Turkey hunting hard, but memorable

Turkeys are a popular game species to target throughout many parts of the United States. Hunters have the opportunity to pursue five different subspecies, which include the Osceola, Rio Grande, Gould, Merriam and eastern.

Saturday is the opening day of the spring gobbler season here in Pennsylvania where the eastern is king. Thousands of turkey hunters will be in the field trying to trick a bearded bird into coming within shotgun range.

Penn’s Woods’ turkeys are without a doubt the toughest birds to hunt in the country.

The main reason why our local birds are so challenging is the pressure they face on a yearly basis. Pennsylvania boasts a tremendous hunting population that is second to none. The state has constantly been at the top of resident hunter numbers.

Just like deer and bear seasons, a high amount of hunters in a small area creates competition. Despite some big private properties in the state, most of the land being hunted is state forests, game lands or smaller posted areas. These areas usually mean no rest for the weary turkeys.

All those hunters throughout the woods will educate the birds they are pursuing. Turkeys have very good memories and typically after one encounter with a hunter they become almost unhuntable in that area. Over-calling, scaring a bird off the roost and being picked off by an approaching turkey can turn them into an Einstein with feathers.

Another reason why Pennsylvania turkeys are hard to hunt is the terrain. The state is full of mountains and ridges that the birds use to their advantage.

Everyone has seen television shows where hunters stick a decoy out in the middle of a field, make a few calls and the turkeys come running through an open area. That is not the typical turkey hunt in Pennsylvania.

That is the reason I believe hunting gobblers in the Keystone State is very rewarding. Most of the times the birds make you work to get a good shot opportunity. There are the rare mornings when you can get in on a bird, call and have it come in like it is on a string, but those mornings are few and far between. Those birds are usually also jakes.

To me, turkey hunting in the Juniata Valley is a prime example of the phrase “It is about the journey, not the destination.” The most intense and enjoyable part of turkey hunting is the time between hearing a gobble in the distance for the first time and trying to draw that bird into a shooting lane.

Many times the hunt does not go as planned, but that does not mean it was failure. I have been on plenty of exciting hunts that did not end up with a downed bird, yet I still went home very satisfied.

Those are the hunts that keep you going back onto the mountain with calls trying to fill your tag. Those same hunts are why Pennsylvanians love their turkey hunting – which is considered as good as it gets.


Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.