Pennsylvania's state forests, parks and game lands offer millions of acres for spring turkey hunters to scout and hunt. Pack your compass and get in on the fun this season! (March 2010)
Despite some wet, cold springs of late and less than stellar poult production in parts of the state, Pennsylvania's turkey population remains one of the largest in the East, continuing to provide some of the best spring hunting in the country.
After reaching a peak of an estimated 410,000 birds in 2001, the statewide population has been holding its own at around 350,000, and the annual spring harvest has been among the top five in the U.S. almost every year. Hunters took more than 40,000 bearded birds in 2008, and preliminary counts put the harvest at more than 43,600 in 2009. Only Missouri and Alabama, in that order, produced more birds last spring. All indications point to another good year in 2010 with plenty of opportunity in most regions of the state.
One thing Keystone State hunters have to their advantage is plenty of public land where hunting is not only allowed -- it's encouraged. State game lands total more than 1.4-million acres and are found in practically every county. They offer some of the largest and most productive hunting areas in the state.
State forests add an additional 2 million acres, and Allegheny National Forest provides another 500,000 acres, much of which is prime turkey range. Many state parks are also open to hunting.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission administers two programs that directly benefit hunters. One is the Cooperative Farm-Game Program, and the other is the Cooperative Forest-Game Program. Combined, they open more than 3 million acres of private land to hunter access.
With plenty of birds available and a generous spring season, there is little reason not to take advantage of it. Here are some areas that should offer prime turkey hunting this spring:
COOPERATIVE FARM-GAME PROGRAM AREAS
Some of the most productive areas for turkeys are farms and agricultural lands. Plowed and planted fields and manure piles offer a smorgasbord of foods for spring turkeys. These open areas are typically bordered by wooded areas where birds can find roosting sites as well as cover.
The Cooperative Farm-Game Program was implemented in 1936 by the Pennsylvania Game Commission with the primary goal of making private farmland available to hunters while giving farmers relief from wildlife damage and to provide landowners protection from unprincipled hunters.
The program is governed by a term-lease agreement over a five-year period and creates a partnership between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and landowners, who work together to improve public hunting opportunities and enhance wildlife habitat.
Each farm or group of farms must be at least 1,000 acres in size. Farmers receive benefits such as law enforcement patrols to prevent illegal hunting, illegal ATV use, dumping and littering, free food and cover seedlings and advice on soil conservation and habitat improvements.
Since its inception 70 years ago, more than 21,000 landowners or tenants have joined the program. Properties under the program are found in nearly all of the state's 67 counties and cover more than 2.5 million acres, providing some of the best hunting opportunities in the state.
Some of these lands are close to large population centers where public hunting areas are more difficult to find or where hunters must travel great distances to find places to hunt. And it is free!
Hunters are asked to adhere to a few basic rules, such as parking in designated safety zones, which are usually clearly marked. Also, it is illegal to discharge a firearm within 150 feet of an occupied dwelling or other building without specific permission of the owner.
COOPERATIVE FOREST-GAME PROGRAM AREAS
This program is similar to the Cooperative Farm-Game Program but is designed for owners of large timberlands. Started in 1971, landowners receive the same benefits as farmers enrolled in the Farm-Game Program including enhanced property protection, while hunters get improved habitat and increased access to private woodlands. Currently, approximately 600,000 acres are enrolled in the program across the state.
For a list of participating farms and lands under the Cooperative Farm-Game Program and Cooperative Forest-Game Program, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Bureau of Land Management in Harrisburg at (717) 787-4240, or contact your local Pennsylvania Game Commission regional office.
Pennsylvania's state forests cover about 2 million acres, or about 12 percent of the forested land in the state, and much of it is productive turkey habitat. Traditionally, state forests account for a comparatively small percentage of the spring turkey harvest, largely because of the amount of state game lands and other public lands, private property and because locating turkeys is more challenging in large wooded areas. But Pennsylvania's state forests have plenty of birds and plenty of room to roam.
Most state forests lack open fields and are heavily wooded, so pre-season scouting is a must.
A prime case in point is Lackawanna State Forest, which is located in Lackawanna County. The Northeast Region of the state has been offering some of the best spring turkey hunting in the state in recent years.
Originally, Lackawanna State Forest covered more than 8,100 acres with mixed hardwoods, softwoods and wetlands in two separate tracts. In 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources added 1,175 acres in the town of Thornhurst in Lackawanna County and the town of Coolbaugh in Monroe County, bringing the total area to more than 9,200 acres.
Some of the best turkey hunting will be found on the Thornhurst Tract in Thornhurst Township, which covers more than 6,700 acres. Some good hunting will be found off several forest roads, and a 24-mile snowmobile trail offers access into some remote regions of the forest.
Access to the area is easy from the Scranton area. Take Route 380 south toward Clifton and Thornhurst along the Luzerne and Monroe county line.
Camping is allowed on the state forest.
For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry office in Scranton at (570) 963-4561.
To the south in Monroe, Pike, Northampton and Carbon counties, Delaware State Forest covers nearly 82,000 acres in the rolling, steep Pocono Mountains
and offers some of the best turkey hunting in the eastern part of the state.
The forest is fragmented into numerous parcels, so hunters should obtain the appropriate maps and familiarize themselves with the various tracts and boundaries to make sure they don't wander onto private land.
This huge forest offers some prime spring turkey-hunting opportunities, especially for sportsmen who like to get off the beaten tract. The forest also offers miles of ATV and snowmobile trails that lead through some promising turkey habitat.
