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This fall, turkey hunters will get an extra opportunity to hunt gobblers, thanks to a new fall shotgun season that will run from Oct. 13-19.
The first modern wild turkey hunt was in 1986 when the department issued 500 permits through a lottery, and nine turkeys were harvested. The lottery system continued until 2006, when the spring turkey hunt was opened to all licensed hunters. A limited fall archery hunt was instituted in 2002. In the four seasons since then, interest in the fall archery hunt has grown, and the state’s turkey population has continued to grow.
This fall, turkeys may be hunted with a shotgun in wildlife management districts 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25. Hunters must purchase a permit to hunt wild turkeys during the fall season. There is a one-bird bag limit for each fall turkey permit holder. Shotguns in gauges 10 through 20 using No. 4, 5 or 6 shot may be used to hunt wild turkey in during the fall season.
The reintroduction of wild turkeys in Maine is one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in the state. Turkeys once existed in significant numbers in York and Cumberland counties, perhaps as far east as Hancock County. Reduction of forestland and unrestricted hunting are considered to be the two main reasons for the disappearance of wild turkeys in Maine in the early 1880s. Since that time, much of Maine’s farmland, which covered 90 percent of York and Cumberland counties, has reverted back to forest. This change of agriculture fields to forested land created suitable habitat for reintroducing the wild turkey.
Wild turkeys were reintroduced in 1977 and 1978, when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife obtained 41 wild turkeys from Vermont and released them in the towns of York and Eliot. In spring 1982, 33 turkeys were trapped from the growing York County population and released in Waldo County. During the winters of 1987 and 1988, 70 wild turkeys were obtained from Connecticut to augment Maine's growing turkey population.
Now, Maine’s growing wild turkey population is well established and can support an open season with no lottery drawings or permit limits.
As a relatively new species for Maine hunters, turkeys provide some interesting experiences. I have often mentioned the ins and outs of spring turkey hunting here, but fall hunting is a little different. No longer are the gobblers such easy marks, for they are not strutting and gobbling, victims of their own quest for receptive hens during the breeding season. In fall, the birds normally travel in flocks, spending the majority of their time roosting and roaming the woods and fields in search of food.
The basic approach to fall hunting is simple in concept. Find a flock of birds, rush up to them and scatter them, and then sit down nearby and call them back to you for a shot. In theory this is a great system and, in practice, it does work, but there is an element of uncertainty to it all.
Perhaps most difficult of all is finding a feeding flock in the first place. One method is to travel back roads and look for groups of birds feeding along field edges or in open woods. Study them for a few moments, figure out their line of travel, and then get ahead of them to either ambush them or scatter them and call them back in.
If you are familiar with the birds’ travel route (from roosting to feeding areas and back again), you can sneak in and intercept them along the way.
In any case, there are some basics to turkey hunting that will help you put that Thanksgiving gobbler on the table. Camouflage clothing (from head to toe, including gloves and a face mask) is mandatory. Wild turkeys have sharp eyesight and instantly flee from anything they even suspect could be a threat – and it doesn’t take much! Equally important is the ability to sit still for long periods of time. Turkeys are slow moving; suspicious birds that can stand still and just watch for danger, near and far. Their initial reaction to most anything is flight, so when you sit down to call or ambush them, be sure you are comfortable, on level ground and that all your gear is hidden away. Your shotgun should already be up and trained in the direction of incoming birds. If you wait till they’re in sight to aim in and get ready, it will be too late. They’ll spot you, turn and run – game over!
Only shotguns are allowed for fall turkeys, which means you’ll have to allow the birds to get within 40 yards or so before you take a shot at one. Modern turkey guns are configured to deliver very tight patterns at long range so it’s often best to take your shots at 30 yards or so because anything closer may face a very small shot pattern and could mean you’ll miss the bird. In fact, last year a friend used his pet turkey gun for rabbit hunting and, at 25 yards, his pattern was about 6 inches across – he missed every rabbit he shot at!
Believe it or not, it is possible to miss a 20-pound bird at 30 yards. Most hunters make the mistake at aiming at the bird’s head, which is a target the size of a child’s fist and has a lot of room around it! Also, the turkey’s head is the first thing that moves when the bird is walking, which can cause a miss. The best approach is to aim at the bird’s neck at the point where the neck meets feathers. This allows the shotgun pattern to expand and cover the head, neck and crop area to ensure a clean kill out to 45 yards and more.
Although both gobblers and hens are legal game for fall hunting, it’s best to wait for a shot at a tom or jake (immature male) because any hen that survives the winter is going to be busy nesting come spring, and that means another flock of turkeys to chase next fall!
To find out more about Maine’s spring and fall turkey seasons, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at www.maine.gov/ifw/.
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