My heart raced as two longbeards trotted up the valley toward my blind. There was so much at stake. This hunt was more significant than any I could recall and everything would have to fall perfectly into place in order for this to work, something that seldom happens in turkey hunting.
I couldn’t see them as they neared, but heard the distinct “spit and drum” signaling they were in full strut and closing in. I readied myself for the shot as best I could, which proved a very awkward task under the circumstances. My friend Doug Stults of 1st Western Adventures had done all he could to tip the odds in my direction. The rest was up to me.
The first longbeard stepped into view broadside at 12 paces. Everything felt backward so I took my time, checking and rechecking my sight picture. “Don’t rush. Pick a spot. Hold. Squeeze the trigger,” I mentally advised myself. The arrow sliced precisely through my point of aim and the bird made a staggering 50-yard dash before expiring.
That was the successful conclusion to a hunt that took place a month ago in central Nebraska. It was a hunt that almost didn’t happen, that I didn’t think possible just a couple months before, and will likely be my only hunt of this spring.
In January I suffered a traumatic injury resulting in loss of functional vision in my right eye. I wondered first if, and later when, I might be able to hunt again, knowing if and when I did, I’d be shooting left-handed — something I’d never done before.
Healing was a long and very slow process, but heal I did, at least to the point that my doctor gave me the OK to hunt with certain restrictions. Firearms were out of the question because my retinal reattachment was still too recent and precarious to risk recoil. Other complications prevented me from the strain necessary to pull back a compound bow. That left only one choice, the crossbow, which ruled out my home state of Maine.
To its credit, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has taken a very conservative approach toward our spring turkey hunt, expanding hunting opportunities gradually and only when biologists felt they would not be detrimental to the turkey population. They may have been a bit too conservative, however, when it comes to the crossbow.
Currently, Maine allows spring turkey hunters to use 10- through 20-gauge shotguns and shot sizes 4 through 6. With modern guns and loads, the 12-gauge shotgun has an effective range approaching 50 yards, and the 10-gauge certainly exceeds that. The folks at IFW feel this provides for a safe, ethical fair-chase hunt and that allowing every licensed turkey hunter to use a shotgun will not result in an over-harvest of the resource.
However, hunters may also choose the added challenge of vertical (compound or recurve) bows. Because the bow’s effective range is roughly half that of a shotgun, bowhunter success rate is significantly lower than that of gun hunters. Thus the potential impact of bowhunting is far less than what is allowed under current regulations, and what the state has already deemed the turkey population can withstand.
The crossbow, meanwhile, has roughly the same effective range as the compound bow. In fact, the effective range of both bows is limited more by the shooter’s abilities than the weapon he chooses. In either case, 25 to 30 yards is probably about the maximum practical and ethical distance for shooting at a turkey with any type of bow.
It is therefore logically impossible that permitting the use of crossbows during the spring turkey season could have any additional negative impact on the turkey population.
Opponents might argue that liberalizing crossbow use could lead to safety issues or increased poaching. If that were the case, the state would have a difficult time justifying the use of crossbows during bear season or during the firearms season for deer, as it currently does.
Maine also allows hunters over the age of 70 and those with a permanent disability to hunt wild birds and animals with a crossbow during any open season on those species.
I guess I should consider myself lucky. Though my disability is permanent, it’s not bad enough to qualify me for a crossbow permit. I might one day again be able to shoot a gun or compound bow.
In the meantime it looks like I’ll be spending this season watching my spring passion from the sidelines.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: