Things are looking good for Pennsylvania's 2009 spring turkey season. Here's a look at how things are shaping up in your area! (May 2009)
The Keystone State has been in the wild turkey management game much longer than most Eastern states. That's because, as bird numbers declined in the early 1800s due to habitat loss and unrestricted hunting, Pennsylvania had remnant wild turkey populations hanging on in the ridges and valleys of the South-central Region. Wildlife managers realized that regulations had to be tightened, habitat expanded and the species better managed before the big birds disappeared from the Pennsylvania countryside.
Early efforts included stocking game farm turkeys that resulted in no more than a put-and-take resource for hunters. Eventually, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife biologists began trapping and relocating wild birds to desirable locations throughout the state. Those efforts have paid off for wild turkeys -- and the people who love to hunt them!
From an estimated few thousand birds remaining in the state by 1900, the wild turkey population has rebounded to more than 400,000 birds.
The commission's first wild turkey management plan, drafted in 1999, was geared toward the needs of the species at that time, and toward building partnerships that would benefit wild turkey numbers. A more recent 10-year plan now guides management decisions from 2006 into 2015. With restoration efforts complete, the new plan focuses on obtaining more detailed information about wild turkeys, including harvest data, research on harvest and survival rates and habitat and social carrying capacities.
Goals also include minimizing human-turkey conflicts, improving hunter safety and increasing wild turkey habitat through both land acquisition and education of private landowners. It is hoped that this plan will allow for optimum wild turkey numbers statewide wherever suitable habitat exists.
The commission helps willing landowners determine what changes could be made on their properties to best benefit wild turkeys and other wildlife. Because turkeys can travel up to two miles per hour while feeding, and their home range can be anywhere from 400 to 2,000-plus acres, most landowners won't own enough property to provide for a flock single handedly. Instead, the commission advises, landowners should determine what necessary turkey habitat component is lacking on their property and try to improve that aspect.
These big birds need a wide variety of habitat in order to thrive, including good nesting habitat, fields with good cover and insects for poults, a dependable winter food source and stands of mature forest for roosting sites.
To keep turkeys hanging around the home place a bit later in the season, landowners are advised to provide a good late summer-fall food source, too. Even if landowners can't see turkeys daily from the kitchen window, they have the pleasure of knowing there are more birds, and better-fed birds, populating the property.
The 2009 Youth Hunt will be held April 18 with a limit of one bearded bird. The spring season opens the following Saturday, April 25 and runs through Memorial Day.
The season used to end the Saturday before Memorial Day, according to Mary Jo Casalena, the state's wild turkey biologist. In addition to the longer season, hunters for the past three years have had the option of purchasing a special turkey license allowing them to harvest an additional bird to supplement the regular season bag limit of one bird.
Casalena said that the wild turkey harvest was way down in the spring of 2005, but has been improving incrementally since then.
"Our highest spring harvest was 2001," she said. "Then, we had a series of several years in a row of cold, wet springs with poor reproduction. We also have a fall season, and when there's a poor reproductive season, the fall harvest is mainly adult birds, which means you start to dig into your adult population a little bit.
The last three years, we've had good, relatively mild and dry spring breeding seasons, so poult production has been up. We're seeing an increase in the population and also in the harvest, so it's looking good in terms of this spring's harvest."
Casalena said there are turkey hotspots worth checking out this year.
"There are turkeys everywhere," she said. "We used to have that in the Southwestern Region. There's still a really good population there, like in Wildlife Management Unit 2A, but it's gone way down. It's not even half of what it was in 2000 and 2001.
That's because of the increased fall season length -- we have the longest fall season there, three weeks. I think it might be a little bit too much for the population to handle. Coincidentally, just when that season opened up, we also had three bad hatches in a row, so it dug into the population there more than other places. We backed off in 2007 and 2008 to two weeks. We'll watch for five years and if it's not improved, we'll cut back to one week."
Even at that, Casalena said, Unit 2A's spring harvest density is above the state average. In addition to Unit 2A, which spans Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, Casalena said the complete southwestern portion of the state provides good turkey hunting, as does "pretty much the whole Northeast Region."
WMUs 3A, 3B and 3C are hotspots, she noted.
