Outdoors in Maine: The wild turkey outlook

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When it comes to Maine sportsmen and wild turkeys, there are two distinct groups: those who hunt ’em and those who hate ’em.

Count me among the former. Having hunted them with a shotgun and a bow, it’s beyond me why anyone who loves to hunt is not enjoying this spring opportunity. There is a mysterious allure to these homely critters whose primordial sounds in the turkey woods still give me goose bumps even to this day. And, if cooked properly, they are tasty table fare as well.

What’s the wild turkey outlook for the spring season? Here is what state bird biologist Brad Allen, himself an avid turkey hunter, had to say:

“I believe both the turkeys and the deer have ‘wintered well.’ Other anecdotal evidence that turkeys fared well this past winter was the arrival at my bird feeder of a brood flock of very small (for this time of year) wild turkeys that I believe were the very late hatched birds I saw in the fall. I was betting that the grouse-sized poults last September might not survive a typical Maine winter. Amazingly, if these are the same birds, most of them apparently made it. I’m thinking that hunters will be seeing a lot of jakes in their decoys come May, finding a longbeard may be more challenging of course. All that said, I’m going on record that this will be a very good season for hunter success in 2017, but Spring 2018 may be superb with more longbeards (this year’s jakes, next year’s 2-year-olds) on the landscape.”

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For Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) 7 and 9-29, Maine’s spring turkey season begins a half hour before sunrise on May 1 and ends June 3. In WMDs 1-6, northern Maine, there is a staggered season, the dates of which depend on whether you were born in an odd- or even-numbered year. (Check your law book or the DIF&W website). There is a wide open season for all hunters, regardless of birth dates, in the northern zones May 29- June 3. There is Youth Day for turkeys April 29.

The bag limit is two bearded toms. Females are protected in the spring. To hunt, you must possess either a big game license or a small game license (new this year). In either case, you must also buy a turkey permit as well. With appropriate educational certificates, you may hunt with bow, crossbow or shotgun.

There are some time-tested techniques for hunting the gobblers. Vermont outdoor writer Dennis Jensen, a skilled and seasoned old turkey taker, insists that preseason scouting is the key. His advice? Don’t settle for just tracks and droppings.

“Don’t quit scouting until you have located some talking toms,” Jensen says.

Jackman guide Mike Stevens is a big believer in what he calls runnin’ and gunnin’. Mike kills 70 percent of his birds after 9 a.m. He travels, rather than sitting by the big fields and openings. He calls as he goes, trying to locate that gobbler, and then lure him in. He says that it pays once in a while “to get crazy with the call,” if you have trouble with a “hanging” bird that just refuses to come to gun range. That has worked for me a couple of times.

Finally, a note of caution: Think safety, since turkey hunting is a stealth game that involves concealment. Avoid wearing any colors that are patriotic, red, white and blue. And don’t confuse runnin’ and gunnin’ with stalking turkeys.

Experienced bowman and turkey hunter Jerome Richards explains: “Run and gun” is a safe turkey hunting method because I am trying to use the terrain to conceal my movement, to get way out in front of the turkey in a new setup and call or ambush the turkey on his travel route. Stalking a turkey to get closer for a shot could lead to a very unsafe situation, especially if another hunter mistakes you for a turkey. The turkey’s keen eyesight and hearing makes stalking him nearly impossible anyway, so why take the risk?

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books.Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.

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