When the state-endorsed Youth Turkey Day rolled around on May 1, Katelyn Willis of Troy could have been forgiven for staying home and resting.
The 15-year-old Troy hunter underwent knee surgery on April 20. She was still on crutches. And just getting into the woods promised to be a bit of a struggle.
Willis also had a few great reasons for waking up before dawn and hobbling to her hunting spot on a special day set aside for the state’s junior hunters.
Let’s let her explain.
“I love to hunt and fish,” Willis said in an e-mail. “I’ve been going out with my dad since I can remember. I also have gotten four turkeys in the past five years. I love to hunt in general, but by far turkey hunting is my favorite.”
That’s why Willis woke up. That’s why she put on her camouflage clothing. And that’s why she ended up with a story she’ll be telling for a long, long time.
Willis explained that since her surgery, her left leg has been in a large, unwieldy brace that she thought would limit her hunting during turkey season.
“After I got the surgery, my worst fear was that I would not be ready to go hunting on youth day, but my dad, boyfriend Tyler and I practiced shooting in the yard to see if I could sit down and shoot,” she wrote. “I could!”
On May 1, she woke up at 4 a.m. and geared up, knowing that just getting into the woods was going to be a bit more challenging than normal.
“We had to get an early start because my dad wasn’t sure how long it would take me to [limp] through the field,” Willis wrote. “The grass wasn’t overly tall, but tall enough to keep getting caught on my crutches. This made it very difficult and an extreme workout!”
By the time they reached their hunting spot, it had begun to get light out, and Katelyn huddled under a camouflage blanket — her knee brace was bright blue — and listened for the tell-tale sound of turkeys.
“We waited maybe 10 minutes before we heard a gobble … that was about half a mile away,” she wrote. “So my dad started to call, while Tyler and I waited quietly. Seconds later there were tree branches snapping. My first thought was, ‘Wow! That was fast!’ but it wasn’t any turkey. A deer came out through the trees. She wan-dered toward us and then sensed we were there. She started blowing and snorting and making all kinds of noises.”
Katelyn thought the deer would scare away all the turkeys. Luckily, she was wrong.
A partridge started drumming its wings. The deer kept stomping and snorting … and the gobbles kept getting louder and louder.
Finally, the turkeys stepped into shooting range.
“Two toms were strutting right in front of me at 25 yards. They were very close and doing twirls to show off for our hen decoys,” Willis wrote. “I slowly picked my gun up and thought of which one to shoot.”
Willis never had to make up her mind.
“They both stopped in front of me. They were diagonal from each other and I aimed halfway between the two,” she wrote. “My only thought all that morning was getting a bigger turkey than my boyfriend for the season, but now I could get two at the same time.”
For the record, in past years hunters were limited to one bearded turkey during Maine’s spring season. This season, however, adult hunters can buy a second tag and shoot two bearded birds if they choose. And junior hunters, like Willis, receive two tags when they purchase their junior license.
“I squeezed my 20 gauge’s trigger and they both went down,” Willis wrote. “My dad stood up and said, ‘Katie, you shot ’em both.’”
That, she did.
The larger bird weighed 19½ pounds and had an 8-inch beard and ø-inch spurs, while the smaller weighed 15½ pounds and had a 7½-inch beard and ¾-inch spurs.
“Neither of the birds [was] my first, or my largest turkey so far, but [this was] by far my favorite hunt,” Willis wrote.
Moose permit deadline nears
Hunters looking to take part in this fall’s annual moose hunt are running out of time to enter the state’s permit lottery.
The Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is reminding prospective hunters that the deadline for online applications is 11:59 p.m. on Friday. Miss that deadline, and you’re not hunting … unless your buddy paid close attention, filled out the application and listed you as his subpermittee.
The deadline for paper applications has already passed. The only way to get in on the lottery at this late date is via the Internet.
To apply for a moose permit, go to www.mefishwildlife.com. You’ll need a credit card to complete the process and will also have to know the birth date of your co-hunter, if you plan to list one.
Bill Swan, the DIF&W’s director of licensing, is advising applicants to enter before the end of business hours — 5 p.m. — on Friday. That way, he says, those who may have questions or problems can call the DIF&W at 287-8000, and someone will be on hand to offer assistance.
This year 3,140 moose permits will be awarded to lucky applicants.
This year’s moose permit lottery will take place at L.L. Bean in Freeport on June 17.