Our Finest Spring Turkey Hunts

Our Finest Spring Turkey Hunts

Another record turkey harvest is possible this spring, and our expert has

the details on where to find the best public-land hunting near you.

By Vic Attardo

Pennsylvania's spring "turkey trot" has become the most popular game in the forest. Since 2000, spring gobbler hunters have outnumbered their fall counterparts, and for good reason.

If preliminary estimates by Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists hold up, last season was only the second year the state has seen a spring harvest greater than 40,000 birds.

Preliminary hunter report cards show an approximate harvest of 44,500 gobblers in spring 2002. The final tally for the 2001 spring season was 49,186 bearded birds, a new record.

According to Mary Jo Casalena, the PGC's turkey biologist, 2001 marked the third consecutive year that the spring harvest surpassed the state's old record of 36,400 (set in 1995). With harvests like these, it's no wonder increasing numbers of Keystone State hunters are pursuing spring birds each year.

According to Casalena, hunter participation for 2001 was 230,115 in spring and 228,564 in fall. The total number of turkey hunters in the state for 2001 was 293,772, a 7 percent decline from the 315,505 hunters in 1999 attributed in part to the hunting license increase.

Pennsylvania's best spring turkey habitat features a good mix of fields, woods and secluded ridges. Photo by J. Michael Kelly

Still, it can't be denied that spring gobbler hunting has outpaced fall hunting and, even with a decline in hunter participation, spring harvests have been excellent.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has announced possible changes in its wildlife management zones, but there are currently 11 turkey management areas (TMAs) across Pennsylvania. TMAs are used to delineate seasons and help wildlife managers gauge the health of the turkey population.

Here's a look at each TMA and how things are shaping up for the 2003 spring turkey season.

Going strictly by the numbers, TMA 1-A is the undisputed leader in harvest counts in the Keystone State. In 2001, TMA 1-A accounted for 35 percent of the total spring gobbler harvest, or 17,297 birds. No other TMA came close.

TMA 1-A contains 2,121 square miles of forest from Mercer County south to half of Fayette County. However, a good block of its turkey-rich habitat is actually in the southwest corner among the rolling hills of Butler, Beaver, Washington and Greene counties.

Within TMA 1-A, state game lands 245, 296 and 285 offer Southwest Region hunters a great chance at bagging a spring bird.

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

SGL 285, northwest of Beaver Falls in Beaver County, provides 2,149 acres of wooded habitat near Cannelton. Little Beaver Creek is the centerpiece of this game lands, which 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.

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 borders the game lands south of Jacobs Creek.

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

With some TMAs encompassing huge chunks of the state, you wouldn't think that a smaller management area would consistently garner large harvest figures. However, TMA 1-B near Lake Erie in the northwest corner of the state might change your thinking.

TMA 1-B generally rates in the top two or three based on gobblers taken per forested square mile (FSM). In spring 2001, TMA 1-B showed the second-best harvest density with seven birds per FSM. This accounted for 12 percent of the total state harvest. Downstate sportsmen should definitely make the trip to Erie and Crawford counties, the two counties in TMA 1-B.

The lightly populated southern areas of Erie and Crawford counties, particularly the eastern halves, have plenty of state game lands. Erie County has 15,769 acres in public holdings, while Crawford County contains 25,592 acres.

In southeastern Erie County, gobbler chasers have a choice among six pocket-sized public hunts, SGLs 167, 162, 102, 190, 192, 263. These six game lands around Union City and Corry combined cover only 2,545 acres, but the habitat is rich and diverse and holds plenty of turkeys.

The first four game lands are northeast and northwest of Union City. Take Route 8 to reach SGLs 167, 162 and 102. For SGL 190, take the 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 Russel Road.

In western Crawford County, hunters may choose among SGLs 202, 85, 200, 199, 122 and 69. The first three game lands cover just less than 800 acres. The remaining three are much larger. SGL 199 contains 1,131 acres; SGL 122 has 2,649 acres and SGL 69, the largest, has over 4,496 acres. All are west of Meadville.