"In WMU 3C, in Susquehanna and Bradford counties, there's practically a turkey behind every tree," she said. "The population the last few years, in terms of poult production, has just shot off the scale, so it's looking really good.
"We now know the most ideal habitat for turkeys is a mix of forested and agricultural land. These woodlot settings are really great for turkeys -- large woodlots with a lot of terrain and fields popping up here and there -- and in the Southwest Region, that's exactly what we have," Casalena continued.
"In the North-central Region, where the Big Woods has always been the traditional turkey area just because it was one of the first with restored turkeys, the population was always kind of stagnant. In 2001, it really took off, then got hit really hard with those poor production years. We were afraid we'd have to cut the season there, but I think because there's so much area up there, harvest densities aren't that great because you have to cover a lot of ground to find a turkey.
"We were concerned that three weeks might be too much for that population, but now it seems like even when we have three bad years of recruitment in a row, that area can support a three-week season, which is g
reat." Casalena said. "Many people love to go up there bear hunting, and some go up early to enjoy the last week of turkey season. They scout for bears while hunting turkeys. When the PGC was thinking of going to a two-week season, people were very upset about not being able to participate in that traditional hunt."
Roger Coup, wildlife management supervisor for the Northwest Region, said turkey numbers are stable, or even rising slightly, in his region. In addition to hunting regulations, the species is managed through habitat programs here.
"We've done a lot of work on game lands, planting food plots, clearing areas, working a lot with the National Wild Turkey Federation to get volunteers and funding," Coup said.
"We've done a lot of different projects with them. The NWTF is a very important partner in our turkey habitat program.
"If we have a decent winter with no prolonged cold or heavy snow, there should be a good number of birds available this spring," he continued. "We have some winter mortality, but wild turkeys are adaptable and tough."
Coup said the Northwest Region has "a lot of areas where there are a lot of birds." These include game lands in Erie, Warren and Venango counties.
"State Game Lands 54 managers reported quite a few birds," he said. "We have a good population overall in this region, so on most of our game lands you can find turkeys."
State Game Lands 54 stretches over 23,132 acres in Jefferson County.
Access is off state Route 28 outside of Brockway. See DeLorme's Pennsylvania Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 46 for area details.
Samara Trusso is a Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife biologist in the Southwest Region.
"We've been having a lot of positive turkey sightings on game lands in Somerset County," Trusso said. "There have also been quite a number of reports in Armstrong County, and more in the Greene-Fayette county areas. We usually have quite a lot of turkeys reported in northern Washington County toward the greater Pittsburgh area. Urban habitat can actually provide quite well for turkeys, giving them a safe place to roost and backyard bird feeders that provide a good food source. There's also quite a bit of agriculture quite close to Pittsburgh."
Justin Vreeland, wildlife management supervisor in the South-central Region, said that predicting spring hunting prospects before the final fall harvest numbers were in (which they were not, at press time) would be difficult.
"The size and composition, and therefore, effects, of the fall 2008 harvest in Pennsylvania are unknown," Vreeland said. "A large fall harvest coupled with poor fall food conditions or harsh winter weather, or both, can reduce over-winter populations of turkeys, or leave individual turkeys in poor condition coming into the spring season. Of these factors, we can only now be certain that fall foods were in only poor to fair supply over much of the region.
"However," he continued, "where turkey populations currently are healthy (stable or increasing), we can expect decent spring hunting prospects. Hunters seeking good spring gobbler hunting in south-central Pennsylvania should seek areas where oak mortality from gypsy moth infestation in 2007 and 2008 and cicada damage in 2008, were light, or hunt areas in close proximity to agricultural fields."
Much of the region suffered gypsy moth or cicada outbreaks over the past two years, Vreeland noted.
"These areas had dramatically lower -- some near non-existent -- acorn crops in 2008," he said. "Turkeys will be avoiding these areas into the spring season. The birds will more likely be found closer to developed food plots and agricultural areas that will have leftover grains or corn stubble from the fall growing season, or produce edible early spring vegetation like winter wheat, or possibly early insect production."
In predominantly forested areas with lesser amounts of agricultural habitat, Vreeland advised hunters to scout areas with diverse hardwoods including hickory, tulip poplar, cucumber, gum, sassafras and maple.
