Pennsylvania's Top Spring Turkey Counties

State biologists have high expectations for the 2004 spring turkey season, and these top-rated counties lead the pack when it comes to harvest numbers and hunter success.

By Vic Attardo

While recent spring turkey harvests have showed significant declines, biologist Mary Jo Casalena of the Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn't believe the turkey population has reached its peak. With good weather and strong mast crops, Casalena said that the state's turkey flock and the hunter harvest could increase.

"From 1999 to 2002, we saw an incredible jump in the harvest," Casalena said. "And then last year it declined. The long-term jump was because we had easy winters and a great mast crop. But in 2003, we had spotty mast and bad weather, particularly for brood rearing.

"Together these conditions will result in a drop in the turkey population for a couple of years, but I don't believe harvests or the population have reached a peak yet."

Casalena cited one unchanged factor for her optimism.

"The reason we have the potential for an increasing population is our great habitat," she noted.

Photo by D. Toby Thompson

The turkey population throughout Pennsylvania has fluctuated between 360,000 to 400,000 birds over the last two years. According to Casalena, this represents a flock that is doing exceptionally well because research has shown that turkey populations can fluctuate up to 50 percent from one year to another and still return a high harvest.

While some turkey hunters are already calling for a cutback in the harvest, Casalena said she sees no need for this at present. But if any season would be cut back, it would be the fall season, not the spring gobbler season, she said.

"We have established some liberal fall hunting seasons," Caselena noted. "If we do have a drastic drop in the population, a cutback in the fall either-sex season is an easy way to respond."

Spring 2002 records, the latest complete figures available as of press time, showed a statewide harvest of 41,147 birds. Preliminary figures indicated a harvest of 44,500 bearded turkeys, proving that the numbers do change as the PGC researches each hunt. The final 2001 spring harvest was logged at 49,186 birds, which verifies a marked decline over the two seasons, yet 2002 was the second time the spring turkey harvest has been greater than 40,000 birds.

Statewide, spring turkey hunters are averaging a harvest of 1.9 gobblers per forested square mile. As in the past, harvest figures continue to be highest in the western and eastern turkey management areas.

TMA 9-B on the southeastern side of the state recorded a spring 2002 harvest of 2,880 birds, down from 3,084 gobblers the year before. TMA 5, which includes the Pocono Mountains, had a harvest of 3,841 birds, which was up from 2,227 birds in 2001. Coincidentally, TMA 7-A, which includes the southcentral and parts of the midcentral area of the state, also had a spring harvest of 3,841 birds. However, this represents a significant drop from the 7,703 birds killed the previous year.

Hunters in the southwest and mid-western part of the state recorded the highest kill figures in 2002. TMA 1-A produced more than double the harvest of its nearest competitor with a spring harvest of 10,559 birds. However, the year before, the same area produced 17,296 bearded birds.

In case you're wondering, the popular areas of the Endless Mountains and northcentral part of the state, home to Potter and Tioga counties, actually recorded a substantial increase between the 2001 and 2002 spring harvests. In TMA 4, the harvest jumped from 2,572 bearded birds to 4,441, and in TMA 3 the spring harvest increased from 2,742 to 3,361 gobblers.

There is one other figure that should give Pennsylvania turkey hunters reason to go into the woods this spring, and that is the hunter success rate. Nearly 20 percent of Pennsylvania's spring turkey hunters have been taking home gobblers since 1999.

Here's a closer look at what's in store for spring turkey hunters in your region in 2004:

TMA 1-A in the southwest corner of the state recorded the highest number of turkeys harvested in spring 2002 with a total of 10,559. With 2,121 forested square miles (FSM), the counties around Pittsburgh recorded some four gobblers per FSM, one of the best rates in the state.

TMA 1-A is a huge region stretching from Mercer and Lawrence counties in the north to Greene and a portion of Fayette County in the south. In terms of hunter interest, the southern areas of TMA 1-A probably get the most attention from hunters.

Within the southern section of TMA 1-A, a host of moderate size state game lands offer hunters a great chance at bagging a bird.

SGL 245 is south of Claysville in Washington County. Its 3,653 wooded and pastured acres are below Route 70. SGL 245 is easily accessible from Pittsburgh, Canonsburg and Washington. Follow Route 70 toward Claysville and then take Route 231 south.

In Washington County, try 4,000- acre SGL 117 near Burgettstown. The area is south of Route 22, and Route 18 bisects the area.

SGL 296 along Jacobs Creek in Fayette and Westmoreland counties provides turkey hunters with over 2,000 acres of prime habitat. North of the Youghiogheny River, SGL 296 is a rugged, hilly area where turkey hunting is both productive and challenging. From Connellsville, take Route 201 to Perryopolis and Layton. State Route 1002 runs along the game lands south of Jacobs Creek.

