When it comes to population growth and dispersal, Maine’s turkey program has been an undisputed success. Some of the credit goes to wildlife management, and some of it to Mother Nature for creating one tough bird.

Not so clear cut, however, is this question: How well have we managed the resource when it comes to hunting opportunities and seasons?

Although a record number of permitted hunters will take to the woods when the spring season opens April 28, there are still a lot of us whose luck did not prevail during the winter turkey permit lottery. So,with turkey numbers growing each year, disenfranchised turkey hunters have a right to ask: Why the cap on turkey permits? After all, biologists keep telling us that the limit on turkey hunters is a matter of hunting safety, not biology. In other words, if turkey hunters used slingshots instead of big-bored shotguns, we’d all be in the woods on April 28.

Does this make any sense? Should wildlife managers make harvest decisions based on safety concerns? While experiences in other states teach us that the nature of turkey hunting (camouflage attire, concealment and calling) can lead to accidents, this is an education issue. When deer biologist Gerry Lavigne establishes the fall any-deer kill quota, he bases his decision on deer numbers, not the safety-mindedness of prospective deer hunters. My sympathies lie with those who argue that Maine’s annual distribution of turkey hunting permits should be predicated exclusively on sound wildlife management, not social issues.

Maine’s new Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Roland Martin might consider revisiting this issue. With DIF&W’s leadership pre-occupied with fiscal headaches, it would be too bad if revenue-generating hunt opportunities fell by the wayside.

Perhaps DIF&W needs to assign one of its creative administrators to undertake some Research and Development brainstorming.

Talking and truly listening to sportsmen would be a beginning. They have ideas. For example, the Maine Muzzleloading Sports Association (MMSA), which is a lobbyist organization for blackpowder hunters and shooters, tried unsuccessfully last year to have the Department include a limited number of primitive blackpowder hunters in its experimental fall turkey hunt.

To its credit, the MMSA and its leader Ed Stubbs, have demonstrated patience, maturity and good sense. At the request of former Commissioner Lee Perry, MMSA has submitted long overdue legislation that defines muzzleloaders by type. According to Stubbs, Perry indicated that a statutory definition of a wide array of blackpowder guns would be a prerequisite for including some muzzleloaders in a fall turkey hunt, which is currently limited to archers.

The MMSA is making another run at the fall turkey hunt. What it seeks is for the fall turkey hunt to include the use of “smooth-bored muzzleloading shotguns or flintlock fowling pieces.” Stubbs estimates that in Maine there are about 500 smooth-bored muzzleloading enthusiasts. In fact, if the hunt were limited to just primitive flintlock smoothbores, Stubbs says we would be talking about 100 participants.

Under any of the aforementioned circumstances, MMSA’s request is measured and reasonable. Stubbs, in a letter to the Department, even opened the door for additional revenues. He wrote, “We would expect to pay an additional stamp fee, in addition to the regular big game licenses and muzzleloading stamp.”

When MMSA made its pitch last fall, there was opposition from some archers who argued that blackpowder hunters would present a danger to archers. Stubbs addresses this red herring in his letter to DIF&W, stating, “That does not seem reasonable, considering all of the open seasons for other species that occur allowing firearms during the archery deer or archery fall turkey hunt.”

Isn’t it time that the Maine Fish and Wildlife policy caught up with circumstances? Given an ever-increasing number of birds that have expanded their territory, and with the adoption of a designated system of Wildlife Management Districts for managing these wild birds, there needs to be consideration given to more creative turkey hunting opportunities for all.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 6 p.m. on 103.9/FM, and former information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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