"Barberry and spicebush can also be important late-winter and spring foods," he noted. "All these plants produce seeds eaten by turkeys and, with acorns in short supply, they may hold more turkeys than elsewhere.
"Naturally, turkeys will be seeking to conserve as much energy as possible," he added, "especially if the winter and spring are harsh. Hunters should try to locate hardwood stands near dense stands of conifers, which provide good thermal cover."
Vreeland said that, in general, prospects are fair to good on state game lands in most of the South-central Region. After consulting with other biologists in the area, Vreeland provided their picks for best spring gobbler hunting grounds. Excellent hunting was predicted for private lands and state game lands throughout northern Blair County, including SGLs 198, 166 and 147.
Top Game Lands Hunts
State Game Lands 198 in Newry offers 6,950 acres of hunting territory open to the public. Access is off the William Penn Highway, U.S. Route 22. Check DeLorme's PAG, Map 74, for area details.
For information about the 10,440-acre State Game Lands 166 in Canoe Creek, see DeLorme's Map 60; for State Game Lands 147, spanning 6,074 acres in Martinsburg, check Map 75.
A wet spring 2008 in Bedford County dampened wild turkey nesting success, with fewer broods sighted. Still, biologists said that a large carryover population of adult birds would provide great hunting opportunities, with some of the best to be had on SGL 48.
This relatively large area provides 10,807 acres of hunting grounds in Gravel Pit. Access is off state Route 96. See DeLorme's PAG, Map 88, for more information about the area.
Fulton County had fair poult production last year and turkeys are reported to be abundant countywide. Hunters may want to scout out SGL 128 this spring. This 1,695-acre area is in Amaranth. Access is off Interstate Route 70. Check DeLorme's PAG, Map 89, for area details.
In Franklin County, the wild turkey population is doing well and gobblers are plentiful. Hunter focus should be on SGL 169. This public hunting area spans 2,440 acres in Green Spring. Access is off I-76.
See DeLorme's PAG, Map 77, for area details.
Biologists reported that Huntingdon County turkeys are thriving. There were numerous brood sightings reported despite the wet spring. This area had a large grape crop in 2007 and a mild winter over 2007-2008, thus boosting winter survival rates. Excellent hunting opportunities can be had here on SGLs 73, 121 and 99.
State Game La
nds 73 in Martinsburg provides hunters with a whopping 20,817 acres of land to scout for turkeys.
Access is via state Route 26. Check DeLorme's PAG, Map 75, for more information about the area.
Take state Route 994 for access to the 2,207-acre SGL 121 in New Grenada. See DeLorme's PAG, Map 75 for area details. Or, try State Game Lands 99 in Three Springs, with 3,296 acres. Access may be had off state Route 747. Check Map 76 for more information.
"Wild turkeys are doing extremely well throughout the Northeast Region," said Kevin Wenner, wildlife management supervisor for the Northeast Region. "I'm not sure they've ever been as high as they are now. I would have to say the wild turkey hunting would continue to be exceptional in 2009. Numbers are at their highest right now. We're supporting a two-bird limit and it doesn't appear to be causing any negative impact to the turkey population."
Wenner's top picks for excellent Northeast Region wild turkey hunting included the following public lands:
State Game Lands 13 in Sonestown, at 49,528 acres, is one of the largest in Pennsylvania. Access may be had off State Route 42. Check DeLorme's PAG, Map 51, for more information about the region.
State Game Lands 57 in Noxen is another vast tract of public land open to Keystone State hunters, spanning nearly 44,500 acres.
Access is off state Highway 29. See DeLorme's PAG, Map 52, for area details.
State Game Lands 219 in Warren Center offers hunters 5,619 acres of turkey-hunting options. Access may be had off the Warren Center Road. Check DeLorme's PAG, Map 38 for area details.
The 1,547-acre SGL 289 is in Burlington. Access is off U.S. Route 6. See DeLorme's PAG, Map 37, for more information.
For details on Pennsylvania's Wildlife Management Units, state game lands maps and general wild turkey hunting information, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us/.
Information may also be obtained by calling the Pennsylvania Game Commission at (717) 787-4250, or any of the regional numbers listed on the Web site.