Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lots Of Places To Find Gobblers This Spring Turkey Season

It would be a stretch to say Pennsylvania's turkey hunters have suffered greatly in recent years.
It's true the number of birds is down. At its peak in 2001, the statewide flock numbered 288,000, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates. Last year it was thought to be 234,500.
But that's still a lot of turkeys.
Last year's spring gobbler harvest was 41,180, for example. That's the second highest of the last five years.
Western Pennsylvania in particular has plenty of birds.
“Every one of my game lands is a good one for turkeys,” said Art Hamley, the commission's land management group supervisor for Armstrong and southern Indiana counties. “They're literally everywhere.”
The recent weather may make it a bit easier for hunters to call them in during the season that runs from April 30-May 31, too.
Mary Jo Casalena, the commission's turkey biologist, said “early springs” like this one coax hens into nesting ahead of schedule. They're on eggs one to two weeks earlier than is typical.
“That's great news for hunters, because those lonely toms will be gobbling more and coming in easier to calling hunters,” Casalena said.
That doesn't guarantee success, of course. But, Casalena added, gobblers' vulnerability to hunters increases as their “go-to harem hens” drop out of circulation and the competition for those remaining becomes greater.
As for where to find birds, a poll of commission land management group supervisors reveals some game lands offer potentially better hunting than others.
Travis Anderson has authority for almost all of the game lands in Somerset County, as well as those in eastern Westmoreland. Two stand out, he said.
One is game land 82 in southern Somerset.
“It has a lot of fields, a lot of herbaceous openings, a lot of food plots, a lot of sharecropping fields. It's also got some nice high ridges so guys can sit up high and call,” Anderson said.
The other is game land 42 in eastern Westmoreland, he said. It's big, mountainous and wooded. Hunters can access it at many points, though, with one of the most popular an 8-mile road located off Route 271 north of Ligonier.
Typically gated, it's open for spring gobbler season and offers access to the interior of the game lands.
“I've seen a lot of turkeys up there, a lot of gobblers,” Anderson said.
Elsewhere, land manager Steve Leiendecker recommended game lands 296, near Smithton in Westmoreland County, and 51, near Dunbar in Fayette.
At the former, typically gated administrative roads — one off Mt. Etna Road, another off Banning Road — will be open for hunters. As for the latter, the area around an unnamed commission road that intersects with Dunbar-Ohiopyle Road, near an enormous PennDOT gravel pile, is promising.
“Extensive border edge cuts performed by the food and cover crew have really benefited the turkeys there,” Leiendecker said.
In northern Indiana County, land manager Dan Yahner suggested trying game land 262 and in Cambria County, game lands 108 and 158. All feature reverting strip mines.
“The birds seem to do well on them,” Yahner said. “As soon as the grasshoppers come out, you'll see an awful lot of birds feeing in those areas.”
In Butler County, land manager Jeff Kendall suggested game land 95, most specifically the portion of it closest to Parker and Bruin. Habitat is the reason. In addition to having food plots, he said, it's home to aspen cuts and other cover where birds can hatch and raise young.
“Those are two of the main two things for turkeys, brood-rearing habitat and nesting cover,” Kendall said.
In Armstrong County, game land 105 is worth a try, Hamley said. That's as much because of the country and lack of competition as the birds. It's rugged in spots, with steep hills bordering the Allegheny River.
“For a quality hunt, that's a real pretty area. It's got a lot of birds,” Hamley said. “And you can escape the crowds, so to speak.”
Game land 332 in Indiana, in what's known locally as the Coon Hollow area of Route 286 near Aultman Run, is also good, he said. The 3,000-acre property recently became a state game land. It hasn't been surveyed yet, but there are signs up to identify it, he added.
As for Beaver and Washington counties, land manager Doug Dunkerly said he couldn't really pick any game lands as being better than another.
He did say, though, that hunters visiting those in Washington County could increase their odds of finding birds by focusing on gas pipeline right-of-ways — the newer the better.
“They usually have a lot of forbs, so they have a lot of insects, a lot of bugs. Of course, the male turkeys aren't doing a lot of feeding right now. But the females are. And where the ladies are, that's where the gobblers are going to be,” Dunkerly said.
“They're pretty open so a guy can see a ways. And there's usually enough vegetation right on the edges so that a guy can tuck himself back in and not be seen.”
Everywhere, patience can pay off, Casalena said.
Some areas likely have a lot of jakes, or younger gobblers, she said. Kendall said he has noticed that in his area, for example.
They typically gobble the least, Casalena said.
“Just because you're not hearing much gobbling doesn't mean they're not there, and hunters anywhere might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of a hunt, even if there's not a lot of calling activity leading up to it,” Casalena said.
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@bobfryeoutdoors.

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