Fall Turkeys in Pennsylvania

Give these proven Keystone State public lands a try for some exciting fall turkey-hunting action.

By Vic Attardo

While Pennsylvania's fall turkey harvest numbers were down last season, state biologists say there is no cause for alarm.

The 2003 fall turkey harvest was estimated at 27,000 birds, a decrease of some 25 percent from the fall 2002 harvest of 37,346 birds. But Pennsylvania Game Commission officials caution that the numbers will probably change when the agency's final harvest survey is completed.

"Although the recent drop in our fall turkey harvest may lead some to suspect that our turkey population has decreased, field and survey work show that Pennsylvania's wild turkey population is still in fine shape," said Mary Jo Casalena, the PGC's top turkey biologist.

Casalena blamed the 2003 fall harvest decrease on a spotty mast crop and smaller flock size, which made the birds difficult to pattern. In the state's northern counties, crusted snow caused by freezing rain was the saving grace. The crust allowed the birds to forage over wide areas without sinking into deep snow.

Despite an off year for reproduction in 2003, many areas of the state are at or above long-term trends in turkey numbers, according to Casalena.

Overall, prospects for the fall 2004 season look good. Here's a look at some of the best places to go for good public-land turkey hunting near you this fall:

DELAWARE WATER GAP NRA

The northern tier counties provide the bulk of the action for fall turkey hunters, and many Philadelphia-area sportsmen travel to the Pocono region. Much of this activity takes place on the 82,000-acre Delaware State Forest and the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Of these two public lands, the latter receives less publicity, so it is worth considering here.

The Gap NRA borders the Delaware River from the Delaware River Gap north to Milford. Except for its lower reaches, Route 209 bisects the property. East of Route 209, the NRA is typically flat river plain filled with farmland and thin woods. To the west, the land is mostly ridged and deeply wooded. It is typical for birds to come down from the ridges and feast on the agricultural crops that are left after the harvest.

Photo by Ralph Hensley

Between Egypt Mills and Indian Point, the average width of farmland between Route 209 and the Delaware River is no more than one-quarter mile. Between Indian Point and Milford there is considerably more woodland.

There is a wide area of ridged river land east of Route 209 between Shawnee and Shoemakers. This land is deeply wooded, but also contains numerous hiking trails.

For more information on the Gap NRA, contact the National Park Service at (717) 588-2435. A visitor's center is at Dingmans Falls.

BALD EAGLE STATE FOREST

With over 196,000 acres of public land, Bald Eagle State Forest is popular with fall turkey hunters. This rugged, mountainous area in the state's ridge and valley region is not highly fragmented, giving hunters a chance to work large blocks of land without having to worry about boundaries.

A substantial area of the forest lies between Route 522 and Route 45. In this area, hunters will find Jacks, Thick, White, Long and Paddy mountains along with plenty of forest roads that run through the gap and foot trails that traverse the ridgetops.

Treaster and Strong mountains in Mifflin County northeast of Siglerville above the village of Honey Creek and east of Route 322 should provide good hunting. The Strong Mountain trail runs between two winding roads and gives hunters excellent access to the deep woods in this area. The trail is between Strong Mountain Road and Strong Improvement Road. These two roads form a wobbly circle around Strong Mountain by way of Treaster Valley Road.

Another area in Bald Eagle State Forest worth exploring is a fragmented parcel along Nittany Mountain in Center County north of Centre Hall. This section gives hunters the ability to work a series of ridges and a creek valley (Little Fishing Creek). Greens Valley Road runs through this section and connects to Route 144. In addition, Brush Mountain Trail and two other designated trails make circuitous routes through the lower half of this piece. Nittany Mountain and Little Fishing Creek make a fairly hard turn to the north where there are no designated popular trails, and hunting should be good in this region.

For more information, contact the Bald Eagle State Forest's headquarters in Laurelton at (570) 922-3344.

ELK STATE FOREST

Hunters on the western side of the state should consider Elk State Forest and the nearby game lands in Clearfield and Elk counties. Covering some 190,000 acres, Elk State Forest is in the Allegheny high plateau with elevations over 2,000 feet. Numerous designated trails, which are perfect for fall turkey hunting, cut through oak and hickory terrain.

The number of small streams that run through Elk State Forest is substantial, and roads parallel many. In addition, the forest either surrounds or borders quite a few state game lands, including SGL 311 with 1,730 acres, SGL 14 with nearly 14,000 acres and SGL 25 with over 24,000 acres.

An important piece of the state forest lies north of Route 555 and the village of Dents Run on Sinnemahoning Creek. The widely fragmented SGL 311 is south of this state forest block. This area is a hotspot for turkeys. A number of good roads run northwest from the villages of Dents Run and Hicks Run. They are Bell Draft Road and Hicks Run Road. Both improved dirt roads intersect with numerous trails and streams.

There are gates and trailheads along these roads. Hicks Run Road leads north to the Pine Tree Trail Natural Area and the south and north ends of Bell Draft Road connect with Elk Trail, which is relatively new. It runs for 16 miles through this block, crossing old railroad grades and logging roads.

SGL 14 is north of this section of the state forest. Hicks Run Road continues north into the state game lands. Route 120 from Emporium also leads to the northwestern tip of SGL 14.

For more information on Elk State Forest, contact the forest headquarters in Emporium at (814) 486-3353.

WEISER STATE FOREST

Fragments of Weiser State Forest stretch from east of the Little Schuylkill River in Berks County west to the

Susquehanna River in Dauphin County. While it is only the 14th largest state forest in the Commonwealth, its 19,200 acres, plus numerous adjoining state game lands, are popular with Philadelphia-area and Harrisburg-area hunters.

Weiser State Forest is primarily a ridged land. It runs across Blue and Second mountains, with a number of other ridges and gaps on the widely spaced fragments.

The two southernmost sections of the forest along Blue Mountain are worthy of a fall turkey hunt. Lying east and west of the Schuylkill River at Port Clinton, the forest fragments are surrounded by SGL 106 with 9,374 acres and SGL 110 with over 10,000 acres. The Appalachian Trail crests a portion of SGL 106.

Sportsmen should be prepared to make some steep hikes, but the land is heavily trailed. To reach this area, take Route 61 north from Reading or Route 22/78 west from Allentown. On the west side of the river, take Route 895 west toward Auburn and to Aucheys and follow the rural roads that lead from the lowland to the north side of Blue Mountain, which is clearly visible from the main road.

Also, try the section of the forest in the area along Locust Lake State Park just northwest of Tamaqua. The high ridges of Locust Mountain slide down into some grassy flatlands.

For more information, contact the forest headquarters in Cressona at (570) 385-7800.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For information on accommodations and travel planning across the state, call (800) VISIT PA. For hunting information, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at (717) 787-4250.



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