Pennsylvania's Hotspots For Fall Turkeys

For Keystone State hunters, the 2007 fall turkey season is looking good. These public lands are sure to provide great sport all season. Do your scouting and get going! (October 2007)

Photo by D. Toby Thompson.

The outlook is a good one again as Keystone State hunters prepare for the 2007 fall turkey season.

Early this year, before the spring gobbler season, Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's chief wild turkey biologist, had this to say about last season's harvests -- and turkey hunting prospects for this year.

"The statewide (spring) harvest density was above average last year. In fact, it was the fourth-best on record. It followed sub-par hunting seasons in 2005 and 2004, which were the product of consecutive years of poor reproduction.

"Last year, hens came into breeding season in good physical condition -- the result of a less-demanding winter -- and consequently, sustained average to above-average recruitment.

"Those young turkeys were further supported by warm, dry weather and an abundance of food.

"In all, it was great medicine for the reproduction and recruitment woes that had caused backsliding in some local populations.

"Overall, there will be more jakes in the statewide population than last spring," added Casalena.

"There also will be more two-year-olds than last year, but not as many as in 2002-2004. There will be fewer 3- to four-year-olds than in the past few years."

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the preliminary spring harvest for 2006 was about 42,652. (An additional 1,496 turkeys were taken with special spring turkey licenses that allowed the taking of a second gobbler.) This compares with a 2005 preliminary harvest of about 38,820 birds.

The 2006 harvest marks the first time in four consecutive years that the harvest has increased. The preliminary harvest in 2004 was 41,017 and in 2003, 43,900. In 2002, the preliminary spring harvest was 44,500. The preliminary spring turkey harvest has exceeded 35,000 since 1995.

The fall season, however, reflects a different picture. The preliminary 2006 fall turkey harvest was 21,500 birds. That compares with 23,321 in 2005, 25,868 in 2004 and 27,400 in 2003.

"Fall harvests haven't been as substantial as spring harvests, partly by management design and largely because fewer people are hunting in the fall," Casalena explained.

"In 2005 -- the latest year for which data is available -- turkey hunters recorded more hunter-days afield in spring, about 1,038,000, than in the fall (685,000). The number of turkey hunters afield in spring was about 20 percent higher than in the fall, which has seen a substantial slide in participation over the past decade."

This year, changes in the fall turkey season include extending the season in Wildlife Management Unit 4D by one week. The season in WMUs 2A and 2F were reduced by five days. The season will run from Oct. 27 through Nov. 12, which includes Veterans Day -- a Monday holiday that many sportsman have off.

One other item of importance to turkey hunters is the Game Commission's new wild turkey management plan, released earlier this year. This plan, a 71-page document, is posted on the commission's Web site.

"Our first turkey management plan, written in 1999, helped us focus on critical wild turkey issues and needs at that time, and helped us build partnerships with other groups, agencies and organizations," said Casalena, author of the plan. "This management plan identifies the strategic goals, objectives and strategies for guiding wild turkey management and research decisions through 2015."

The following is a look at 10 good public areas for fall turkey hunting this year. Remember that as with any hunting venture, the most successful hunters are ones who do their scouting prior to the season opener.

This is especially true when you're after wild turkeys. Spend some time studying the following areas prior to the opener to determine food sources, travel routes and roosting sites:

STATE GAME LANDS NO. 74

SGL 74 encompasses over 6,500 acres in both Clarion and Jefferson counties. This public area runs along Mill Creek valley, a corridor that starts near Corsica and ends where Mill Creek joins the Clarion River.

With the exception of a small, detached property in Eldred Township in Jefferson County, SGL 74 is a contiguous block. The tract varies in the distance it extends from the creek bottom. In some areas, the property is confined to the valley, while in other places hunters can look for turkeys beyond the ridges forming the valley.

Expect to find a variety of terrain and cover on this game lands. The Mill Creek valley is steep-sided, and the terrain flattens on the ridge tops. Along this valley are found many secondary hollows, adding to the contour of the place. Cover includes second growth mature hardwoods and extensive stands of hemlock.

Many areas are thick with mountain laurel and rhododendron. Boggy areas will be encountered along the bottomlands. Some areas, particularly in the Jefferson County portion of the game lands, have been timbered during the past two decades.

