Wildlife managers and land supervisors across the Keystone State are predicting another great season for spring turkey hunters. Here's a look at the best places to go near you in 2005.
Photo by Ralph Hensley
Somewhere on a lonesome ridge or in a farmland wood lot a lonesome longbeard is waiting or you. It is time to start scouting for Pennsylvania's spring gobbler season, patterning loads and getting gear together. Hunters are already cruising sports shows and sports shops for the latest calls that are sure to attract the wiliest old gobbler. All that remains is finding that responsive bird.
Nesting seasons have been less than perfect for the past few springs. In general, our turkey population has not risen. It is probably down in some places. But it has been so high recently that we can stand some declines without hardly noticing. Predictions for hunting this spring in most parts of the state are uniformly good, barring any unusually harsh storms that cause significant mortality.
Perhaps the most notable effect of the recent nesting seasons will be that there will be a relatively high number of longbeards in relation to jakes. Of course, the most serious turkey hunters will be looking only for longbeards. But casual turkey hunters will be faced with more challenging hunting than usual. A large portion of birds this spring have been through at least one spring gobbler season and have been educated in the ways of turkey hunters.
Most regional biologists in the Keystone State report good turkey populations. Choosing one place as best in a region might be impossible. Here are six good areas that might help you get started.
Probably the best widespread assessment of the turkey population is taken from observations and counts made by each region's land management staff and wildlife conservation officers, collectively a group that spends far more time in turkey habitat than anyone else.
"We did have a wet summer here, but for most of the region it has had little effect," said Richard Macklem, a Northcentral Region spokesman. "The majority of our field agents are rating turkey populations as good to excellent."
State Game Lands 75 in Lycoming County is one of several state game lands in the region where you should find good gobbler hunting this spring. It is a large area, with more than 27,000 acres. If that still is not enough territory for you to roam, it is bordered by two state forests. Tioga State Forest adds 160,000 acres to the north and Tiadaghton State Forest has 215,000 acres to the west and south.
This is part of the Allegheny Highlands "big woods" country. Nearly all of it is forested. There is considerable oak with some beech and cherry. Hemlock stands provide thermal cover. The Game Commission maintains several food plot openings. Some of this land is reclaimed strip mines, which have been transformed into excellent game habitat.
Elevations range from less than 900 feet along Pine Creek to more than 2,100 feet. Slopes along the larger streams are steep and high toward the northwestern and southeastern corners of SGL 75, but most of the central portion is relatively gentle terrain on top of the Allegheny Plateau.
More adventurous hunters will get down along the steep slopes to the benches, which are natural terraces along the steep slopes. The best place to set up will probably be along the steep slope above a bench, with a decoy on the bench.
You can find camping nearby at Little Pine State Park. The campground opens the first weekend in April and closes in mid-December. There are 104 campsites, including 98 sites that can accommodate trailer units up to 30 feet in length, and six sites for tents only. There are also three cottages that comfortably sleep five people. Each cottage has two sets of single bunks, a full-sized bed, wooden floors, windows, a porch, electric lights and outlets, heat and a fire ring with a picnic table.
To reach the park from the south, take Route 220 to the Pine Creek Exit near Jersey Shore. Follow Route 44 north 11 miles to Waterville, and then turn right onto Route 4001 and go four miles to the park. Continue north on this road to SGL 75 about two miles from the park.
For more information, contact Little Pine State Park, 4205 Little Pine Creek Road, Waterville, PA 17776-9705; or call (570) 753-6000. For general state park information or to reserve a campsite, cabin, picnic pavilion or organized group tenting area, call toll-free (888) PA-PARKS, Mon. to Sat. 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A more direct route to SGL 75 from the south follows Route 287 north from Route 220 at Larrys Creek.
Get information about local services from the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau, 210 William Street, Williamsport, PA 17701; or call (570) 327-7700.
"Last year (2004) wasn't bad at all," said Tim Conway, a Northeast Region spokesman, regarding reports from regional field personnel. "Over the summer, our crews saw quite a few broods. We have birds everywhere."