SGL 285, northwest of Beaver Falls in Beaver County, provides 2,149 acres of water and wood habitat. Little Beaver Creek is the centerpiece of this varied terrain near Cannelton. SGL 285 is accessible from Route 51 north of New Brighton and Beaver Falls. From Route 51, take Cannelton Road to the heart of the game lands.

In Mercer County, a good place to start your turkey hunt is SGL 130 east of Lake Wilhelm. SGL 130 contains 2,356 acres north of Route 965. Also, try SGL 284 west of Leesburg. The varied habitat of SGL 284 offers 1,373 acres near Interstate Route 79.

Also in TMA 1-A, try 1,100-acre SGL 302 in Greene County. This land is mostly wooded hills and borders Enlow Fork Creek. SGL 302 is southwest of Burdette near Route 231.

To reach this public ground, take Route 21 west from Waynesburg to Graysville. Follow the Graysville-West Finley Road to the bridg

e at Burdette, cross the bridge and turn left into the game lands.

For more information on TMA 1-A, contact the PGC's Southwest Region office at (877) 877-7137. For accommodations in the region, contact the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, Four Gateway Center, Pittsburgh, PA 15222; or call (800) 366-0093.

In the southeast corner of the state, TMA 9-B is a significant and consistent producer of spring turkeys. In 2002, the area that includes portions of Bucks, Berks, Montgomery, Lehigh and Northampton counties recorded more than five gobblers per FSM. The total gobbler harvest was listed as 2,880 birds.

Northern Bucks County and western Montgomery County have a number of public hunting grounds where the turkey population has been solid for several years.

SGL 157 and the huntable lands at Nockamixon State Park are prime spots for spring birds. SGL 157 contains over 2,000 acres of woods, fields and an isolated mountain. In addition to the open land of SGL 157, adjacent Nockamixon State Park offers another 3,000 acres of similar terrain, including a 1,450-acre lake. The state park offers plenty of access to brush, brambles and mowed fields.

For more information on Nockamixon State Park, contact the superintendent at 1542 Mountain View Drive, Quakertown, PA 18951; or call (215) 529-7300 or (888) PA-PARKS.

Southwest of Lake Nockamixon, SGLs 139 and 196 offer a total of 560 acres of aging hardwoods where turkeys can be found. Though the two game lands carry different numbers, they're close together, separated by Route 309 north of Sellersville. Turn left from Route 309 to Lawn Avenue and left again on Ridge Valley Road to find SGL 196. Turn right from old Route 309 (Bethlehem Pike) onto Butter Creek Road to find SGL 139.

Evansburg State Park in western Montgomery has over 1,000 acres of good turkey habitat. The state park contains a combination of farmland, sharecropped fields, light-density woods and Skippack Creek. Though the huntable parcels are spread out across the park, access is available throughout. Look for parking areas on Germantown Pike and Ridge Pike.

For a free map showing the huntable grounds of Evansburg State Park, stop in at the park office at 851 May Hall Road in Collegeville. For more information, call (610) 409-1150.

For more information on TMA 9-B, contact the PGC's Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470.

High on the list of the 2002 spring ranking is TMA 1-B in the northwest corner of the state. Hunters there recorded approximately four gobblers per FSM. Though this is a relatively small management area, the total 2002 spring harvest was 3,481 bearded birds.

TMA 1-B includes Crawford and Erie counties.

The southern area of Erie County and the eastern half of Crawford County have a number of great game lands to consider. For example, in southeastern Erie County, hunters can choose between the pocket-sized SGLs 167, 162, 102, 190, 192 and 263. These six game lands around Union City and Corry total just 2,545 acres, but all of them contain good turkey habitat.

The first four game lands are northeast and northwest of Union City. Take Route 8 to reach SGL 167, 162 and 102. For SGL 190, take Kimble Hill Road north of Union City. SGL 192 is southwest of Le Bouf Gardens. SGL 263 is accessible from Route 6 northeast of Corry on Russell Road.

In western Crawford County, hunters have a choice among SGLs 202, 85, 200, 199, 122 and 69. The first three are small public lands totaling less than 800 acres, but the remaining three game lands are much larger. SGL 199 contains 1,130 acres; SGL 122 has 2,649 acres and SGL 69 is the largest with over 4,300 acres. All are located west of Meadville. SGL 69 is accessible from Meadville by going west on Route 27 to Route 198 past Gilberts Corner.

For information on accommodations, contact the Crawford County TPA at 881 Water Street, Meadville, PA 16335; or call (800) 332-2338. For Erie County, call the Erie Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1006 State Street, Erie, PA 16501; or call (814) 454-7191.

For more information on TMA 1-B, contact the PCG's Northwest Region office at (877) 877-0299.

