The legislative session in Augusta has been filled with bills designed to allow hunters to kill more turkeys, but the biologist who serves as the state’s bird group leader said when this year’s wild turkey season kicks off for youths on Saturday, there won’t be any major changes to worry about.
“If a bill comes in to us that is trying to get more people out hunting, we’re all in for that,” Brad Allen of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said. “But we’re right in the middle of a big study right now and we’re learning every day a little bit more about turkey ecology in Maine, because we want to have more science behind our decision-making.”
That desire to have better science with which to base management decisions drives the department’s biologists. On one hand, they want to help in areas where there may be more turkeys than Mainers are comfortable with; on the other, they don’t want to make widespread changes without understanding what effects those changes may have.
“[People filing written testimony on those turkey bills] keep saying, ‘This is one of the best hunting programs for wild turkeys in the country. Be careful with large-scale rule changes,’” Allen said. “That’s good input, because that’s the way we feel, too.”
For this year, there are no higher bag limits, which is one of the proposals that has been made in the legislature. And Allen said, despite healthy turkey numbers, selective hunters may have to work hard to find the particular bird they’re seeking.
“I’ve got to think if you’re a turkey hunter and you’re perfectly willing to shoot a jake [a 1-year-old male bird], that won’t be a problem. There’s lots of those out there,” Allen said. “What I’m seeing is 10 to 1, jakes to longbeards. If you’re a trophy hunter [looking for an older, bigger bird], you might see a lot of turkeys, but you might have to hold your fire a little bit, becaud the 2- and 3-year-old birds aren’t as numerous as the jakes.”
Turkey season kicks off on Saturday with Youth Turkey Day, a day set aside for junior hunters who have not yet reached their 16th birthdays. Those hunters are required to hunt with an adult, but the adult is not allowed to possess a firearm.
— Wildlife Management Districts 7, 9-29: April 29-June 1, with a season limit of two bearded turkeys per hunter.
— WMD 8: April 29-June 1 with a season limit of one bearded turkey.
— In northern Maine WMDs 1-6, the season is split, with hunters born in odd-numbered years permitted to hunt April 29 through May 4 and May 13-18. Those born in even-numbered years may hunt May 6-11 and May 20-25. All hunters can hunt May 27-June 1. The season limit is one bearded turkey per hunter.
Tips and tactics
If you’re new to the turkey-hunting game, Allen has a simple suggestion that could increase your chances of success and help you get ahead of the learning curve.
“My best tip would probably be to find somebody who knows what they’re doing [and hunt with them],” Allen said. “With veteran turkey hunters, it’s not all about the kill. They like locating birds and fooling a wily tom and getting them to come in. If they’ve got a young person with them or a friend, that’s good, too.”
Allen said plenty of people just choose to “wing it,” and head off on their own to learn the basics. He said those hunters should be able to find plenty of land to hunt, as hunter access during turkey season doesn’t appear to be much of a problem.
One word of caution: You’re not the only turkey hunter out there.
“People in their springtime driving to work or driving to wherever they go, they see turkeys in the fields [and think they’ll hunt them when the season starts],” Allen said. “Everybody’s seeing those turkeys in those fields, and that can definitely create an issue on opening day.”
Seeking landowner permission to hunt is key, Allen said, and can give a hunter an idea of how many other hunters may be looking to hunt a particular parcel. And while many people focus on hayfields bordering woods — because that’s where they often see birds — those who venture farther afield can find great hunting.
“Turkeys live in the woods, too,” Allen said. “You can get back in the woods and get away from people pretty easy if you have a favorite hunting area where you know the lay of the land.”
While talking to turkeys on a sunny spring morning can be a lot of fun, Allen did offer a serious warning: Make sure you’re making the proper precautions to keep ticks at bay.
“I think one of the things that concerns me more than anything else is having some permethrin with me, because I probably get more ticks crawling on me in the month of May, turkey hunting, than any other activity around my house,” Allen said.
Ticks serve as carriers for a number of diseases, including Lyme disease.
Permethrin is available in many stores; its recommended use is to spray it on clothing, then to let it dry. It is not to be sprayed directly on skin.
“Some of the best advice I could give you is to check yourself over when you’re done hunting,” Allen said. “I want to be outside, sitting at the base of a big pine tree somewhere [during turkey season]. But I also want to be tick aware.”