Top Springtime Turkey Hunts

Wild turkeys abound statewide in Pennsylvania. All you need to do is decide where to go! Our expert helps make that decision a little easier for your 2010 hunt. (April 2010)

Choosing a good place to hunt for spring gobblers in Pennsylvania is not a difficult task. With the exception of Wildlife Management Unit 5A, the state's turkey population is very close to carrying capacity throughout the Commonwealth.

Rather than looking for a hunt focused merely on getting a gobbler, we are able to base our choices on the kinds of habitat we prefer to hunt or the kind of hunting adventure we enjoy.

As to a "quality" hunt based on numbers, we can assume that hunting spring gobblers tends to be easiest, if this word can be applied to hunting gobblers, in checkerboard habitat: a mix of crop fields, wood lots, brush patches and overgrown fields where turkeys are relatively easy to find. The reason is simple: Turkeys can be plainly seen in open fields, whereas in forests, you must get very close to see them, which can be very challenging.

Much of the best spring gobbler hunting in Pennsylvania is in the western tier of wildlife management units where there is a lot of checkerboard habitat. Proving that one unit has the best turkey hunting would be difficult, however. Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's top turkey biologist, suggests WMUs 1B and 1A as potentially our "best" areas.

WMU 1B

WMU 1B consists of Erie County, western Warren County, northwestern Venango County and about three-quarters of Crawford County. Spring gobbler harvests have averaged 2,453 per year over the five years from 2003 to 2007, the most recent available data.

State Game Lands No. 143 provides the largest tract of public land in WMU 1B. This 8,855-acre state game lands covers a large share of the most westerly section of the hilly, forested Allegheny highlands.

SGL No. 143 is one of our most intensely managed state game lands. Primarily forested, timber cutting has left the forest in various stages of growth. Several open areas are maintained and there are numerous food plots. Oak is abundant, and when the acorn crop is good, it provides food for turkeys through winter.

The best access to SGL No. 143 is along the southern edge from state Route 27 and state Route 426 where there are a couple of access roads that can be driven into the public land. Several other roads make walking up the steep Brokenstraw Creek Valley slopes easier.

Hunters can get to this southern edge from the Erie area by driving east on U.S. Route 19 to Waterford, east on state Route 97 to Union City, U.S. Route 6 to Corry and then state Route 426 west to the state game lands.

U.S. Corps of Engineers land at Woodcock Creek Lake offers good turkey hunting with decent handicapped access. This access is a great example of cooperation between government agencies and organized sportsmen. The Pennsylvania Game Commission manages this land for wildlife. Both agencies cooperate with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the local Thunderin' Toms Chapter.

"We worked through the National Wild Turkey Federation's Wheelin' Sportsmen to build a handicapped parking area and an access lane to get to that old roadway. It's a little over a mile long," said Shayne Hoachlander, Land Management Group supervisor.

The best access to this area from Erie is U.S. Route 19 to Cambridge Springs, and then take state Route 86 to state Route 198 close to the lake and you will go right to the project. If you have trouble finding it, check at the U.S. Corps of Engineers visitor center. At the trailhead there are two parking areas, one close to the road and another at the trailhead.

To get there from the Pittsburgh area, take Interstate Route 79 north to Meadville and then state Route 86 to state Route 198.

The lower parking lot is reserved for handicapped hunters, but it is not an ATV trail. Electric wheelchairs are allowed. The adjacent parking lot for non-handicapped hunters adds less than 100 feet of walking to the handicapped trailhead.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission manages the area along the trail intensely, including several food plots.

WMU 1A

WMU 1A, which is directly south of WMU 1B, includes southern Crawford County, Mercer County, western Venango County, Lawrence County, western Butler County and northern Beaver County.

State Game Lands No. 39 in Venango County consists of forested hills in otherwise rolling terrain and mixed agricultural habitat.

Within this irregularly shaped, 10,673-acre tract is a good variety of habitat. Several years ago, gypsy moths killed numerous oak trees that were then salvage cut, leaving areas where sunlight reached the forest floor, and it is slowly growing into mixed-age forest.

SGL No. 39 follows the valley of Sandy Creek. Along the creek bottom there are restored wetlands and small ponds. The valleys are also good areas to find mature oaks. The hilltops make excellent locations for calling turkeys. Openings maintained with warm-season grasses are fine places for gobblers to strut.

SGL No. 39 is between state Route 8 to the east and U.S. Route 6 and state Route 965 to the west. There are access roads from Route 965, but Route 8 is a limited-access, four-lane highway where it parallels the border of SGL No. 39. However, there is access from a road that is even closer to the state game lands that intersects Route 8 just before it changes to a divided highway.

Approaching from the Pittsburgh area, follow I-79 north to I-80, turn east to Route 8 at Barkeyville and follow it to Franklin.

Most other state game lands in WMU 1A and WMU 1B are small. However, you may find good spring gobbler hunting on just about any of these.

Another area where there is a lot of checkerboard habitat is east of the Susquehanna River. Spring gobbler harvests are high in some eastern units, particularly in WMU 3D, WMU 4C and WMU 4E.

Turkey harvest maps suggest that wild turkeys are most abundant near population centers or that spring gobbler hunters simply hunt close to home. Certainly there is some excellent turkey habitat near the major population centers. More significant, perhaps, is that wildlife management units around the population centers have a lot of checkerboard habitat.

