Our Top Spring Turkey County

After all is said and done, this southwestern Pennsylvania county is tops in turkey harvests most years. Here's a look at how it stacks up and the outlook for 2003.

By Vic Attardo

When it comes to the most consistent spring turkey harvest year-after-year, Pennsylvania's Turkey Management Area 1-A, in the southwest corner of the state, wins the numbers game hands down.

TMA 1-A is not the largest of the state's 12 TMAs, but it produces the best statistics. The harvest numbers for 2001, which are the latest the Pennsylvania Game Commission had prepared by press time, showed 1-A hunters getting the lion share of the birds. The total spring 2001 harvest for the state was 49,186 turkeys, a new record. According to Mary Jo Caselena, PGC turkey biologist, the spring harvest in TMA 1-A was 17,308 birds, some 35 percent of the statewide total! The next highest TMA count was 7,713 spring birds in TMA 7-A, a very large district in the center of the commonwealth.

"It's incredible," said Casalena. "I looked at my numbers thinking, 'This isn't right.'"

Only a preliminary statistical average is available for the 2002 spring harvest, but once again TMA 1-A leads the pack.

So why is 1-A so good? Casalena believes it's because the habitat is prime for turkeys, and it hasn't been as heavily hunted as other areas.

"It's not what you traditionally think of turkey habitat," Casalena said. "These are not big, expansive woods. It's more of a mosaic of wood lots, agricultural land and reverting fields. Also, there are not many elevation changes in broad sections of TMA 1A, but it does have many small creeks and drainages."

Casalena also said the turkeys of TMA 1-A have everything they need within a short distance, and so they have smaller home ranges. The region is rich with oak trees, but it also has ample stands of beech and cherry.

"With this variety, most years there is a good mast crop; if one tree species doesn't produce, another mast tree does," she said.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Weather also plays a role in turkey survival in TMA 1A.

"The winters aren't as severe as they are in the north-central area, and the snow doesn't last as long. With these factors, turkeys usually go into spring very healthy."

Besides weather and habitat, the PGC's management program also plays a role in the turkey population. In the past, the fall hunting season in TMA 1-A has been "conservative," Casalena said. "Prior to the fall 2002 season, TMA 1-A was restricted to a two-week hunting period. The fall 2002 season was the first three-week hunt in TMA 1-A."

The management zone is not full of public hunting opportunities; however, it is not devoid of them, either.

"There are more state game lands than state forest, but they are not large game lands," Casalena noted. "What they do have is mining lands, and the mining companies often keep their land open to public hunting."

More than 700,000 acres in the southwest are open under cooperative agreement with the state, including Cabot Oil and Gas lands. Pipelines and roads used to serve the well heads are planted with vegetation that attract turkeys.

Greene County in the southwest corner of TMA 1-A is typical of reclaimed game lands that Casalena was talking about. It is not heavily wooded; in fact, this is one of the least wooded areas in the state.

Greene County's focus is livestock farming. Amid these rolling pastures, turkeys hide as if four walls protected them. Calling often brings the birds into the narrow bottom between hills, but sometimes the birds refuse to show themselves on the top of a crest. Many a hunter has been frustrated when a responding bird has failed to appear on the horizon, but many a hunter has been pleased when a bird rounded the bottom of a hill and came out through a draw. That's the type of turkey hunting Greene County hunters can expect.

For public lands, State Game Lands 179 (SGL) lies near the West Virginia border. Consisting of 5,325 acres, SGL 179 features rolling hill terrain with a good number of streams. Areas near Triumph and Ashtree, Blackhorse Run and Roberts Run are good places to look for turkeys.

To reach SGL 179 from Waynesburg-Morrisville - the two largest towns - in Green County, take Route 21/18 west toward Rogerville. Follow Route 18 southwest to White Cottage and Nettle Hill. Various state and township roads, including state Route 3007, township Route 379 and township Route 410 lead to SGL 179. The game lands can also be found north of Jollytown on state Route 3008.

Another good public hunt in TMA 1-A is SGL 223, which is spread out across the southeastern side of Greene County. Located east of Interstate Route 79 between Mount Morris and Morrisville, SGL 223 contains 3,203 acres east of the Monongahela River and features the rolling hills and pasturelands common in Greene County.

Heading south from Pittsburgh, I-79 is the obvious route to this section of Greene County. Once south of Morrisville, there is no north-south parallel road that will take a traveler all the way through SGL 223. To reach the upper part of the game lands, take Route 21 west from Morrisville to state Route 2013 to Fordyce. Frosty Run cuts through this part of the game lands.

For the more southern parts of SGL 223, continue on I-79 and head toward Garards Ford, or farther south to Davistown.

Route 119 forms the eastern border of TMA 1-A, but before crossing the highway there is one state game lands in Fayette County that's worth hunting. SGL 238 contains 663 acres west of the Monongahela River near Adah.

SGL 238 is easy to reach and accessible for Pittsburgh-area hunters and many other southwestern-region sportsmen. Route 166 north of Masontown cuts through SGL 238. From the east or west, take Route 21 to Route 166 and head north toward state Route 3013.

In the southwestern corner of the state SGL 302 surrounds Enlow Fork, a seven-mile-long tributary of Wheeling Creek. SGL 302 contains 915 acres. It has excellent turkey habitat, but it is more wooded than some other state game lands east of Laurel Ridge.

Another possible area to turkey hunt is Ryerson Station State Park near the Furman Highway (Route 21). In addition to the hunting oppo

rtunities around this 1,164-acre state park, camping facilities are available. For more information on the state park, call (724) 428-4254 or (888) PA-PARKS.

To reach SGL 302, take Route 21 west from Waynesburg toward Graysville. Follow the Graysville-West Finley Road to the bridge at Burdette, go across the bridge and make a left into SGL 302.

To reach Ryerson Station State Park, follow Route 21 past Wind Ridge to state Route 3022.

Also in Washington County, hunters will find good turkey hunting around SGL 232. A few years ago SGL 232 contained less than 1,200 acres. However, in a land swamp with Allegheny Power Corporation, the PGC received 4,000 acres in Blain, Donegal, Hopewell and Independence township that were added to SGL 232. (The PGC gave up 1,275 acres of SGL 117 in the exchange.)

The 4,000 acres the state received include a portion of Buffalo Creek, which makes SGL 232 even more attractive to turkeys.

This newly enlarged game lands are less than hour from Washington. Take Route 844 west to Route 331. The game lands are between Acheson and Dunsfort.

SGL 303 is a small state game lands near Jefferson. It contains 221 acres and is more wooded than other southwestern public lands, but it has fine turkey habitat. From Washington, take Route 18 north to Route 50. Follow Route 50 west to Avella, and then take state Route 4018 toward Jefferson.

For hunting information in the TMA 1-A, contact the PGC's Southwest Region office in Ligonier at (877) 877-7137. Last year the office was moved to its new headquarters at the former Fairfield Elementary School along Route 711 North. The local number is (724) 238-9523.

For accommodations in Fayette County, call the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau at (800) 333-5661. For Greene County, call (724) 627-8687. For Washington County accommodations, call (800) 531-4114.

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