Pennsylvania’s spring gobbler season opens next Saturday, May 2, across the state.
The one-day youth season was Saturday, April 25.
Pennsylvania currently is under a stay-at-home order through May 8, issued by Gov. Tom Wolf to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Which begs the question for a lot of turkey hunters in Lancaster County who normally head to the mountains to chase turkeys:
Are we allowed to go to mountain camps to hunt turkeys, fish for trout or enjoy any other outdoor recreation?
The answer to that seems about as clear as mud.
Outdoor recreation is allowed under the statewide stay-at-home order, so long as social distancing is practiced. Wearing masks is recommended.
Officials with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees Pennsylvania state parks and state forests, and the state Fish and Boat Commission have publicly suggested that people travel no more than 15 minutes from home to enjoy outdoor recreation.
Lyndsay Kensinger, the governor’s press secretary, said that 15-minute travel guideline is not part of the governor’s recommendations.
Gov. Wolf and state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, “urge Pennsylvanians to stay home to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Kensinger said.
“They recommend that all individuals should wear a mask when leaving the home for life-sustaining reasons and maintain social distancing practices outlined by the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control.
“This includes going outdoors for exercise/recreation.”
The state Game Commission reminds hunters that the governor’s stay-at-home recommendations, “include staying at home as much as possible, social distancing and eliminating unnecessary travel.”
But agency spokesman Travis Lau also asserted, “travel for outdoor recreation is permitted. Going turkey hunting, and traveling to go turkey hunting, is not in violation of the stay-at-home guidelines.”
He continued, “Hunters who have the option of hunting close to home are wise to consider it.
“But at the same time, the Department of Health recognizes the importance of outdoor activity, including spring turkey hunting, and hasn’t enacted restrictions that affect it appreciably.
“Turkey hunting generally is a solitary activity where hunters routinely avoid one another. They kind of invented social distancing.”
That’s close to what the governor has been saying, but not quite in lock step.
“Do you really want to go out and jeopardize the lives of the people you love or neighbors or other Pennsylvanians?” Wolf said.
“And I think the answer Pennsylvanians give on that is, ‘No, I don’t.’
“And so the answer is not to go out. Not to congregate. Not to be with other people. It’s to stay at home.”
Wolf continued, saying, “ultimately, we’re going to win or lose this battle by what each Pennsylvanian decides to do on his or her own, and stay at home is the right way to handle this.”
Also as part of that press conference, Wolf said there would be no enforcement actions taken against people who travel away from home for outdoor recreation.
So the Game Commission says travelling within the state to hunt turkeys is allowed, but it’s best to hunt close to home, if you can.
The governor’s office says, “Stay home,” and outdoor recreation is allowed.
DCNR and the Fish and Boat Commission suggest travelling no more than 15 minutes from home to enjoy outdoor recreation.
The governor’s office says the 15-minute limit is not part of its recommendations. The press secretary reiterated the “Stay home,” message
But if you don’t stay home to experience the outdoors through turkey hunting, fishing, hiking or whatever, there will be no official enforcement.
See. Clear as mud.
If you decide to go turkey hunting, whether it’s close to home or not, the Game Commission earlier this month offered the following suggestions as hunters try to figure out what’s best for the coming season:
*If you can, hunt close to home. Follow social-distancing rules and wear gloves at all times. Use a camouflaged bandana or gaiter to cover your nose and mouth. Any equipment passed from one hunter to another should have been cleaned thoroughly before starting the hunt. Carry hand sanitizer for cleanups afield.
*One of the easiest to follow is, if you live together you can hunt together. When you live in the same home as someone, there’s relatively no risk of spreading COVID-19, so long as no one in the home has it. If someone does, everyone in the home is expected to self-quarantine for two weeks.
*Consider carefully whether you should mentor any hunter this spring turkey season. Hunting in a blind is out; it doesn’t meet social-distancing requirement to be at least 6 feet apart. So is sharing a vehicle to reach your hunting location.
Good luck to all the turkey hunters, and stay safe.