Early Saturday morning eager youngsters will head afield in Maine to take part in one of the state’s most thrilling hunts. The day has been set aside for those who have reached the age of 10 and who haven’t turned 16, and is called Youth Turkey Day.
On Monday, the rest of the state’s turkey hunters will get their chance as a season that runs through June 4 gets under way.
Having hunted turkeys for the past few years (and, somewhat surprisingly, having filled a turkey tag last spring), I’m among those who have learned to love the sport. Talking turkey with live birds, and trying to convince lovestruck toms that they ought to strut over to your location, is a lot of fun.
And when a turkey actually decides to oblige and walk within shotgun range after 10 or 20 or 40 minutes of chatting? There’s nothing like it.
There are a few things to remember. First among those: Be safe. Second: Be safer. And third? Well, I think you get the point.
Let’s not forget, however, that it’s entirely possible for a careless hunter to mistake your turkey calling for the real thing. When that happens, and when you’re sitting, huddled in a blind or camouflaged against a tree, bad things can happen.
Just last year, a LaGrange man was shot in the face by his friend while hunting wild turkeys. It’s up to all of us as turkey hunters to make sure the same kind of incident isn’t repeated.
Your decoys can be mistaken for the real thing. You can be shot. Or, if you’re the careless hunter, you could make a mistake that you’ll regret for the rest of your life.
Thankfully, there are safe ways to hunt turkeys. And thankfully, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has made those tips available to all prospective turkey hunters.
Here is some of the DIF&W’s advice for all prospective turkey hunters:
- Never try to stalk a gobbling turkey. The reasoning here is sound and shouldn’t be ignored. Turkey hunters make every effort to sound just like real turkeys. You may be stalking another hunter. And he may have decoys out. Sit still and you’ll remain safer.
- Avoid hunting the same gobbler as your hunting companions or other hunters. Hunting in pairs can be a lot of fun. But hunting in competition with others is potentially dangerous. Avoid the practice. There’s plenty of good territory to hunt turkeys. Move on and find another spot.
- Stick with hen calls. This one is simple: Spring hunters in Maine are targeting bearded birds, which are generally male. They gobble. If you’re making hen calls, you’ll attract the males — and those careless hunters who might start stalking gobblers will be less apt to stalk you.
- Avoid wearing red, white or blue clothing. A tom turkey’s head is red, white and blue. Enough said.
- Avoid unnecessary movement. You’ll spook turkeys and might attract the attention of hunters.
- Don’t hide so well that you impair your field of vision.
- Wrap your turkey in blaze orange before walking out of the woods after your successful hunt. A dead turkey looks like — well — a turkey. Get it?
- Sit with your back against a tree trunk, a large log or a boulder that is wider than your body. Doing so will protect you from being struck from behind by errant pellets.
- Put your decoy on the far side of a tree trunk or rock so that you can see approaching turkeys, but can’t see the decoy. That way, you’re not directly in the line of fire should another hunter shoot at the decoy.
- Never shoot unless you’re absolutely sure of your target.
- Consider wearing hunter orange while moving from setup to setup.