Best Spring Turkey Hunts

Best Spring Turkey Hunts

Keystone State hunters are poised to set another record turkey harvest in 2004. Here's how you can be a part of this incredibly successful game management story.

By Stephen Behun

Pennsylvania's spring turkey hunters have set the bar high for the rest of country. An estimated quarter of a million turkey hunters - an eighth of the overall national turkey hunting population - will take to Penn's Woods this spring.

Not only do Pennsylvanians like to hunt turkeys, they are also good at it. According to Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's turkey biologist, Keystone State spring turkey hunters harvested 43,600 birds. These are preliminary harvest figures based on returned report cards.

And, she added, the statewide turkey population is on the rise. The preliminary population estimate for spring 2003 increased to 363,900 birds. If the trend continues, hunters can expect a banner year.

The statewide season begins on May 1. Although spring birds can be found anywhere, here's look at several turkey management zones and the best public hunting grounds within them.

NORTHCENTRAL ZONE
The northcentral section of Pennsylvania boasts ample state lands, remote habitat and low hunter densities - in other words, a perfect place for a spring turkey hunt.

In recent years, the increasing elk population and the renewed elk season have brought a new management program to the region. The PGC, in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, has created many remote fields that are lush with springtime forage for elk as well as wild turkeys. In addition to being great food sources, these areas also make great breeding grounds for turkeys. Turkeys are adaptable creatures and have quickly taken advantage of these positive changes.

Photo by Kraig Haske

One of the biggest improved areas is the region surrounding Benezette and St. Marys in Cameron, Elk and Clearfield counties. Along routes 120, 555 and 255, thousands of acres of public lands can be found. State forests and state game lands (SGL) provide plenty of room for turkey hunting with minimal competition.

This section of the state - formerly Turkey Management Area (TMA) 3 - was accountable for 3,361 gobbler hunters filling their tags in 2002. This year, the region falls primarily into Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 2G.

Many hunters avoid this region because of its remote qualities, but it does offer excellent turkey hunting without the pressure found in other zones.

SGL 14's 13,875 acres are south of Route 120 on the border of Elk and Cameron counties. This game lands is primarily forested, with gentle hills and several steep ridges. There are creek bottoms near the center of the game lands that offer great roosting sites for birds. The ridges are predominately hardwoods, with hemlock, white and pitch pine trees. Rocky outcroppings along the ridges make perfect vantage points for glassing and listening for birds. Elk State Forest borders this game lands.

SGL 34 contains 8,800 acres south of Route 555 in Elk County near Medix Run. It can be accessed from secondary roads off Route 555.

This SGL is composed of flat, open spaces. Although ridges and hills do contribute to the terrain, wide river bottoms and open clearings are more common. This section of public land is bordered by Mashannon State Forest and offers many places to work birds without competition.

SGL 44 is one of the region's larger public hunting grounds, with 24,529 acres. This SGL is in Elk County between routes 949 and 219 south of Ridgway. Allegheny National Forest also borders the SGL. Both routes 949 and 219 lead to back roads that snake through the public land.

This area also offers good hiking trails that allow hunters to move easily through the SGL. These trails follow gentle ridges and river bottoms. The cover is primarily hardwoods, with some thick hollows and occasional blueberry and mountain laurel thickets.

Maps and more information on each of these SGLs can be obtained through the PGC's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us, or by contacting the Northcentral Region office at 1566 State Route 44 Highway, P.O. Box 5038, Jersey Shore, PA 17740-5038; call (570) 398-3423 or (877) 877-7674.

In addition to Pennsylvania state game lands, different state and national forests are also open to public hunting. Elk and Mashannon state forests are two great choices for Northcentral Region hunters. Both of these state forests have terrain similar to the adjoining SGL. The rolling hills and mountains offer great views and good turkey hunting. These two state forests comprise the Quehanna Natural Area. This 50,000-acre forest offers diverse terrain conditions. From hardwood ridges to hemlock-laden river valleys, this area offers ample food and cover for turkeys.

Expect minimal hunting pressure in these areas. Most hunters stay close to roads that are open for vehicular travel. Once off the beaten path, adventurous turkey hunters can enjoy the solitude of working gobblers with little or no hunter interference.