That should mean plenty of jakes to go along with a good supply of older turkeys. The previous spring, however, was cold and wet, which could mean fewer 2-year-old gobblers. Most of the longbeards will be wily, older birds.
State Game Lands 159 in Wayne County is tucked away in the extreme northeast corner of the state, surrounded by private land, where it might be overlooked.
"I don't think it's hunted as heavily as it could be except maybe the first day. After that, the pressure drops," Conway commented. "There are some areas where you can get off the beaten path."
Predictions for hunting this spring in most parts of the state are uniformly good, barring any unusually harsh storms that cause significant mortality.
Elevations vary from about 1,200 feet to more than 1,800 feet in the northern tract and from less than 1,100 feet to about 1,600 feet in the southern tract. Though the northern tract has a slightly greater variation in elevation, there is some more gentle terrain here.
Most of the area is wooded, partly oak-ash and partly beech-maple forest. There are ponds and wetlands in the northern tract. Some old timber remains along the creeks. Parts of the game lands have been logged. The Game Commission maintains openings for the benefit of wildlife.
Woods Pond is in the northern tract. East Branch of Darby Creek flows through the southern tract. Both are stocked with trout. There are also native brook trout streams. Conway suggested this as a great place to hunt gobblers in the morning and fish for trout in the afternoon.
SGL 159 is northeast of the Scranton area. Drive east on Route 6 to Honesdale, north on Route 191, and then turn left to access the southern tract. For the northern tract, continue north on Route 191, turn west on Route 371 at Rileyville, and then turn right.
Information about places to stay and other local services are available from the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau Inc., 1004 Main Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360; or call (800) 762-6667.
Southwest Region spokesperson Cheryl Trewella said that field reports indicate a stable turkey population. As in much of the state, early nesting was poor last spring, but there was significant second nesting.
Public lands are comparatively scarce in this densely populated corner of the state. One of the larger public lands is State Game Lands 168, which covers 5,802 acres in Northampton, Carbon and Monroe counties. This is a fine place to scout for gobblers, and one of the nearest places to Philadelphia where you can get away from most hunting pressure, at least on weekdays. Access is from various side roads between Route 248 and Route 512 north from Allentown.
There are not many roads that enter this game lands, so an adventurous hunter can get quite far from the roads. Walking along the ridgetops, stopping to call from finger ridges and over hollows is a likely way to locate gobblers. You might have to drop over the side slopes to get close enough to hear a gobbler.
SGL 168 is rugged Blue Mountain terrain, with elevation changes of 1,000 feet in some places. It is mostly mature timber, although the trees are not large, including considerable chestnut oak. The surrounding lower elevations are largely farmlands.
Get information about local services from the Lehigh Valley CVB, P.O. Box 20785, Lehigh Valley, PA 18002; or call (800) 633-8437.
The Southcentral Region has some excellent turkey hunting, but it is also the only part of the state with a depressed population, particularly on Micheaux State Forest. However, there are indications of improvement. For one thing, nesting conditions might have been better in this region than in the rest of the state.
"We felt that probably there was a bit of a window in our region," said Don Garner, a PGC Southcentral Region spokesman. "The hens and poults had a bit of a respite because there was rain before and some after."
Garner pointed to State Game Lands 73 and adjoining State Game Lands 118 as a good place to look for spring gobblers.
"That mountaintop is almost all game lands property down into Maryland," he noted.
The terrain is steep and rugged with an elevation change of about 1,000 feet in some areas. Much of the ground is rocky. There are many deep ravines. Habitat features almost all hardwood forest. Chestnut oak is abundant, and there are some other oaks. Only a few food plots are maintained by the Game Commission. Warm-season grasses have been planted toward the northern end where there has been recent timbering.
"It takes a little homework to hunt that game lands," Garner cautioned.
The surrounding land is largely private farmland. The only short routes to a lot of the public land crosses private farms. The only other way to get into such areas is via long walks over rugged ground.
"It's the kind of place to be if you don't want to see any other hunters," Garner said.
SGL 73 covers 20,817 acres in Bedford, Blair and Huntingdon counties. SGL 118 covers 6,029 acres in Blair and Huntingdon counties. Both are west of Route 26 between Hopewell and Huntingdon.
