| It's not very often that hunters get more than they expected, but miracles do happen from time to time. Well, Maine turkey hunters who thought they missed out this year were given a second chance by Governor Baldacci, who recently signed into law a bill that gave turkey permits to all turkey hunters who applied for one but were not selected in the February lottery.
"This law is a testament to the success of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's reintroduction efforts," said Governor Baldacci. "The turkey season is an example of how conservation not only improves our environment, but our economy as well."
"This is a great day for all hunters in the state," noted Roland D. Martin, commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. "This bill tells everyone that wild turkeys have returned to Maine."
LD 1456, sponsored by Senator Bruce Bryant, and representatives Mark Bryant and David Trahan, gives all hunters who applied for a turkey hunting permit by the deadline an opportunity to hunt turkeys this year.
"I am very pleased that we were able to get permits to every turkey hunter who applied this year, just in time for opening day," said Senator Bryant.
Originally, 20,300 hunters were selected to hunt turkeys by lottery drawing. LD 1456 awards a permit to the 3,649 unlucky hunters who were not selected. In all, 23,951 hunters applied for a permit for the 2005 spring season. Starting in 2006, there will be no lottery permit system, and all hunters who apply will receive a permit.
"The governor, commissioner and the legislature worked hard to make this happen," said Representative Bryant. "and today, there are quite a few happy hunters who otherwise would not have been able to hunt turkeys this spring."
"Senator Bryant and representatives Bryant and Trahan were very supportive of this bill," said Martin, "and the broad support of others including the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine was instrumental in moving this bill quickly through the legislature and onto the Governor's desk so that all who wanted to hunt turkeys this year would have this opportunity."
Hunters who were not selected in the February lottery will receive a letter notifying them of their eligibility and designating whether they are able to hunt during the A or B season. These hunters must pay for their permit at the Augusta headquarters of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife by returning their letter with a check or money order, or by paying for their permit online at www.mefishwildlife.com. Turkey permit fees are $13 for a resident or $43 for a non-resident. Hunters must also possess a valid Maine big game hunting license to hunt turkeys.
Turkey season begins May 2, 2005 and continues through June 4. Youth day for turkey hunters (ages 10 to 16) is on April 30, 2005. On this day, qualified youths who possess a valid spring wild turkey hunting permit and possess a junior hunting license may hunt wild turkeys with a firearm or bow and arrow. April 30 is the Saturday preceding the opening day of Season A of Maine's spring wild turkey hunting season.
Wild turkeys disappeared from Maine in the early 1800s. In 1977, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists under the able direction of biologist Phil Bozenhard, released 41 wild turkeys in York County. By the early 1980's that population become large enough to serve as a source of birds for additional releases throughout the state. In 1986, Maine had its first modern turkey hunt. Last year, 15,600 hunters were issued permits, and 4,675 hunters were successful.
To be honest, all of the information above was gleaned from recent press releases and news reports that, one might opine, were designed to excite sportsmen “just in time for opening day,” and give lawmakers something to smile about after a tough session in which another Sunday hunting proposal was shot down and the “temporary” $3 license fee increase was (surprise!) made permanent.
I don't know if anyone else noticed, but the one guy who should have been quoted regarding a major change in Maine's wild turkey permit system (and essentially tossing 20 percent more hunters into the mix after so many years of cautious and conservative management) was never mentioned. So, being the intrepid wildlife news sleuth that I am, I made the call to biologist Bozenhard down in Region A (York area) for his input. After all, if Maine's wild turkey restoration program is the great success story of the last century (and it certainly is one of them) he deserves much of the credit and, if nothing else, a chance to comment on this remarkably timely news coming out of Augusta. After all, the opening day of turkey season is only a week away!
Biologist Bozenhard was clever enough not to suggest anything untoward going on in Augusta, but the bottom line is that an open permit system would have gone into effect next year anyway. This year's move was, as noted, a chance for politicians to “strut” their stuff, as it were.
“The impact on the turkey population will not be that great because we only hunt bearded birds in spring,” Bozenhard told me. “We wanted a more gradual (30 percent per year) increase in permits more from a safety standpoint (there have been three shootings of hunters, plus many decoy- shooting incidents), but we've been managing for a quality hunting experience all along and hoped to carry that through this year.”
For the record, (and the credit is definitely due), Phil Bozenhard was instrumental in getting wild turkeys established in Maine nearly 30 years ago and is still the guy who knows most and best about them, eager Augusta legislators notwithstanding. On behalf of those who like to observe, hunt or eat wild turkeys in Maine, I assured Bozenhard that we all appreciate his hard work and made sure he knew that the sportsmen of Maine, at least, aren't going to forget him the next time the subject of turkeys, hunting and extra permits comes over the wire.