TMA 7-A in the middle of the state has such widely divergent terrain that it's difficult to generalize about the area. In the east, there is agricultural land and low hills. In the western and central portions, mountains are more pronounced; and in the northern area, there are wide river plains and more mountains.

Blair County, near the point where I-80 and Route 76 are spread far apart, offers some terrific turkey hunting. The county is part of both TMA 7-A and TMA 6. In spring 2002, TMA 7-A had a harvest of 3,841 gobblers, while TMA 6 recorded a harvest of 2,521, but more hunters work TMA 7-A.

SGL 166 along Brush Mountain and SGL 147 along Lock Mountain are both good public lands. SGL 166 is a 10,174-acre tract featuring the kind of aging hardwood forests that is typical of Pennsylvania's southern Allegheny Mountains. With Canoe Mountain on the south and Brush Mountain on the north, SGL 166 is an excellent choice for a spring hunt.

At 6,074 acres, SGL 147 contains diverse habitat conditions. The bottom of SGL 147 is on Loop Mountain, a U-shaped contour east of Boaring Spring. SGL 147 begins in the shadow of Lock Mountain near Canoe Creek State Park.

Canoe Creek State Park near SGLs 147 and 166 has camping facilities and rental cabins.

About 45 minutes east of the park, SGL 118 covers 5,941 acres, while SGL 73 has 20,547 acres. Both are on Tussey Mountain on the Blair-Huntingdon county border. To get to SGL 118 from the park, follow Route 866 toward Williamsburg. To reach SGL 73, take Route 866 south to Martinsburg, then Route 164 east toward Clover Creek.

To reach the state park from Harrisburg, follow Route 22 east into the village of Canoe Creek. The same route, traveling west, is the best way for Pittsburgh-area hunters to reach this region.

For more information on Canoe Creek State Park, write the park manager at R.R. 2, Box 560, Holidaysburg, PA 16648; or call (814) 695-6807.

In the middle of the I-80 and turnpike squeeze is Juniata County, west of the Susquehanna River, where a substantial amount of river valley land is available for turkey hunters around the Juniata River. Move away from the valley and climb into some densely wooded and steep turkey-rich mountains.

The ends of Blue Mountain, Blacklog Mountain and Jacks Mountain contain public hunting grounds with strong turkey populations. Tuscarora Mountain is another candidate for good gobbler hunting.

Public-hunting opportunities begin along the southwest bank of the Juniata River, where SGL 171 contains 1,087 acres. Next is the Tuscarora Wild Area with 5,382 acres, and then SGL 88 with 6,930 acres, for more than 13,000 acres of great turkey-hunting opportunities.

Access to SGL 171 is along a dirt road on the south side of the river below Thompsontown. Meanwhile, the Tuscarora Wild Area is along Route 333 south of Thompsontown. The highway parallels much of the wild area, with pull-offs between the upper ridge, the river bank and the railroad tracks.

To reach SGL 88, take Route 22/322 west from Harrisburg and then follow Route 17 west from Millerstown to Ickesburg. From Ickesburg, take Route 74 north across Tuscarora Mountain. Or from Ickesburg, take Saville Road to the village of Saville and then Liberty Valley Road to Route 850, which leads into the southern part of SGL 88.

Fowlers Hollow State Park has 18 primitive campsites available for the spring gobbler season. For more information, contact the park manager through the Colonel Denning State Park office, 1599 Doubling Gap Road, Newville, PA 17241; or call (717) 776-5272. Fowlers Hollow is a few miles southwest of New Germantown.

For more information on the Tuscarora Wild Area, contact the District Forester, Box 67, Blain, PA 17006.

Also in TMA 7-A is Bedford County, which abuts the Maryland border. The county has a center-state feel to it with dense rows of long mountains. From the west there is Wills Mountain, then Evitts Mountain, Martin, Tussey, Warrior, Polish and others all the way down to Town Hill. Between the mountains are narrow valleys that attract birds in spring.

Between Wills and Evitts mountains, the Cumberland Valley contains a host of game lands. Routes 220 and 96 border the mountains that surround this valley, as well as another, narrower valley above the state border.

On Wills Mountain west of Route 220, turkey hunters should try 8,829- acre SGL 48 on top of Wills Mountain. From the Appalachian Thruway, travel west from the villages of Centerville, Patience or Burning Bush. On Route 96, travel east from Gravel Pit Station onto township Road 358.

Or, west of Route 96 on Savage Mountain, consider SGL 104. SGL 104 contains 8,204 acres north of Hyndman. Route 220 is the dividing line between TMAs 7-A and 6.

For more information, contact the PGC's Southcentral Region office at (877) 877-9107. For additional information on statewide accommodations, call (800) VISIT PA.

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