Great Places For Keystone State Spring Turkeys

Great Places For Keystone State Spring Turkeys

Good numbers of mature birds are expected to be available for hunters this spring, and if weather conditions cooperate, hunters should post another near-record harvest.

Pennsylvania's top-rated public lands offer plenty of room to roam and high populations of mature birds to pursue.
Photo by Mike Bleech.

Anticipation is running high for another good gobbler season in Pennsylvania this year. Though a change in the bag limit is still under consideration, it's still a one-bird game in the Keystone State for 2005.

Spring gobbler hunters have been harvesting upward of 40,000 birds per season for several years now and, to date, game officials have not said anything that might forecast a different outcome. Three years ago, the state had one of the best spring poulting seasons ever, and biologists believe there will be plenty of trophy toms in the field this season.

About 225,000 hopeful hunters will head into the woods for the 2005 spring season and their success will depend on the area they choose to hunt, the weather and their level of hunting experience.

Here's a look at some of the best places to go for great spring turkey hunting in Pennsylvania this season:

MONROE COUNTY

Based on the success of last year's nesting season, one area where expectations are high is Monroe County.

According to Pete Sussenbach, a regional wildlife conservation officer, poult production appears to be excellent throughout Monroe County.

"I am still seeing hens accompanied by as many as eight juveniles," Sussenbach said last summer. "We had a warm, dry spring, which has helped the birds out tremendously."

Stretching from Stroudsburg in the southeast to the twin state parks of Goldsboro and Tobyhanna in the northwest, Monroe County is a diverse county with dense woodland and some agricultural terrain. Most of the agricultural activity takes place on the eastern side of the county, particularly the floodplains along the Delaware River.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area begins around the Northampton County line and stretches to the northeast through Pike County. Within one-half mile of this narrow farm belt the hills rise abruptly, and Monroe County's heaviest woods begin. After that, there's not much public land until you enter Price and Barrett townships, where the bonanza of public grounds really begins.

State Game Lands 221 is west of Mountainhome along Mill Creek. Containing more than 4,600 acres, SGL 221 is prime woodland and ridge habitat with good accessibility from both the east and west sides.

To reach SGL 221, take Route 196 north from Mount Pocono or Route 390 south from Mountainhome to Cresco and state Route 1008.

Situated in the northeastern quadrant of Monroe County, SGL 127 is an excellent site for spring turkey hunting. Containing 25,527 acres, SGL 127 has heavy woodlands, wetlands and enough private gardens to keep the turkey flock happy and well fed throughout the year.

SGL 127 is one of the most accessible state game lands in the Pocono Mountains. It's on Route 423 between Lake Naomi and features miles and miles of frontage. Many pull-offs along the curvy, dilapidated highway puts hunters into prime habitat on either side of the road.

Though this is ridge land, the land on either side of Route 423 is flat for a considerable distance and there are numerous trails that start at parking lots and near small bridges that cross Tobyhanna Creek and Kistler Run. A note of caution: These game lands were once the shooting grounds of the nearby Tobyhanna Military Reservation. The PGC has posted signs warning of unexploded ordinance and stating that hunters should keep to established trails.

The bulk of SGL 127 is west of I-380, but there is a very nice section east of the highway next to the Dressler Hill development piece that is often neglected. In addition, Tobyhanna State Park is at the top of Monroe County and provides an additional 5,000 acres of huntable ground. Don't neglect this park. It contains a sizable amount of marginal wetland, and in the last few years the trails around the upper end of the park have been greatly improved.


Three years ago, the state had one of the best spring poulting seasons ever, and biologists believe there will be plenty of trophy toms in the field this season.
 

SULLIVAN COUNTY

There is nothing unlucky about SGL 13 in Sullivan County. On the contrary, this massive public hunting area contains over 49,500 acres and is an extraordinary place to go for spring turkey hunting.

East Branch and West Branch Fishing Creek weaves in and around SGL 13. For considerable distances around these excellent trout streams, the land is flat and lightly wooded. However, SGL 13 is mountainous in places and these are not short, level top ridges. The Allegheny peaks here are steep and long.

SGL 13 is a forested treasure with both ancient pines and second- and third-growth forest. The flat land has abundant trails and even the high grounds have trails cut by mountain bikers.

One great place to begin a hunt on the southern side of SGL 13 is north of Benton. Take Route 118 to state Route 4049 (Elk Grove Road) and then turn right at Jamison Road. This road becomes Grassy Hollow Road and ends at a gate on SGL 13. From there, a trail winds for many miles around East Branch Fishing Creek.

There is a lot more to SGL 13 than this mountainous section. East of Route 220 and Laporte is a less challenging area. The headwaters of Muncy Creek and its various tributaries run through this parcel.

A good way to access this area is to take Route 220 to state Route 2002 and Nordmont, and then follow state Route 2006 (Glass Creek Road) into the game lands. SGL 13 can be an enormous puzzle, but once you learn its nuances, it may become one of your favorite turkey-hunting grounds in the state.

Nearby Ricketts Glen State Park, 30 miles north of Bloomsburg on Route 487, has 120 tent and trailer campsites, some available year 'round, and 10 modern rental cabins. Also, there are a number of motels in the area.

For information on the state park, call (570) 477-5675. For advance camping reservations, call (888) PA-PARKS.

COLUMBIA COUNTY

At two important game lands in Columbia County, hunters can take advantage of their woods-and-ridge terrain in addition to surrounding agricultural lands. The composite of forests and farms with rural residential development keeps good numbers of turkeys in the area.

SGL 226 is on the western border of the county north of Jerseytown. With over 4,300 acres of primarily wooded, low ground, this public land contains excellent turkey habitat and is very accessible. Route 442 provides access from the northeast, while Route 44 between Jerseytown and White Hall offers access from the southwest. A number of good two-lane highways run through SGL 226 with pulloff sites. State Route 4023, Spruce Run Road, Gillespie Road and Ants Hill Road all weave in and out of this public land.

On the opposite side of Columbia County, SGL 55 runs across the top of Huntington and Lee mountains, but the steep mountainsides are supported by a network of streams and farms that aid in keeping turkeys around the hills.

SGL 55 covers slightly less than 2,500 acres, but its topography makes it seem like much more. Work your way into the lower ground between the two mountains to get far away from it all. SGL 55 takes more than the average amount of foot power to traverse, and hunters willing to make the effort may find less-pressured gobblers at either end of the state game lands.

Primary access is north of Berwick Heights along the mountain pass road of state Route 1025. There are good pull-offs along this road. On the northside of Huntington Mountain, Route 487 and then state Route 1020 are the main roads that lead to spur roads partially up the hillside. Look for these roads immediately after crossing two covered bridges.

TIOGA COUNTY

When the black cherry and beechnut trees have had a good fall, a wise spring turkey hunter still heads to the northern tier of Potter, Tioga and Bradford counties because the birds will stay with the food. Oaks do not dominate in the upper reaches of the center state, so everything revolves around the softer mast crops.

SGL 37 is a massive game lands south and east of Hammond Lake and Route 287. With over 13,200 acres, this game lands consists primarily of wooded hills. Frankly, it's an easy place to get lost!

Route 15 between Mansfield and Tioga provides access to the general area, but hunters must make their way around to the south side of Hammond Lake to access the best hunting. There aren't a lot of roads on the western portion of SGL 37.

East of Route 15, access is a little better, but not that much better. From Route 15 south of Tioga, take T-667 into the game lands. This road goes deep into the parcel before being gated. From the village of Painter Run, take state Route 1004 into a small wedge of the public land along Mill Creek.

While SGL 37 offers a lot of public land, Tioga State Forest has even more opportunities in Tioga and Bradford counties. This is the seventh-largest forest in the state with 161,600 acres. With so much land, it's hard to pick a place to begin. Newcomers might want to try the area north of Marsh Creek along Route 6. From Marsh Creek, two major roads fork off into the forest and spur trails off these two roads provide additional access into this land. I've always liked Strait Run Road along Straight Run. (Yes, according to local signs, it has two different spellings!) The bottom of Strait Run Road cuts between two ridges, and then it forks into Left Strait and Right Strait roads.

Southwest of Marsh Creek is the village of Asaph. From Asaph, take Asaph Road, which forks into Left Asaph and Right Asaph and, lower down, Goodall Road. The Asaph twins split at Middle Ridge, and there is plenty of good forest ground all through this area.

For turkey hunting with a little easier access in Tioga County, continue west on Route 6 to Manhattan and then take the main road south into SGL 208.

This public land has over 8,800 acres of exceptional turkey habitat west of rugged Pine Creek Gorge. In this elevated region the terrain is rolling hills and wide valleys, even though it is on high ground. Many sportsmen have established hunting cabins around this area, so stake your claim carefully. Nevertheless, this is an excellent place to find a niche to hunt gobblers in this area.

SCHUYLKILL COUNTY

Accessible to both Philadelphia- and Harrisburg-area hunters, Schuylkill County has some surprisingly rugged mountain hunting where wily old toms are often taken.

SGL 222 is one of the best in the region and is framed by the steep ridges of Locust Mountain northwest of Tamaqua. SGL 22 contains 1,505 acres and is adjacent to Wiser State Forest and Tuscarora State Park.

This state game lands has steep and densely forested ridges, along with the narrow cut of Locust Creek, while the forest and the state park contain more rolling fields.

You won't find much agriculture or field crops at the eastern end of this very narrow bottomland, but at its western end the land is more open and cultivated.

GREENE COUNTY

Local hunter Dale Kotowski of Waynesburg said Greene County is a standout for spring gobbler season.

"Hunters are coming in from Ohio and West Virginia because it is so good here," he said.

Greene County is a largely rural county with moderately rolling terrain, plenty of agricultural activity and a surprising amount of public land, particularly state game lands. The county contains a nice mix of streams and woods, and the habitat is perfect for turkeys.

SGL 179 in the southwestern part of the county is a prime example of the county's excellent turkey-hunting land. With 5,325 acres, SGL 179 contains rolling woods and grasslands with two nice tributary streams -- Blockhouse Run and Job Creek -- on different tracts. The game lands is northeast of Triumph along Route 18.

A substantial amount of farming is done in this area with fields often planted in corn and soy.

Parts of SGL 179 are a little tricky to find because the network of township roads that weave through the land follow the topography and straight lines. From Triumph, take state Route 3007 northeast and you'll find a good number of parking areas. Another part of SGL 179 is east of Pine Bank along T-379. This section is graced with another tributary, Roberts Run, and is close to the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border.

SGL 223 in the east-central part of Greene County is larger than most game lands. With 7,202 acres, this public land is typical of the terrain below Route 2: rolling, heavily farmed, interspersed with small villages and rich with turkeys.

SGL 223 runs roughly between I-79 and the village of Ceylon south of Route 21. Baileys Crossroads on Route 21 is the main access point.

To get there from Baileys Crossroads, take state Route 2017 into the game lands. Also, T-63

2 cuts through the western half. Though it appears close enough to permit access, you can't park your vehicle on I-79 and expect to make your way into the game lands.

SGL 223 will take time to explore, but there are plenty of well-marked parking areas on this public land. While this is a big chunk of public land, it is not a difficult hunt. Frequently, the parking areas are close to the woods where a turkey hunter can shock gobble or crow call to sound a bird.

WASHINGTON COUNTY

It's worth exploring every game lands in the southwest corner of the state because this region has such a good population of turkeys.

SGL 302 lies on the border of Washington and Greene counties and contains the kind of rolling terrain that is predominant in this region. It is smaller than many public lands farther south, but 915-acre SGL 302 is still a fine place to hunt turkeys.

The game lands is west of Burdette along Enlow Fork and is easily accessible from Waynesburg. Take Route 21 to Graysville and follow the Graysville-West Finley Road to Burdette. Turn left at the first bridge after Burdette. This road goes directly into SGL 302.

To the south in Green County, Ryerson Station State Park is a good base for visiting turkey hunters. The 1,164-acre park has nearly 50 campsites and additional cottages. For more information, call (724) 428-4254.

Still in the southwest area of the state within good turkey habitat is SGL 232. Close to the Ohio border, this public land contains fewer than 1,200 acres, but it is surrounded by farms and field crops.

SGL 232 is south of Claysville and east of Route 231. State Route 3025 cuts along the southwestern portion of this public land.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at (717) 787-4250 or visit the agency's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us. For trip planning ideas, call (800) VISIT PA.

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