|Maine's fall archery season for turkey in Wildlife Management districts 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 (which for us means the area roughly south of Pittsfield, Carmel and Bangor. Check your Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife District map - available on the MDIFW's Website at www.mefishwildlife.com - for specific details). The season began Oct. 8, and will continue through Saturday, Oct. 22. Last year, Maine archers tagged 204 turkeys during the fall season (not bad considering only 9 turkeys were tagged during Maine's first spring shotgun season).
Anyone who possesses an archery license may purchase a wild turkey hunting permit from a license agent to hunt turkeys during the fall wild turkey season. You can also purchase them online. The permit fee is $13 for Maine residents.
The bag limit is one wild turkey of either sex. Only bow and arrow may be used during the fall turkey season, and the legal hunting time is from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.
While spring turkey hunters have the advantage of hearing gobbling birds on the roost in the evenings and mornings, a fall hunt can be more challenging. In the first place, fall turkeys are much less vocal than they are in spring, and the birds generally travel in large flocks, which means more eyes and ears to compete with. You can't very easily “sneak up” on a flock of feeding hen turkeys - too many curious heads bobbing and looking for that to work.
It's not impossible to tag a fall turkey, it only sometimes seems that way! There are a couple of ways to fool fall birds, and both require stealth, patience and not a little luck. One technique is to scout local flocks and observe their patterns of movement (which are not much different from their spring behavior). In general, turkeys roost in trees at night, leave the roost at daylight to begin feeding, move through their home woods and fields to feed (covering a mile or more in the process) and then return near sunset to roost in the same general area as they did the night before. You can disrupt this pattern by spooking the birds overmuch, so do your observing from a distance, or while wearing full camouflage using binoculars. You don't want to get too close to the birds till it's time to actually hunt them. Showing up in the middle of their travel route every day is only going to accomplish one thing: They'll change their route!
Once you've seen the general pattern, you can pick a spot that offers concealment and the chance for a good shot. Get there early (before dawn is not too early!), set out a decoy or two and plan to spend a couple of hours just sitting and calling. Many times an undisturbed flock will feed right along and come to you without any additional coaxing, but if they appear to hesitate or dally, utter just enough yelps and clucks to keep them coming in.
Another tactic is to “bust a flock,” a 90s way of saying, “scatter a feeding flock.” When you see a flock of turkeys feeding in the woods or along a field edge, simply sneak as close as you can get to them, charge in and make them scatter to the four winds. Some will run, some will fly, but the object is to break up the group. Then, you simply pick a nice, open, high spot, put out a decoy or two, sit down and start some “lonely hen” calling.
Turkeys are gregarious and prefer the company of other turkeys, and as soon as the flock has been scattered you'll begin to hear the soft clucks and yelps of lost birds trying to find their pals. All you have to do is sound like a lonely hen (or a group of lonely hens) and convince the stragglers to come to you. The concept is simple enough, but the challenge is in the fact that you're going to have curious, suspicious, alert turkeys (probably the most anxious of all woodland creatures) coming in and, at the appointed time, you're supposed to rise up, draw your bow and take a shot! This means waiting for a particular bird, sitting quietly till it shows up, waiting for it to get behind a tree or bush, and then drawing quickly and quietly before the bird can spot you. It's not easy, but 204 hunters did it right last season!
Actually, bagging a fall turkey may be the easy part! After that things get very “legal.” For example, any person killing a wild turkey shall immediately securely attach to its leg, plainly visible, the tag portion of his/her turkey hunting permit, bearing his/her full name and address. All radio collars, leg bands, and wing tags must be submitted to the department at the time the wild turkey is presented for registration. Gift turkeys are to be labeled with the name and address of the person who registered it and the year the turkey was registered. There is also a $1 fee for registering any wild turkey taken in Maine.
Any turkey being moved or transported in any manner must have the tag portion of the wild turkey hunting permit securely attached, and the person who killed it must accompany it. Unless the wild turkey has been legally registered, no person shall keep a wild turkey at his/her home or at any place of storage (except at the official registration station or at the office of a Maine game warden) for more than eighteen (18) hours without first notifying a game warden.
Dogs, bait, live decoys, traps or other devices intended or designed for the purpose of capturing or ensnaring wild turkeys are not allowed. It is also unlawful to take a turkey while the turkey is in a tree. It is illegal to buy, sell (or offer for sale or barter) any wild turkey. It is unlawful for the holder of a wild turkey hunting permit to hunt wild turkeys after having killed or registered a wild turkey during any open season of that calendar year. It is also unlawful for the holder of a wild turkey hunting permit to hunt wild turkeys outside of the designated turkey-hunting zone.
A sample of turkey permit holders, including those who did not hunt or were unsuccessful, will be asked to complete a questionnaire provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife within 10 days after the close of the turkey hunting season. Information provided by hunters is an important part of the Department's turkey management program, and the details they provide will be used while considering next year's spring and fall turkey seasons.
If deer, bear, moose, small game and waterfowl hunting aren't enough for you this month, give fall turkeys a try. It's all outdoors and that's all that matters!