may be skinned and quartered and packed out by horses or mules or on pack boards. Hunters should bring plenty of help. Any number of unlicensed persons may accompany hunters as long as they wear the required fluorescent orange and do not participate in the hunt itself or carry a firearm. Persons just accompanying an elk hunter are not required to have an elk guide permit.
    Table – License Issued and Harvest Success
  • Where can I get detailed information about individual elk hunt zone boundaries? There are several options for this, but the best place to view the elk hunt zones in detail is through the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s online Mapping Center. Through the online mapping program hunters can add a variety of backgrounds including aerial photos, topographic maps and roads. A second option is to download a detailed elk hunt zone map book  (PDF 15MB) directly from the Game Commission’s website. And a third option is to examine State Forest maps available online or at each State Forests headquarters.

*Information taken from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s elk page.