Game Lands No. 74 may be reached from a variety of points. The extreme western portion of the tract is a few miles from Clarion and can be reached by way of Mill Creek Road in Strattanville. A hardtop road from Strattanville to Fisher runs through the game lands about three miles further up the Mill Creek valley.

Walk-in access roads running up and down the creek provide a good means of reaching the interior of this area. There is ample parking near the bridge that crosses the creek.

A network of country roads near Fisher lead to additional points where Game Lands 74 may be accessed. Hunters will find parking at bridge crossings, and walk-in access roads that parallel the creek. These roads' bridges are spaced two to three miles apart, making it convenient to reach the interior of the game lands.

Also, enthusiastic hunters can gain enough distance from the access points to leave behind most of the other, less energetic hunters.

Mill Creek is a sizeable stream. If you plan on crossing it during your hunt, hip boots are in order.

Most ameni

ties needed for a fall hunt in this area, including lodging, are available in Clarion.

ALLEGHENY NATIONAL FOREST

Allegheny National Forest contains thousands of acres that are open for public recreation. Hunting is allowed on most of the property. The Salmon Creek area of the ANF has always been one a favorite for fall turkeys.

The forest is managed via two separate districts, the Bradford District and the Marienville District. The Salmon Creek valley lies in the Marienville District. A backcountry dirt road (Salmon Creek Road) runs along the valley as the creek makes its way to Tionesta Creek near Kelletville. This road runs for about nine miles along the creek, so there's plenty of room for everyone.

Turkey hunters will find moderate to steep slopes rising up from the creek valley. The timber is dominated by a mix of hardwoods and softwoods, with a few stands of conifers mixed in.

One of the best things about a Salmon Creek hunt is the availability of primitive camping sites along its banks. The best sites for setting up a camp are near roadside pull-offs. Find a vacant pull-off, and you're probably not far from a flat spot that's seen use by previous campers. A U.S. Forest Service campground is also available at Beaver Meadows near Marienville.

Salmon Creek Road is just off of Route 66 about two miles south of Marienville. Several gated forest service roads lead off Salmon Creek Road.

The USFS opens some of its gated roads for fall hunting, so check the agency's Web site for road openings prior to this fall.

STATE GAME LANDS NO. 108

SGL No. 108 is west of Glendale Lake and consists of over 20,000 acres of state game lands.

Much of SGL No. 108 consists of reverting strip-mine lands. As such, the best turkey hunting areas are confined to portions of the tract where more mature timber can be found. But because this game lands is thought of more as a place to pursue rabbits and grouse, it's often overlooked by fall turkey hunters.

State Game Lands No. 108 is one contiguous block. Within the public land, however, a portion of private property exists. The tract is east of Patton.

Nearby Prince Gallitzin State Park has a good campground that usually remains open through the major fall hunting seasons.

FORBES STATE FOREST

For hunters in southwestern Pennsylvania, Forbes State Forest provides over 50,000 acres of turkey-hunting potential. This state forest generally runs along Laurel Ridge in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

As you might expect from such an extensive tract, a wide variety of cover and forest age structure can be found in Forbes SF. One of the best areas for turkey hunters to key in on is near Route 711.

In addition to Forbes State Forest, SGL No. 42 borders the state forestland and adds another 14,000 acres to the fall hunting potential.

Laurel Hill State Park, which also touches the forest near here, provides even more options, with about 2,100 acres open to hunting.

Either Ligonier or Johnstown will serve as a home base for a hunt here.

RAYSTOWN COUNTRY

Mention Raystown Lake at this time of year, and most sportsmen conjure up images of a fall striped bass bite. But the forested hillsides surrounding Raystown Lake provide hunters in central Pennsylvania with plenty of room to hunt fall turkeys.

Under jurisdiction of the Baltimore District, U.S. Corps of Engineers, the property surrounding the lake is divided into nine separate areas.

You can see detailed views of each of these areas by visiting the U.S. Corps of Engineers' Web site at www.raystown.nab.usace.army.mil LandManagement/huntingareas.htm.

Click on segments of the map to see individual hunting areas and the access each provides. The overall property runs from below the lake near Huntingdon south to Saxton.