Because of its size, elbowroom and proximity to Meadville, first-time visitors to the region might want to concentrate their efforts on wooded SGL 69. The core of this game lands is accessible from Meadville by going west on Route 27 to Route 198 past Gilberts Corner.

For information on accommodations in the region, contact the Crawford County Tourism Promotion Agency, 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 PGC's Northwest office at (877) 877-0299.

Common turkey wisdom might lead you to believe that all of the state's best turkey hunting areas would be in the "old woods" se

ction of the Commonwealth, but that's not the case.

In recent years, TMA 9-B, which is in the densely populated southeast corner of the state, ranks in the top three turkey management areas for birds taken per FSM. In spring 2001, Southeast Region hunters garnered 3,084 birds. That comes out to 6.60 gobblers per forested square mile (and a 34 percent success rate), or 6 percent of the total state harvest. In the crowded counties of Bucks, Montgomery and Berks, those are impressive numbers.

Northern Bucks County and western Montgomery County have some public hunting grounds where the turkey population has skyrocketed in recent years.

SGL 157 and the huntable lands at Nockamixon State Park are prime spots for spring longbeards. SGL 157 contains over 2,000 acres of woods, fields and an isolated mountain. In addition, SGL 157, adjacent to Nockamixon State Park, offers another 3,000 acres of similar terrain.

Southwest of Lake Nockamixon, SGL 139 and 196 have a total of 560 acres of second-growth timber where turkeys reside. Though the two game lands carry different numbers, only Route 309 separates them.

Both SGL 139 and SGL 196 are north of Sellersville. Turn left from the Route 309 highway to Lawn Avenue and left 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 County has over 1,000 acres of good turkey habitat. The state park is a combination of farmland, sharecropped fields and thin woods. Though the huntable parcels are spread out across the park, access is available on many rural roads.

For information on Nockamixon State Park, contact the superintendent, 1542 Mountain View Drive, Quakertown, PA 18951; or call (215) 529-7300 or 1-888-PA-PARKS.

Stop in at the park office of Evansburg State Park, 851 May Hall Road in Collegeville, for a free map showing the huntable grounds. For other information, call (610) 409-1150 or the toll-free state number.

For information on TMA 9-B, contact the PGC's Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470. For accommodations in the area, call the Bucks County Visitors Bureau at (800) 836-2825.

In the northeast area of the state, TMA-5 encompasses a vast region of mountains, wetlands and forests. In forested acreage, TMA 5 ranks third in the state with 3,312 wooded square miles.

It also ranks highly in turkey harvest figures. In spring 2001, 2,227 gobblers were taken there, and in preliminary 2002 spring estimates, between 4,976 and 5,196 gobblers were reported.

It was anticipated that last year would be a good one for TMA-5 hunters, and the final figures certainly bear this out. This year might be even better because portions of TMA-5 are only 90 minutes from Philadelphia.

Many TMA boundaries cross the jurisdictions of Game Commission regional offices and TMA-5 is no exception. However, of the 14 counties managed by the PGC's Northeast Region office, most of which are in TMA-5, there are over 36,340 acres of state game lands open to hunters. There are also thousands of acres of state forest available during the spring turkey season.

TMA-5 incorporates a huge block of land in northeast Pennsylvania from the New York and New Jersey state lines south to Route 22 in the Lehigh Valley and east to routes 309 and 29.

The brightest star in the region is Delaware State Forest in Pike and Monroe counties. At 80,056 acres, this public land makes up a major chunk of the Poconos east of Route 380. However, the forest is widely fragmented. Sections of the forest are as far south as Route 191 at Parkside, while other sections are as far north as the Lackawaxen River. Substantial chunks of the forest are bordered by popular state parks, where hunting is also permitted. Once you get into the Poconos, you can expect to find forest parcels from the corner of routes 80 and 380 up to and beyond Route 84 east to the Delaware River.

Despite this fragmentation, Delaware State Forest offers superb turkey hunting opportunities. Thick, mountainous woodlands provide prime habitat for Pocono birds.

