If you have never hunted wild turkeys, you are missing a wonderful opportunity, not only to enjoy the spring woods in Maine before bug season, but to hunt a very plentiful game bird.
Having hunted them with a shotgun and a bow, I attest to the hunting challenge and mystique of these big birds. The turkey woods, and the sounds of an early morning longbeard announcing his presence, still gives 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:
“Current populations remain abundant and because 2018 was a good production year for turkeys in Maine, I predict a strong cohort of 2-year-old longbeards on the landscape. I also think it is safe to assume that this mild and warmer than usual winter has been kind to Maine’s wintering wildlife, including wild turkeys.”
Allen says we have about 65,000 birds, of which about half are longbeards. He also says that the population continues to grow. This is amazing since only about 26 percent of nests are successfully incubated and, as with other game bird nesting, many more nests fail than succeed.
For Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) 7 and 9-29, Maine’s spring turkey season begins a half hour before sunrise May 4. In these districts, two spring male turkeys may be taken. In WMDs 1-6 and 8, northern Maine, the season begins May 4 and only one male turkey may be taken. There is Youth Day for turkeys statewide May 2. In all zones there is an all-day hunt, a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset.
To hunt, you must possess either a big game license or a small game license. 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 pre-season scouting is the key. His advice? Don’t just settle for tracks and droppings. “Don’t quit scouting until you have located some talking toms,” says Jensen.
Jackman guide Mike Stevens is a big believer in what he calls runnin’ and gunnin’. Mike kills 70 percent of his birds after 9 in the morning. 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.
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 set-up 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?”
Last year, Maine spring turkey hunters bagged about one in four of the available male turkeys.