TURKEY TRIO

Three wildlife management units, WMU 3D, WMU 4C and WMU 4E are good examples. These units lie between Allentown, Reading and Harrisburg to

the south, and Wilkes-Barre and Scranton to the north. Also, these wildlife management units include Appalachian Mountain ridges where there is more public land than directly south in the heavily populated southeast corner of the Commonwealth. There are also large state game lands on the Appalachian plateau.

For spring gobbler hunters heading out of the Philadelphia area, public lands along the mountain ridges are the first substantial public lands they encounter where there is a chance of getting away from other hunters.

A fine place to get some peace while hunting spring gobblers is at State Game Lands No. 110, which straddles the Schuylkill-Berks county line. Most of this public land is steep, rugged terrain, providing places for hunters who want to avoid interference from other sportsmen. There are several fingers protruding from these ridges that are excellent places to call while searching for gobblers.

This state game lands covers 10,133.07 acres. The habitat is mostly forest. Rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets make excellent cover. Elevations range from about 500 feet along the Schuylkill River to more than 1,600 feet along the Appalachian Trail.

One good access point is a parking lot off Mountain Road east from the I-78 Shartlesville Exit. This can also be reached by taking Mountain Road west from state Route 61. Or go west from Shartlesville on Forge Dam Road. Another access point is at the western edge of SGL No. 110 off state Route 183, which also intersects with I-78.

The Schuylkill River cuts off a northern protrusion of SGL No. 110 near Port Clinton.

A portion of Weiser State Forest borders the north side of SGL No. 110 for about a third of its length. A topographic map of Weiser State Forest can be a useful tool for hunters who use this area, which includes a few other state game lands.

For more information and a map, contact the District Forester, Weiser State Forest, P.O. Box 99, Cressona, PA 17929; or call (570) 385-7800.

WMU 3D compares well with other top spring turkey hunting wildlife management units with a five-year average harvest of 2,059 gobblers.

State Game Lands No. 127 is a 25,518.95-acre tract in northern Monroe County. It is separated by I-85 from Gouldsboro State Park, about 2,800 acres, and Tobyhanna State Park, about 5,544 acres.

Most of both state parks are open to hunting. Tobyhanna State Park has a camping area that opens the second week of April. Reservations are advisable. Phone (888) PA-PARKS Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the Martin Luther King Jr. holidays to reserve a campsite here or at most other state parks that offer camping facilities. Interested hunters may also reserve a site on-line.

A small section of SGL No. 127 lies along the northeastern border of Tobyhanna State Park. Extending this contiguous block of public land still more, State Game Lands No. 312 borders Gouldsboro State Park on the north side. This adds another 3,912.12 acres of public-hunting land for a grand total of about 37,775 acres.

The entrance to Tobyhanna State Park is 2.1 miles north of the community of Tobyhanna on state Route 423. Route 423 intersects with I-380 south of the park entrance about 2.5 miles. The park may also be reached from Interstate Route 84 via state Route 507, and then state Route 191 and state Route 423 a total distance of 11.4 miles.

This huge area is typical Pocono Plateau habitat, a maze of swamps and gentle terrain where getting lost is a real possibility, so be prepared.

In the very center of Pennsylvania, WMU 4D has a good five-year spring harvest average of 1,922 gobblers. Two connecting state forests, Bald Eagle and Rothroc, form a central axis running through this wildlife management unit from southwest to northeast. Together they cover some 290,500 acres of mostly mountain ridge terrain and forest habitat.

Poe Valley State Park, one of several state parks in these state forests, is near the center of the two state forests. It has a campground that opens the second Friday of April. To get there from U.S. Route 322, head east 1.5 miles from Potters Mills to near the top of the Seven Mountains Scenic Area. Follow the marked state forest roads for 10 miles to Poe Valley.

WMU 2D

WMU 2D, in the west-central part of the Commonwealth, has one of the highest five-year average harvests, with 3,301 gobblers harvested per year. The majority of spring gobbler hunting is done on private land.

This unit has relatively little public land. Most state game lands here are very small, one exception being State Game Lands No. 244 in central Jefferson County west of Reynoldsville.

SGL No. 244 covers 4,868.60 acres. It features typical Appalachian Plateau terrain, including rugged hills, but with some flats on top. A large part of this game lands is reclaimed strip mines. This allows Pennsylvania Game Commission land managers to design the best habitat. The forest has a good deal of oak and cherry. There are maintained openings and food plots found here. The surrounding land is farmland.

SGL No. 244 is south of I-80 at Exit 86. Go south on state Route 310 to U.S. Route 322, and then go east or continue south on Fuller Road. There are access roads off either road.

MAPS AND MORE

For more information about Pennsylvania's spring gobbler hunting, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797; call (717) 787-4250; or check the agency's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us.

Topographic maps of most state game lands are available on the PGC Web site. In the left column of the main page, click on "State Game Lands," and in the right column under "PDF Maps," click on the region where the state game lands you are seeking is located. Near the center of this page, under the map of the region, click under "State Game Lands Maps" to see a scroll of all of the state game lands maps in the region that are available.

Detailed information about state forests and state parks is available at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Web site, which can be found at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.

At the home page, click on "Find a Park" for state park information including on-line campsite reservations. Click on "Find a Forest" for detailed state forest information, including downloadable state forest maps.

For more information about traveling in the Commonwealth, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; or call (800) VISIT-PA (847-4872).

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