A key road into the state forest is Route 402 between Marshalls Creek and Route 6. There are numerous well-marked parking areas with trailheads on this winding road. The majority of trails are between Pecks Pond and White Deer Lake.

For more information on Delaware State Forest, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry at (570) 895-4000. Or write the Bureau of Forestry, HC1 Box 95A, Swiftwater, PA 18370-9723.

Delaware State Forest surrounds portions of Promised Land State Park, which contains over 450 acres, but its best feature is its year-round tent camping and 12 rental cabins. Access to the park is along Route 390. Exit off I-84 and turn south. Route 390 is also a good way to reach portions of the state forest north of I-84.

For information on Promised Land State Park, call (570) 676-3428, or write the park superintendent, R.R. 1, Box 96, Greentown, PA 18426.

If your inclination is to hunt deep woods, try SGL 91 east of Wilkes Barre. With 14,459 acres in Luzerne County and 2,200 acres in Lackawanna County, this game lands contains several wetlands in addition to its wooded hills.

SGL 91 is contains several parcels. The block farthest east of Wilkes Barre is the largest and most contiguous section. This area is divided by Bear Creek.

Access to SGL 91 is from Route 115 to state Route 2038 toward Pleasant View Summit. Additional access is from Dupont at Route 315 to state Route 2035 (Bear Creek Drive). State Route 2035 turns south to Pleasant View Summit, offering roadside access.

It can be difficult to separate the 25,500 acres of SGL 127 in Monroe County from the state parks it surrounds. But, Tobyhanna and Gouldsboro state parks offer some good hunting on land that is both wooded and swampy.

Some access for SGL 127 is west of Gouldsboro at the intersection of routes 507 and 380. Turn left off Route 380. After crossing several small bridges there are signs directing hunters to the public lands.

The game lands is divided into several segments, with the largest parcel extending west of Route 380. A smaller block is directly below Tobyhanna Lake. SGL 127 contains the upper reaches of the Lehigh River and there is good turkey habitat surrounding these headwaters

More access to SGL 127 is along Route 423, two miles south of Tobyhanna. Parking areas and pull-offs can be found along this winding road, which crosses Tobyhanna Creek.

The two state parks contain over 8,000 acres and offer good turkey hunting. To reach the general area, follow I-80 and exit at either route

423 or 507. The section below Tobyhanna Lake can also be reached by taking Route 196 to Route 423 and turning west.

Call (717) 894-8336 for more information on the state parks.

SGL 183 is another good spot for turkey hunting in TMA 5. Near the Lackawaxen River in Pike County, SGL 183 contains 2,778 acres that include small ponds, dense woods and Decker Creek.

SGL 183 features some rugged terrain, particularly close to the creek. Substantial cliffs exist on the northern side of the main road, but on the southern side, there is a level plateau that's not too difficult to hunt.

Hunters may reach SGL 183 by traveling Route 590 east of Hawley. It is also accessible off Route 6. Follow the signs to the rifle range and satellite farm. The road to the satellite dishes cuts through the game lands and provides numerous parking spaces near food plots.

Wayne County offers some 20,637 acres of state game lands. The largest is SGL 159 with 9,367 acres. Access is via Route 371 and Cold Springs north of Tanners Falls.

For more information on game lands in the northeast region of TMA 5, contact the PGC's Northeast Region office at (877) 877-9107. For accommodations in the region, contact the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau at (800) POCONOS.

The southern portion of TMA-5 also has a good amount of public land and turkey habitat. Carbon County has terrain very similar to the Pocono resort area and contains over 27,000 acres of state games.

SGL 217 offers 1,304 acres of good turkey habitat in Carbon County and another 5,012 acres in Lehigh County. SGL 217 is along Blue Mountain east and west of the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Route 476). Hunters often park along the turnpike shoulder to gain access. SGL 40 has over 6,118 acres also divided by the turnpike. Access to the southern portions of SGL 40 is along Route 940.

For accommodations in the area, call the Lehigh Valley Visitors Bureau at (800) 747-0561. For hunting information on the southern portion of TMA-5 in Lehigh County, contact the PGC's Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470.

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