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Turkeys are, if nothing else, resilient birds, and that should mean some good hunting this fall, say Pennsylvania Game Commission officers around the state and region.
That's true even though the state's turkey flock is not what it was a few years ago. The population is estimated at 342,000 birds this year, down from 363,000 in 2003 and from 410,000 -- the all-time high -- in 2001.

This past spring wasn't especially kind to the birds either, as wet, cold weather ruined more than a few nests during the peak nesting period of late May and early June.

Indications are that many birds re-nested, however, and the turkey population remains above the commission's statewide management goal. As a result, hunting should be good, said Mary Jo Casalena, the commission's turkey biologist.

The key to making this fall's turkey season better than last year's -- when hunters shot 31,100 birds, the seventh-best fall harvest ever -- will be to first find what they're feeding on, she said.

"This year, the flocks are larger, thanks to good recruitment, but abundant natural food supplies in many areas will once again make hunting challenging if hunters don't scout for flocks before the season," Casalena said.

"Given the abundance of nuts, grapes and other mast that is falling on top of forest leaf litter, turkeys may not scratch as much this fall searching for food. Look for sign other than scratchings, such as droppings, tracks and feathers."

The fall turkey season opens Saturday in most places. Closing dates vary by wildlife management unit, so hunters are reminded to check the hunting digest for the rules where they'll be.

Meanwhile, most wildlife conservation officers in western Pennsylvania expect the turkey season to be a good one.

"Turkey hunting should be excellent in this area," said Washington County's Frank Leichtenberger. "While the population of birds seems to have stabilized or gone down in areas, there are still plenty of them in all parts of the district."

"Summer brood sightings have not been great, but this species continues to thrive throughout the district," said Tom Fazi, in eastern Westmoreland County.

The situation appears mixed in Indiana and Cambria counties.

Jack Lucas, officer in southern Indiana, said "turkeys have been seen everywhere," while Pat Snickles, in northern Indiana, said turkeys are hit and miss. In Cambria, Shawn Harshaw said he's seen "a steady decline in the number of birds in the last two years," though officer Larry Olsavsky said hunters who scout in his district can find birds everywhere.

Greene County officers Randy Crago and Rod Burns both said turkey populations are good -- perhaps even on the rise -- there.

Somerset County officer Brian Witherite said hunters might want to concentrate on game lands 50 and 82 because that's where turkey sightings have been most consistent. Fayette County officer Stephen Leiendecker suggested hunters look for birds on game lands 51, 138 and 238.

"I will not say wild turkeys are everywhere since I have had a few guys ask me where everywhere is located," said Butler County officer Randy Pilarcik. "I will just say they are numerous throughout the county."

Jefferson County conservation officer Mike Girosky said hunters might encounter some smaller birds -- byproducts of a late hatch -- but "hunting should be good because of the number of mature birds that were around after the season last spring."

"Overall, the big birds are in excellent shape and hunters should have a good fall hunt," agreed Armstrong County's Barry Seth.

Bob Frye can be reached at or (724) 838-5148.

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