Information about local services is available through the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, R.D. 1, Box 222A, Seven Points Road, Hesston, PA 16647; or call (888) RAYSTOWN.
Conditions were cold and wet during the early part of the nesting season last year.
"I don't think there was any impact so negative it would affect the next (2005) season," said Southwest Region spokesman Mel Schake.
Field personnel noted widespread second nesting, so the outlook for most of the region is good to excellent.
Turkey Management Area 1-A is regarded as the best area for turkey hunting in the state. From 1999 through 2002, the average estimated spring harvest in this unit was 12,380 gobblers. That accounts for almost 29 percent of the state total for those years.
A large reason for the great turkey hunting in the Southwest Region is that more public land has been added here recently than in any other region. A lot of this is old strip mines and other reclaimed lands where the Game Commission has done considerable habitat work.
State Game Lands 232 is toward the southern end of TMA 1-A in Washington County. Until a few years ago, this was just a small game lands covering 1,188 acres in two tracts. But adjacent lands that had been planned for development were added, bringing the total area to almost 5,000 acres. The new section is between the old SGL 232 and Taylorstown along Buffalo Creek. This land is broken farm country. The terrain is quite steep with rolling hills along the creek. The habitat is very diverse. About 1,200 acres of it is agricultural land, some of which is overgrown to thick, brushy cover. There are also wood lots and wetlands.
"We keep getting reports of good hunting there and we've done a lot of habitat work. It's a beautiful piece of game lands. I think it would be good down there," Schake said. "It's a neat piece of land, and anybody who sees it just raves about it."
To reach the area, turn west onto Route 221 from Exit 11 off Interstate Route 70 south of Washington.
Information about local services is available through the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, 273 South Main Street, Washington, PA 15301; or call (800) 531-4114.
"We've had late hatches and small birds into the fall, which is an indication there's been a second nesting," said Northwest Region spokesman Regis Senko.
In spite of the cold, wet conditions last spring, field officers across the northwest counties, according to Senko, generally rate turkey prospects as good.
Most diverse in habitat of the six regions, the Northwest Region varies from the Lake Erie Plain through rolling, wet farming country to the heavily forested Allegheny Highlands. Turkey hunting is ver
y good throughout, but it comes in various forms.
Locating turkeys is relatively difficult in the sprawling forest of the Allegheny Highlands. Here, turkeys are largely dependent on mast crops, which have been fair, at best, for about three years.
"I'd concentrate more on the area that is farmland because the birds are not so dependent on mast," Senko said. "And there's a lot of private land that is open for the asking."
The third-highest harvest density in the state is in Turkey Management Area 1-B. This relatively small area includes Erie County and Crawford County. One reason hunters have such good success here, in addition to a lot of turkeys, is the patchwork habitat of cultivated fields, overgrown pastures, wetlands and small wood lots.
Locating turkeys here is relatively easy. They can be seen in fields from great distances, and the odds are they will be roosting in the nearby wood lots.
Crawford County, along with a few other counties, can reasonably stake a claim as the best spring gobbler county in Pennsylvania. The biggest complication to hunting in Crawford County is that most of the better turkey hunting is on private farms because public lands are quite small, and drawing too much attention to any one of them might cause overcrowding.
It's probably better to look at the county as a package and let hunters make their own decisions about where to go.
Crawford County has about 20,000 acres of state game lands. The two largest, comprising about 11,000 acres combined, are mainly wetlands. The other 10 state game lands wholly or partially in Crawford County range in size from 4,496 acres at State Game Lands 69 to State Game Lands 85, with 114.9 acres. State Game Lands 101 is larger, but most of that is in Erie County.
Hunting pressure is not necessarily heavy at these small state game lands, especially after opening day and on weekdays. Local hunters tend to hunt on private farms.
Crawford County is an excellent destination for traveling turkey hunters, who can find information about places to stay and other local services from the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 211 Chestnut Street, Meadville PA 16335; or call (800) 332-2338.
For more about turkey hunting in Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg PA 17110-9797; or call (717) 787-4250.
For more travel information in Pennsylvania, contact he Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; or call (717) 232-8880 or (800) VISIT-PA.