For maps and information on these state forests, contact the following: Elk State Forest, 258 Sizerville Road, Emporium, PA 15834, e-mail fd13@ state.pa.us or call (814) 486-3353; Moshannon State Forest, 3372 State Park Rd., Pennfield, PA 15849, e-mail fd09@state.pa.us or call (814) 765-0821.

For maps of either state forest, contact the above or visit www.dcnr. state.pa.us and select the appropriate state forest.

For Allegheny National Forest, write the forest office at 222 Liberty St., Warren, PA 16365; e-mail them at r9-allengheny-nf@fs.fed.us or call (814) 723-5150

For maps of Allegheny National Forest, visit the ANF Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/allegheny.

For trip-planning information in the Northcentral Region, contact the Ridgway-Elk County Chamber of Commerce, 159 Main St., Ridgway, PA 15853; e-mail them at ridgwaychamber@ncentral.com or call (814) 776-1424. The folks there can help with additional information on lodging, dining and other activities in the area.

THE POCONOS
According to hunter success rates supplied by biologist Casalena, the northeastern section of the state offers hunters a better-than-average chance of harvesting a spring turkey. Formerly TMA 5, now WMU 3D, this area produced 3,841 completed report cards in 2002. In 2003, hunters enjoyed a 27 percent success rate, which is much higher than the state average of 19 percent

.

The Pocono Mountains have an abundance of public lands. Most of the region consists of an elevated plateau. Hunters will find much flatter terrain in this region, a factor that has helped hunters in this area achieve a high success rate.

SGL 180 surrounds the intersection of Route 739 and Interstate 84 near Lords Valley in Pike County. SGL 180 contains 11,372 acres. The terrain is hospitable to hunters. Much of the area is flat with mixed deciduous and coniferous growth with rhododendron or "buck laurel" swamps. These areas are thick and difficult to hunt, but they are the signature habitat type of the Pocono region.

SGL 183 contains 2,778 acres northeast of Lake Wallenpaupack near Wilsonville in Pike County. Route 6 cuts the SGL into two halves around Decker Pond. Swampy conditions dominate near the lake on the western end of the SGL, and buck laurel is not uncommon.

As the SGL rises to the east, more open hardwoods can be found. Kimble Road will allow access to some trails in the far northeast corner of the SGL, which will lead hunters into some great turkey country.

SGL 221 near Cresco on Route 191 in Monroe County offers an additional 4,618 acres of prime public hunting ground. The terrain is similar to SGLs 183 and 180, with some rhododendron swamps and flatland.

Access from routes 191 and 390 is easy. Side roads, such as Devil's Hole Road, allow hunters additional access to the area.

Maps and more information on each of these SGLs can be obtained through the PGC's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us, or by contacting the Northeast Region office, P.O. Box 220, Dallas, PA 18612-0220; or call (570) 675-1143 or (877) 877-9357

Delaware State Forest is another huge piece of public ground that covers both Pike and Monroe counties. The state forest is part of a 70,000-acre tract of public hunting ground that contains state parks, natural areas and national forest lands. A good place to start springtime scouting is near the Pennel Run Natural Area. This area is composed of 936 acres off Route 402 and Snow Hill Road at the Pike and Monroe county boundary near Camp William Penn. The natural area is basically a large scrub oak and laurel swamp surrounded by mixed hardwoods. Hiking is the main mode of travel once you leave the hardtop roads. This public hunting area offers plenty of choices for hunters who don't mind walking a long distance from the parking area.

For more information on Delaware State Forest, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District 19, HC 1, Box 95A, Swiftwater, PA 18370-9723; e-mail at fd19@state. pa.us, or call (570) 895-4000. Maps can also be viewed via the PGC's Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.

For trip-planning information, contact the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau, 1004 Main St., Stroudsburg, PA 18360; e-mail at pocomts @pocono.org; call (800) 762-6667 or visit their Web site at www.800poconos.com.

SOUTHEAST REGION
The Southeast Region is not often heralded as a mecca for turkeys by most hunting enthusiasts. However, harvest statistics presented by the PGC tells a different story.

