|It's not unusual to hear people lament the good old days, that nebulous time of life when everything was somehow better than it is today. Of course, it's all in the way you see it, but if you're a Maine turkey hunter, this year will be the best it's ever been, at least for anyone alive and kicking right now.
Up until the late 1970s there was no turkey season in Maine, and thanks to the hard work of biologist Phil Bozenhard and his crew, birds transplanted from Vermont and, just a few years later, the state's first wild turkey hunting season of modern times took place, with a rousing take of exactly nine birds. The low harvest wasn't so much related to the fact that there weren't enough turkeys as there weren't enough knowledgeable hunters to pursue them. Much has changed since those halcyon days of naivety. Now, turkeys may be hunted in Wildlife Management Districts 10,11,12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26, pretty much all of central and southern Maine. Due to an increasing wild turkey population and distribution in Maine resulting from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's active management program, spring turkey permits will be available over-the-counter rather than through the former application-lottery process.
Hunters may now purchase a spring turkey permit wherever hunting licenses are sold and season dates will be determined by the hunter's year of birth. Each person who buys a spring turkey permit will be authorized to hunt in Season A or Season B based on his or her year of birth. For the 2006 Spring Turkey hunt, hunters with “even” birth years (years ending in 0,2,4,6,or 8) will be authorized to hunt during Season A. For 2006, hunters with odd birth years (years ending in 1,3,5,7,or 9) will be authorized to hunt during Season B.
Season A is week No. 1: May 1, 2006 - May 6, 2006; week No. 4: May 22, 2006 - May 27, 2006; and week No. 5: May 29, 2006 - June 3, 2006.
Season B includes week No. 2: May 8, 2006 - May 13, 2006;
week No. 3: May 15, 2006 - May 20, 2006; and week No. 5: May 29, 2006 - June 3, 2006.
Hunters must purchase a spring turkey permit and a valid Maine resident big game hunting license or a valid non-resident or alien big game hunting license in order to hunt spring turkeys. (A valid archery license also permits hunting of spring turkeys with bow and arrow in Maine.) The permittee must possess the permit as well as their hunting license at all times while hunting. A person may assist in a hunt without a license or permit for that activity as long as that person does not carry hunting equipment.
To get all the details on this year's Maine spring turkey hunt, log onto www.state.me.us/ifw/hunttrap/turkeyhunting.htm.
Spring turkey hunting is the equivalent of the fall deer season among the thousands of hunters who pursue these big, challenging birds. The National Wild Turkey Federation (log onto that web site for a real wild turkey education!) has chapters in every state and is active in promoting turkey reintroduction, habitat restoration and hunting opportunities across the country. The local chapter is
managed by Tom Nannery at (207) 353-8654, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you drive anywhere at all in central Maine you have seen turkeys in fields or woods along the road. These big, dark-colored birds generally travel and roost in flocks and may cover several miles a day in search of food. In spring, the rather mundane life of the average turkey is disrupted by the annual breeding season. Dominant male birds will strut and gobble to announce their presence, and nesting hens will fly, run or walk long distances to find them.
This is where the hunter comes in. The plan is to locate males (identified by the long, stiff brush of feathers projecting from their breasts - called a “beard”) using crow, woodpecker or other loud, high-pitched sounds to stimulate a gobble from the highly agitated birds. Once a bird is located, the hunter sneaks as close as he can (but not too close!) and begins using soft hen yelps, produced by specially-made wood, slate or plastic calls, to lure the male bird close enough for a shot.
The process seems simple enough, but it may take several hours to complete and, all too often, the hunter moves or utters a false note and frightens the suspicious bird away. When things go as planned it's a marvelous thing to have a long-necked, anxious, suspicious gobbler come tippy-toeing into range, and when it goes wrong . . . well, you just pick up and start over!
Serious turkey hunting will wear you out, as this year's unlimited-permit hunters will discover. The best routine is to find a bird by calling to them at dusk (a process called “roosting a bird,” which simply means pinpointing the location of a gobbler on his overnight roost by crow calling or yelping loudly to get a gobbler to respond). And then, you must plan to be there before daylight the next morning, creep close to but not within sight of the bird, and, hopefully, call him into range. You could end up working three or four different birds with no luck, or you could end up losing out on the first wave of breeding activity and not hear another gobble till well past 10 a.m. Then, you continue the process till you get your bird or time runs out for the day.
Now's the time to get ready for the May season. There are camo clothes to buy, calls to practice with and decoys to consider. Compared to turkeys in other, heavily hunted states, our Maine gobblers are relative pushovers, but that will change once they start to learn the ropes. Have your fun this season and next, but in the coming years even our naïve birds are going to become more difficult to hunt - and that's when I'll give you the “advanced course” on spring turkey hunting!