Keystone State turkey numbers are up in all categories, and with a mild spring nesting season, this fall's hunt should be another record-breaker. (October 2009)
Crossbows are legal for use during Pennsylvania's spring and fall turkey seasons.
Photo by Al Raychard.
Pennsylvania's 2008 fall turkey season was one of the most productive in years, up 19 percent from the average harvest of the previous three season's average. The 2008 fall hunters bagged 26,485 turkeys, as compared with 21,900 the prior year.
"The fall harvest increase was expected for several reasons," said Mary Jo Casalena, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wild turkey biologist. "Turkey reproduction was average to above average throughout most of Pennsylvania in 2008, which led to a larger population. More turkeys and poor fall crops of acorns and beechnuts in many forested areas forced turkeys to concentrate around available food sources, and they consequently became more visible and easier for hunters to locate and pattern."
Casalena noted that turkey harvests fluctuate annually in response to factors including fall season length, summer reproduction, hunter participation, fall mast crops and the season's weather. She added that population gains made through the reproduction of the prior nesting season can offset the increased take by fall turkeys hunters. Thus, as of last spring, the state's wild turkey populations are in better shape than in recent years due to better spring conditions for nesting, improved reproduction, and the use of shorter fall seasons when recruitment was below average, she said.
"The outcomes of fall turkey seasons, where hunters may harvest birds of either sex, are very important because they can truly influence turkey populations, unlike in the spring, when only gobblers -- and a few bearded hens -- may be taken by hunters," Casalena said.
"We control the harvest of hens in the fall through season length," she added. "The longer the fall season, the greater the number of hens harvested. Our goal is to provide optimum wild turkey populations in suitable habitats throughout the state for all Pennsylvanians to enjoy."
Though the results of the 2009 spring nesting season were unavailable at press time, the overall spring weather experienced throughout much of the state was relatively warm and dry, typically a recipe for a good reproductive spring. That, coupled with low mortality among wintering adult birds the prior year or two, means things look good for the fall hunt.
With this in mind, here's a look at five top spots to chase toms and hens this spring, based largely on the most productive management zones of last year's fall hunt:
No matter where you live in Pennsylvania you are not too far from some of the most productive fall turkey hunting in the state. That's because centrally located Wildlife Management Unit 4D, which includes Centre County, produced more harvested turkeys last fall than any other unit.
WMU 4D produced not only the highest harvest, at 2,856, but also the highest harvest density, 1.04 turkeys per square mile.
This unit falls within the state's traditional wild turkey range and typically has the full three-weekfall season. Hunters are fortunate in having a good number of publicareas to choose from.
State Game Lands 100 lies in Centre and northern Clearfield counties along the southern side of the Susquehanna River valley (West Branch). The area is laced with smaller secondary hollows, such as Holt Hollow, Buckshot Hollow, and Wrigley Hollow, which feed the main river corridor. The area is heavily forested. Access roads that lead to the interior may be found off Ridge Road in Burnside Township (Centre County). This game lands also borders the vast acreage of Sproul State Forest.
Other Centre County game lands worth investigating for fall turkeys include SGLs 92, 103, 33 and 176. In southern Clinton County, SGL 295 is a good spot.
Just a bit to the east WMU 4E boasted the second highest harvest last fall, based on the kill per square mile formula. The unit also covers such counties as Montour, Northumberland and Luzerne.
Available game lands within this area include SGLs 55 and 56 in Columbia County and Montour County's SGL 226.
One of the more impressive public areas is Columbia County's SGL 226 in northern Columbia County, south of the Lycoming County line.
State Game Lands 226 features a variety of habitats. Mostly forested, it is interspersed with several food plots. Parts of the tract feature fairly rugged terrain with rolling hills in others. Access is very good, with several township roads bisecting the area, with interior trails offering more access.
Ants Hill Road runs north to south through the game lands' western end. Ridge Road runs from east to west through the northern portion. Dodson Hills Road and Spruce Run Road provide access to the eastern end of the area.
Numerous walk-in access roads may be picked up off these roads to get away from hunting pressure. State Route 44 passes south of the game lands.
There are a number of Mill Creeks in Pennsylvania. This one happens to flow through an extensive game lands in another of the state's more productive wildlife management units.
WMU 2D had the third highest harvest, again based on a rate of 0.88 birds per square mile.
State Game Lands 74 boasts several thousand acres of the Mill Creek watershed. In general, the public lands are within the Mill Creek valley, though there are some areas where the property lines extend farther away. Most of SGL 74 is in Clarion County, with the eastern end in Jefferson.
Game Lands 74 boasts vast stands of hemlock, and there is also significant coverage in the form of oak, hickory and maple. The area is north of Interstate Route 80 (use either the Corsica or Clarion exits) and access is good.
To get to the interior of the tract, in Clarion County, enter near the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Clarion River access, at the mouth of Mill Creek, or off the Fisher/Strattenville Road.
In Jefferson County, use Frozen Toe Road east of Fisher.
WMU 4C, with a harvest rate of 0.87, was third in the state last year.
s looking for a great public area in Dauphin County should consider SGL 211, which is east of the Susquehanna River and the town of Dauphin.
State Game Lands 211 contains several lengthy ridges that extend laterally from the river valley, including Second Mountain, Third Mountain and Peters Mountain.
State Route 443 passes south of the tract. State Route 325 runs along the northern portion. Trails such as Horseshoe Trail provide a means of navigating the interior of the public hunting area.
Pittsburgh-area sportsmen don't have to travel far to reach vast public lands with good wild turkey populations.
Consider Forbes State Forest, located within the high elevations of the Laurel Ridge. Most of this area falls within WMU 2C, which had a significant turkey harvest last fall at 0.51.
Forbes State Forest
Forbes State Forest contains over 20 separate tracts of state forestland in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties covering over 50,000 acres. Six state parks within this state forest including Ohiopyle, Kooser and Laurel Hill provide campground services at various levels. Linn Run State Park has rustic cabins for rent.
Route 30 crosses Laurel Ridge along its southern end. Route 711 provides access to the north.
State Game Lands 42, which borders the forestland, adds more public hunting area.
Pennsylvania's fall turkey seasons vary in duration. Consult the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us for precise season dates and other details.