In 2002, hunters in TMA 9-B, now within WMUs 5C and 5B, harvested 2,880 gobblers, with a success rate well above state averages. The 2003 spring hunt put this TMA in the record books with an incredible success rate of 30 percent!

According to biologist Casalena, most of the land in WMUs 9-A and 9-B is privately owned, but there are some public grounds that offer hunters great opportunities. With success rates at levels this high, the Southeast Region should be on your list of hotspots to target this spring.

TMA 9-A is the only unit in the state with a higher success rate than TMA 9-B. At 36 percent, this TMA is unequaled for turkey-hunting success. Therefore, Casalena noted that TMA 9-B may be one of the best places to find a spring tom. Here is a look at some public-land opportunities that will give you a chance to tear your tag off your license and relocate it near a set of spurs.

SGL 157 near Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County is off Route 563. This SGL offers 2,010 acres of huntable land in a mixture of fields and forested wood lots. The forested areas are composed primarily of hardwoods. In several areas, white and pitch pine groves that were planted years ago now offer excellent roosting sites. The field areas are planted in crops such as corn and are divided by thick hedgerows that offer hunters great ambush locations.

SGLs 196 and 139 are bisected by Route 309 southwest of Nockamixon State Park. SGL 196 contains 356 acres, while SGL 139 covers 261 acres. Although these SGLs are relatively small, they offer good turkey habitat.

SGL 139 can be accessed from Route 309 by traveling east along Rock Hill Road to the SGL. SGL 196 can be found off Route 309 by turning onto Forest Road and traveling west to Valley Road. Follow Valley Road northwest to the SGL. These two Bucks County SGLs contain some of the larger continuously forested tracts and some of the best turkey habitat in the region.

SGL 43 is one of the largest SGLs in the Southeast Region, with 2,300 acres of mixed forest and fields in Berks County on Route 345 adjacent to French Creek State Park.

This SGL is in TMA 9A off the Route 422 border of TMA 9B. The forested area of the SGL is mixed with oaks and maples. The terrain is rolling, with broad hills and gentle creek bottoms. The adjacent private agricultural areas make this SGL a prime turkey producer.

The Southeast Region is limited in the quantity of its public grounds, but the success rate for hunters in this region vouch for the quality of the hunting.

For more information and maps, go to the PGC's Web page at www. pgc.state.pa.us; write the Southeast Region office, 448 Snyder Rd., Reading, PA 19605-9254; call (610) 926-3136 or (877) 877-9470.

For trip-planning information, contact the Bucks County Conference and Visitor Bureau; 3207 Street Road, Bensalem, PA 19020; e-mail at bccvb@bccvb.org; call (800) 836-BUCKS or (215) 639-0300; you can also visit the bureau's Web site at www.buckscountycvb.org.

Also, try the Reading and Berks County Visitor Bureau, 352 Penn Street, Reading, PA 19602; call (610) 375-4085 or (800) 443-6610; or visit the bureau's Web site at www. readingberkspa.com.

ON THE BORDER
The western fringe of Pennsylvania also deserves notice as a turkey producer. The area adjacent to Ohio, and the thin sliver of West Virginia that borders Pennsylvania, offer good turkey hunting. TMAs 1A and 1B produced success rates in 2002 as high as 22 and 25 percent, respectively.

Public hunting grounds, as well as gobbling toms, are numerous in this area. Here are some SGLs that might put a plump Thanksgiving gobbler on the dinner table.

SGL 69 contains 4,496 acres of prime turkey habitat in an even mix between forest and fields. Access can be had from Route 198 at the intersection of Smith Road near Gilbert Corners.

SGL 179 is flat and primarily forested, with approximately 20 percent of the land in fields. The 5,325 acres that make up this SGL are in Triumph in Greene County.

For more information and maps, go to the PGC's Web page at www. pgc.state.pa.us, or contact the Southwest Region office, P.O. Box A, Ligonier, PA 15658; call (724) 238-9524 or (877) 877-7137.

Give these proven hotspots a try this spring and you will help drive the statewide success rate above 19 percent. Wherever you decide to set up your decoys in 2004, good luck and great hunting this season!



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