Of particular note on the Raystown tract is the Special Needs Program, which allows disabled hunter's access through gated roads. The first requirement is a Disabled Hunting Permit from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

To obtain additional details, visit the Corps Web site noted above.

Nearby Huntingdon provides a host services for the traveling hunter, as do facilities within the Raystown Lake community.

SUSQUEHANNOCK STATE FOREST

For generations, the mountains of north-central Pennsylvania have been touted as "God's County." While the area may no longer have the same allure for deer hunters, there's plenty of reason to visit this region for fall turkeys. Susquehannock State Forest is one good option in an area blessed with public land.

"Last year, hens came into breeding season in good physical condition -- the result of a less-demanding winter -- and consequently, sustained average to above-average recruitment." -- Mary Jo Casalena, of the Pennsylvania Game Commission

Susquehannock SF lies in Clinton and Potter counties. The 85-mile Susquehannock Loop Trail winds through the tract, providing a means of access from various points. About 4,000 acres exist where properly permitted special-needs hunters may access the forest through gated roads with an all-terrain vehicle.

Lodging may be found in Coudersport. Smaller towns such as Wharton, Oleana and Galeton provide limited services.

BALD EAGLE STATE FOREST

In central Pennsylvania, fall turkey hunters should consider a visit to Bald Eagle State Forest. The forest also boasts 13 stocked trout streams, so you should save enough time to check out one of these creeks for leftover trout.

Access to the interior of Bald Eagle State Forest is good. Numerous hiking trails are found there. A network of roads also bisects the tract.

Hunters looking to find a more secluded hunt should check out the Hook Natural Area. Over 5,000 acres are provided, which are open to walk-in hunters only. The White Mountain Natural Area adds another 3,500 acres.

Long Path Trail furnishes access this area. Hunters will find services near Bald Eagle State Forest in Loch Haven.

ELK STATE FOREST

This extensive state forest provides another good option for hunters from the north-central part of the state or visiting there. With some 200,000 acres, Elk State Forest is found in Elk and Cameron counties.

Elk State Forest provides something for turkey hunters of every level of interest and physical ability. One can find easy acc

ess to spots with good turkey potential close to the road. Those looking to get away from things may find the Quehanna Wilderness Area more to their liking.

No motorized vehicles are permitted within the Quehanna portion of the tract, which contains over 48,000 acres. The towns of St. Marys and Emporium provide a host of services and amenities.

WEISER STATE FOREST

In the southeastern portion of the state, public lands for fall turkey hunting in the Harrisburg area include Weiser State Forest. Comprised of eight separate parcels, Weiser totals nearly 18,000 acres of state forestland, much of which provides wild turkey habitat.

Tracts of Weiser State Forest are in northern Dauphin, Schuylkill, Carbon and Berks counties. This heavily forested tract contains about 65 miles of roads that provide access to potential hunting areas. The Appalachian Trail also runs through Weiser State Forest.

Services of varying degrees may be found in nearby towns such as Shamokin, Frackville, Pottsville, Pine Grove, Tower City and Linglestown.

LACKAWANNA SF

Finding a good place to hunt fall turkeys can be a problem in northeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in the Pocono Mountain region. That's why gems like Lackawanna State Forest are so important.

Lackawanna SF is made up of two separate parcels, totaling about 8,000 acres. The Thornhurst Tract covers about 6,000 acres with some development by the state forest service. The smaller West Nanticoke Tract, covering about 1,500 acres, remains undeveloped.

The Pinchot Trail is in the Thornhurst area. Hunters may use it as a means of hiking back in to that portion of the forest.

Hunters traveling to Lackawanna State Forest from outside the area will find all needed amenities in nearby Scranton.

Keystone State fall turkey hunters will find an abundance of information on the Web. Maps of many state game lands are available for downloading on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's site.

From the agency's home page at www.pgc.state.pa.us, click on "Hunting." Under the heading "Places To Hunt," click on "State Game Lands." This will bring up a map of the Keystone State plus maps of many of our game lands.

In some cases, high-resolution topographic maps may be downloaded and printed.

More information on Allegheny National Forest may be obtained from the state forest Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/Allegheny.

For more details on forest properties open to fall turkey hunting, visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry.

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