The restoration of wild turkeys in Maine represents a major victory for conservation.
Thanks to the efforts of biologists from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation, a species that was extirpated and remained absent from the state until just a generation ago has returned in numbers no one thought possible. That effort also resulted in a tremendous recreational opportunity for hunters and non-hunters, and a sizeable income boost from the sales of licenses and permits, guns and ammo, bows and arrows, clothing, calls and a plethora of miscellaneous accessories.
This year IFW made some bold proposals that, if approved, could either be a boon or a bane to the future of Maine turkey hunting.
One thing is for sure — the proposal will make things simpler and provide a lot more hunting opportunity. Previously the fall season was divided into three zones with three separate seasons and weapons restrictions. Zone 1 was open for archery only from mid- to late-October, and Zone 2 was archery only and ran concurrent with the regular archery season on deer. Zone 3, which contained parts of Zone 1 and all of Zone 2, was open for archery and shotgun hunting for one week in late October.
The new framework effectively does away with the three-zone system, allowing hunting in all but WMDs 1-11, 14, 19, and 27, which remain closed to fall turkey hunting. Instead of three separate seasons, there will now be one, coinciding with the month-long regular archery season on deer. In addition to more opportunity for those deliberately pursuing turkeys, it will provide targets of opportunity for licensed bowhunters waiting on stand for a deer.
Another significant change is liberalization of the bag limit from one to two birds of either sex in certain WMDs, while retaining the one-bird limit in others. A single permit covers both birds.
This could prove risky. Several studies have shown that excess fall-hunting mortality can have a negative impact on turkey productivity and the quality of the spring hunt. Apparently, Maine biologists feel that will not be the case in those WMDs where the bag limit has been doubled.
Yet another big change is elimination of the archery-only restriction, allowing the use of shotguns throughout the entire fall turkey season in those WMDs open to hunting. All other things being equal, this will certainly lead to higher fall turkey mortality. It should also increase the number of folks hunting the fall and the amount of time they hunt. That will lead to even higher mortality. Again, the biologists must have factored this in when formulating their proposal.
However, the impact still may not be significant. I’ve observed the implementation and liberalization of fall seasons in other states and they seem to follow a similar pattern. More folks try it, then realize it’s not as easy as they thought it would be; or it’s just not their thing. Some stick with it while others shift, or shift back to ducks, upland birds and bowhunting whitetails.
Legal hunting hours remain at a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
You don’t necessarily need to be in the woods at dawn, and experienced fall hunters know you don’t want to be in the woods much after sunset. By then the birds are ready to roost, if they have not already done so, and disturbing the roost only makes it harder on hunters.
Yet another change is actually more of a clarification. Previously there were conflicting regulations regarding the use of dogs for fall turkey hunting in Maine. The new framework clearly allows their use. It’s a highly specialized technique practiced by only a few who are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to train a good turkey dog.
Even more significant are changes to next spring’s season. Maine is taking a bold step in becoming the first New England state to allow all-day spring hunting. They’re also adding crossbows to the list of allowable archery tackle. Look for more on these changes in the spring.
All of the above represent some fairly bold and aggressive changes, particularly when considering how conservative the department has been with regard to protecting the wild turkey as a natural resource. Hopefully they’re not too bold and won’t result in hunters killing the proverbial turkey that laid the golden egg. Time will tell. Meanwhile, enjoy the new opportunities and hunt safely.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: