Springtime's Best State Forest Turkey Hunts

Springtime's Best State Forest Turkey Hunts

Pennsylvania's huge state forest holdings are the perfect backdrop for a productive spring turkey hunt. Here's where to go for some great spring gobbler action (and fishing, too!). (April 2006)

Another winter is behind us and it is time to enjoy the warming days of spring. What better way than hunting gobblers, and what better place to do it than on one of Pennsylvania's vast state forests. Somewhere on our 2.1 million acres of state forestlands, you will find a place to get away from the crowds of hunters and most other signs of civilization.

State forests amount to 12 percent of the forested area in Pennsylvania. It is true that the highest spring gobbler harvest rates do not take place on our state forests, but this does not mean there is a lack of turkeys. Most spring gobbler hunting is done close to home. Human populations are relatively sparse on and around most of the state forests.

Also, the hunting is more challenging on state forests. Locating gobblers takes much more effort in the big woods than it does on the typical patchy habitat that exists closer to human population centers, where all you have to do there is drive around and watch for them in fields. You will not often find gobblers that way on the state forests.

Scouting is a good excuse to visit a state forest before the spring gobbler season. Combine it with some fishing -- there are trout streams running through all of our state forests.

A big city with a great sporting tradition sends many gobbler hunters into the surrounding countryside. No matter what happens to gas prices, many hunters will be driving country roads in the area looking for turkeys. Any turkeys that show themselves will attract a crowd if there is access to the land.

FORBES STATE FOREST

You can get away from most of the overcrowding in the Pittsburgh area by hunting on Forbes State Forest.

At just over 50,000 acres, Forbes is one of our smaller state forests. It consists of more than 20 separate tracts scattered over Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties. Most of it is along Laurel Ridge.

One good place to get away from the crowds with a reasonable chance of finding turkeys is at the Quebec Run Wild Area. This part of Forbes State Forest is along the eastern slope of Chestnut Ridge in Fayette County on the Maryland border south of Uniontown. Take U.S. Route 40 East from Uniontown, and then state Route 381 south at Farmington to the eastern edge of the wild area. A map from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry will help locate side roads for a variety of access points.

If you are apprehensive about venturing too far into this wild area of more than 7,000 acres, try hunting along one of the trail sections. You can make short forays off the trails to find better calling locations. Old logging roads that crisscross the area make good setups for calling. You might have better luck locating gobblers by first calling from hilltops, especially at the ends of points or the heads of hollows.

Six state parks are included in Forbes State Forest. Kooser State Park, on state Highway 31 west of Somerset has 60 tent and trailer camping sites. Laurel Hill State Park, south of Route 31 east of Kooser, has 270 family campsites. Linn Run State Park, east of Ligonier on Route 30 to Route 381, has 10 rustic family cabins available for rental.

Ohiopyle State Park, the nearest state park to Quebec Wild Area north along Route 381, has tent and trailer camping. Kentuck Campground is open from the beginning of March to late December with 226 campsites, 27 of which are walk-ins that have more privacy but require a short hike from the vehicle. A few campsites have electric hookups. Advance reservations are required to ensure campsite availability.

To reserve a campsite, call (888) PA-PARKS from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Campsites may be reserved from 11 months up to noon of the day of arrival. There are also rustic camping cottages that sleep five that are equipped with electric lights and outlets, windows, a screened porch, a heater and a mini-refrigerator.

For more information about Forbes State Forest, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District No. 4, P.O. Box 519, Laughlintown, PA 15655; or call (724) 238-1200.

KITTANNING STATE FOREST

North of Pittsburgh, southeast of Erie, check out Kittanning State Forest. It is one of our smaller state forests but offers fine turkey hunting. It covers 13,266 acres in Jefferson, Forest and Venango counties.

The Allegheny River Area provides one of the more unusual spring gobbler hunting situations. It is quite remote except that it may be accessed by boat along the Allegheny River. This means climbing uphill in the morning, but that leaves an easy downhill walk at the end of the hunt.

Visiting hunters can spend their afternoons fishing. This section of the river holds smallmouth bass, walleyes, muskies and catfish. Moreover, the fishing is typically very good during the spring gobbler season.

The Allegheny River Area across the river from Kennerdell covers 3,165 acres and has six miles of river frontage. One tract of State Game Lands 39 borders the southwest end of the area. A private boat ramp in Kennerdell is the nearest boat access. Riffles will prevent motoring far upriver unless you have a jet boat. To float down into this area, launch at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Franklin launch.

For maps and information about Kittanning State Forest, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District No. 8, 158 South Second Avenue, Clarion, PA 16214-1904; or call (814) 226-1901.

MOSHANNON STATE FOREST

Moshannon State Forest is composed of several tracts spread through Elk, Cameron, Clearfield and Centre counties. Black Moshannon State Park is a perfect base of operations for hunting gobblers on the southern tract of Moshannon State Forest, which has an area of more than 43,000 acres. It is a huge block of public-hunting land with State Game Lands 103 bordering on the east and State Game Lands 33 bordering on the west. The park has an area of 3,394 acres, with about 3,000 acres open to hunting. It is east of Philipsburg along state Route 504, which passes through the park and bisects this state forest tract.

There is a campground with 80 campsites. Most can accommodate either a tent or a trailer. The area has a sanitary dump station, flush toilets, showers and laundry tubs. Most sites have electrical hookups. The park rents 13 rustic cabins. Cabins have minimal furnishings, kitchen stove, refrigerator, electric lights, a wood stove and bunk beds. Camping and cabin rentals begin on the second Friday in April and e

nd after deer season in late December. Six modern cabins are available year 'round and have electric heat, bedrooms, a living-dining room, kitchen and bath. Renters of rustic and modern cabins must supply their own bed linens, towels, dishes, pots, pans and dinnerware. Cabins are available for weekly rental in summer and on a daily basis during other seasons.

This area is on the Allegheny Plateau. Land around the park is gently rolling, but moving away the terrain becomes much more rugged.

Here is another great place for a combination gobbler hunting and fishing vacation. Black Moshannon Lake in the park provides very good fishing for crappies and bluegills. Fishing should be peaking during spring gobbler season.

Information on the park is available from the Black Moshannon State Park office, 4216 Beaver Road, Philipsburg, PA 16866-9519; or call (814) 342-5960; or you may e-mail blackmoshannonsp@state.pa.us.

Get maps and information on Moshannon State Forest from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District No. 9, 3372 State Park Road, Penfield, PA 15849; or call (814) 765-0821.

Call (888) PA-PARKS to reserve a cabin or campsite.

TIOGA STATE FOREST

Tioga State Forest covers about 160,000 acres in Bradford and Tioga counties. This is some of the most rugged land in Pennsylvania, including the famous Pine Creek Gorge, which has a nearly vertical drop of about 800 feet.

Spring gobbler hunting should be easier than that, however. It should be just as productive to scout the northern tract, which lies north of U.S. Route 6, east of state Route 349 and southwest of state Route 249. There are steep slopes along the streams, but the hills tend to be flat-topped. Roads generally follow the streams, but there are trails along the hilltops. Get off to the sides of the trails to call along the tops of the slopes.

Also, there is more broken habitat around the edges of this tract. Look for fields off the state forest and call along the state forest slopes nearby.

Hills Creek State Park, just a few miles to the east, has a 102-site camping area. It opens on the second Friday in April and closes the third weekend in October. Warm showers, restrooms and water fountains are in central locations throughout the camping area. Ten modern cabins, each with a living area, kitchen-dining area, shower and two bedrooms, may be rented year 'round. Hunting is not allowed on this smaller park.

Get park information by contacting Hills Creek State Park, 111 Spillway Road, Wellsboro, PA 16901-9676; call (570) 724-4246, or e-mail hillscreeksp@state.pa.us.

To reserve a campsite or cabin, call (888) PA-PARKS from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Information about Tioga State Forest is available from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District No. 16, One Nessmuk Lane, Wellsboro, PA 16901; or call (570) 724-2868.

DELAWARE STATE FOREST

Delaware State Forest offers some of the better public turkey hunting land along the easternmost tier of counties. The largest part of this 81,794-acre state forest is in Pike County, but tracts of this highly fragmented state forest are also in Monroe, Northampton and Carbon counties.

Though similar in some ways, habitat and terrain are notably different from most of our other state forests. Colloquially called the Pocono Mountains, the correct name for this physiographic area is the Pocono Plateau. The terrain is very steep in some places but quite flat over large expanses. There are numerous small lakes, ponds and wetlands. Vegetation is often more like the forests of the north than common Pennsylvania hardwood habitat.

More than in most parts of Pennsylvania, it is important to understand how to use maps, compass or GPS. Getting turned around is especially easy in the wet, flat areas, and being lost in a swamp is not a pleasant experience. However, for those who do possess the skills to navigate through the remote areas, there is much more elbow room than in most parts of the eastern counties.

Promised Land State Park is in the middle of one of the larger Delaware State Forest tracts. This 3,000-acre park is surrounded by 12,464 acres of state forest. Habitat here includes beech and oak. Only about 450 acres of the park are open to hunting.

The park has four campgrounds. Electric hookups, flush toilets and hot showers are available near some campsites. A dozen rustic cabins constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s are available for rent. Each has a fireplace, electricity and an adjacent private bathroom. To reserve campsites, cabins or a picnic pavilion, call toll-free at (888) PA-PARKS from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

The park is 10 miles north of Canadensis along state Route 390. More information is available from the Promised Land State Park office, R.R. 1, Box 96, Greentown, PA 18426-9735; call (570) 676-3428, or e-mail promisedlandsp@state.pa. us.

Additional information and maps for Delaware State Forest are available from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District No. 19, HC 1, Box 95A, Swiftwater, PA 18370-9723; or call (570) 895-4000.

ADDITIONAL RULES

Hunters should understand the rules governing state forests before they start planning a hunt. It is your responsibility to know them.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry manages our state forests. Camping provides a great opportunity for an inexpensive spring gobbler hunting adventure. In order to get the necessary permits and copies of the rules, start planning more than a month before your hunt. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry manages camping in three distinct categories: primitive backpack camping, motorized camping and group camping.

Primitive camping is defined as overnight camping where all equipment is transported in limited trips by non-motorized vehicle methods and where a motorized vehicle is not located near or part of the camping experience. Most state forestlands are open to primitive camping; however, there are rules governing that, too. Primitive campers spending no more than one night at a campsite do not need a camping permit. However, a permit is required if you desire an emergency point-of-contact, if you stay at a campsite more than one night, if a campfire is desired during spring or fall fire seasons, if you camp using a vehicle for storage or transportation, if you are group camping, or if you camp within the Pine Creek Gorge in Tiadaghton or Tioga State Forest.

Motorized camping is defined as overnight camping in or near the vehicle where the vehicle continues to be used for storage or transportation.

Group camping is defined as more than 10 people in a unit, overnight motorized or primitive camping.

Permits are required for all camping o

n state forestlands. Camping permit applications are available on the DCNR's Web site or at district offices. There is no fee for the permits.

When planning and starting your camping trip, you must check with the local forest district office to determine where to camp or if designated dispersed campsites are available. If more than 10 people are in your group, a letter of authorization is required, in addition to a camping permit, from the district forester 30 days before the camping date.

Our state forests have a system of trails designated for use by all-terrain vehicles. However, illegal use of ATVs is one of the biggest problems on public lands. These trails are open only from the Friday before Memorial Day through the last full weekend in September. Elsewhere on state forest lands ATVs may not be driven. State forest roads are not open to ATVs, but persons with disabilities are allowed to operate ATVs in designated areas of state forestland with an approved letter of authorization from DCNR. Most of these areas are open year 'round. If a person desires to hunt from his or her ATV, a permit to hunt from a vehicle as well as a valid hunting license from the Pennsylvania Game Commission is required.

Effective July 1, 2005, Pennsylvania's forest districts were realigned. The changes could result in three forest district offices being relocated over the next couple of years, including the Tiadaghton District office in South Williamsport, the Wyoming District office in Bloomsburg and the Lackawanna District office in Scranton. The districts most affected by the realignment are in the eastern areas of the Commonwealth. There are 20 forest districts.

A wealth of information is available through the DCNR's Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us. To begin, click on State Forests in the left column on the opening page. Hunters may also visit or call the regional offices, or write to the Bureau of Forestry, 6th Floor, Rachel Carson State Office Building, P.O. Box 8552, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8552.

Statewide travel information is available from the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; or call (717) 232-8880 or (800) VISIT-PA.

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