Several hiking trails provide access to parts of the forest, such as the Blooming Grove Trail, which starts off state Route 402 about one-half mile south of U.S. Route 6 in Pike County. It runs for about seven miles through hardwood forests and meadows, as well as encircling some hardwood swamps.
For more information on Delaware State Forest, maps of the various tracts, hunting opportunities and camping possibilities during turkey season, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry District 19 office in Swiftwater at (570) 895-4000.
The South-Central Region has a great deal of state forestland. Many of these forests are some of the largest in the state; so pre-season scouting is necessary. The terrain is rugged and mountainous as well, so hunters should be in good shape.
Although spring turkey hunting is popular on these public lands, most are in segregated parcels that sprawl over several counties, which means hunters will have large wooded areas to themselves.
One example is Tuscarora State Forest, which covers 91,165 acres in several fragmented tracts in Cumberland, Franklin, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin and Perry counties. The forest has everything turkeys need, including a wide variety of food and cover. This is particularly true of the largest portion in Perry County. The benches and slopes of Bowers Mountain west of Dennin State Park and the Fowler Hollow area south of Fowler Hollow State Park always hold turkeys.
For more information, contact the state Bureau of Forestry's District 3 office in Blain at (717) 536-3191.
Another large state forest in the South-Central Region is Rothrock State Forest in Huntingdon, Centre and Mifflin counties. Hunters should check out the Tussey Mountain, Thickhorn Mountain and Stone Mountain areas.
For more information on hunting opportunities, camping and maps, contact the state Bureau of Forestry District 5 office in Huntingdon at (814) 643-2340.
Still another large chunk of public land in the region is Buchanan State Forest, covering 75,000 acres in five principal tracts in Bedford, Fulton and Franklin counties. Like most of these forests, Buchanan sprawls over some rugged country in the Allegheny Mountains, but offers some fine spring turkey hunting.
For more information, contact the state Bureau of Forestry District 2 office in McConnellsburg at (717) 485-3148.
Turkey numbers in the Southwest Region of the state have been increasing of late and one of the best public properties to look for them is on Forbes State Forest. This state forest covers 50,000 acres in 20 different parcels scattered throughout Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
Because Forbes State Forest offers plenty of elbow space, fewer hunters and a stable population of birds, it is a favorite destination for turkey enthusiasts from the greater Pittsburgh area, although hunting pressure typically tapers off after the first or second week of the season.
Much of the forest lies along Laurel Ridge, a spine of rolling hills heavily covered with mixed hardwoods, so expect some physically challenging trekking.
Good hunting can be found throughout this forest. Some prime areas to look for birds include the Mt. Davis and Blue Hole divisions in Somerset County, the Braddock Division in Fayette County and the Laurel Mountain Division in Westmoreland County.
For more information, contact the state Bureau of Forestry District 4 office in Laughlintown at (724) 238-1200.
Information on lodging and other services may be obtained by contacting the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau at (800) 333-5661, or by visiting the Bureau's Web site at www.laurelhighlands.org.
These are just a few of Pennsylvania's most productive state forests, and while turkeys numbers may be higher in one region and lower in another from one year to the next, most offer consistently great spring turkey-hunting opportunities.
For more information on Pennsylvania's state forests, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry's central office in Harrisburg at (717) 787-2703, or visit the agency's Web site. Maps of each forest will also be found on that site.
STATE GAME LANDS
State Game Lands No. 211 is a few miles north of downtown Harrisburg, but at 44,300 acres it is the largest public holding in the Southeast Region.
The terrain is rugged and mountainous, and vehicular access is limited to the interior portions, so hunters must hike in to find birds.
Access is possible on the property's west side from Route 22, Route 325 to the north, Route 443 to the south and Gold Mine Road on the east. An old railroad bed runs for about 20 miles through the area, beginning at a parking lot on Sugar Lane in Dauphin, offering additional access and hunting possibilities.
In Northampton, Carbon and Monroe counties, SGL No. 168 covers over 5,800 acres with good turkey habitat, including ridges and hollows covered with mature stands of oak and other hardwoods, as well as some conifers.
Access is possible using various roads off Route 248 and Route 512.
Another good spot in Monroe County is SGL 127. The property covers 25,527 acres, and its generous mix of hardwoods and evergreens offer prime living conditions for turkeys. This is Pocono hill country, so the terrain is rolling but not overly difficult to hunt.
Much of the game lands is west of Interstate Route 380, but sections along Route 423 are flatter and easier to negotiate.
In Lehigh County, SGL 205 offers a combination of farm fields and woods, and the transition areas between the two habitats as well as the woodlands and open areas are great places to find birds.
To access the property from Pleasant Corners, drive south on Route 100 to the game commission's building on the left side of the road.
In Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties, SGL 211 off I-81 north of Lickdale covers 44,343 acres with rolling hill and ridge country. This is the second largest game lands in the state, so hunters should have no trouble finding a place to scout and hunt bir
Some prime hunting areas may be found off Route 322 in Dauphin County and Route 325 in Schuylkill County, but several other roads, such as Clarks Valley Road and Goldmine Road, also provide access.
SGL 210 south of Greenland Road adds 11,000 acres, and SGL 229 to the north off Route 209 east of Tremont covers another 2,259 acres
For more information on our state game lands, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission by telephoning (717) 787-4250; or visit the commission's Web site at www.pgc.state. pa.us.