For so many of us in the outdoors, May brings us some of the finest fishing of the year. Hungry trout and salmon, cod a little closer to shore, stripers migrating to Maine and bass guarding their nests.
But over the last 15 years, hunting has started to compete for time in May, as turkeys have become more abundant in Maine and anglers keep their rods stowed away a little longer in hopes of taking a tom.
This year, with recent changes in the law that include lower permit fees, two spring turkeys on the same permit in most of the state and all-day hunting, hunters have even more reason to head to the woods.
Of course, as with any sport, there is always a learning curve, and since turkey hunting is relatively new to Maine, many of us have learned from our mistakes over the years.
By many measures, I have been largely unsuccessful as a turkey hunter, but I have learned a little more with each adventure.
My first foray into turkey hunting came in the late 1990s, back when permits were issued through a lottery and hunting was limited to mostly southern, coastal and central Maine.
One spring morning, lucky permit in hand, I traveled to a southern Maine location where I had seen turkeys early that season. I quickly set up with my decoy in the field and started to call. And call. And call some more.
While listening intently and keeping an eye out for movement, I saw neither hide nor hair of one of the wild birds. However, my calling did attract some attention as above, a lone turkey vulture circled overhead in increasingly narrowing circles over my decoy.
My only conclusion was that my calling imitated that of a sick, dying bird, and instead of that trophy butterball, I attracted only scavengers that heard my death rattle. Lesson learned. Many of my commutes over the following year were spent practicing mouth calls in anticipation of that next hunt.
A few years later, with my enhanced calling skills, my son and I set up our decoy on one of our favorite spots, and started calling. And called some more. And more. After a considerable time in the same spot with not so much as a yelp in return I stood up to stretch and start packing gear. There, just over the knoll where our decoy stood sentry and just out of eyesight of where we sat, was a tom that had snuck in silently and was within yards of my decoy, if only momentarily. He scooted off unscathed, and next time I plan to rise more slowly, firearm in hand.
Several years later, I traveled to another favorite spot with my son. Once dressed in camo, I put three turkey shells in the magazine but did not chamber one as we had a bit of walk. Once set up, I handed the shotgun to my son and started calling.
We got an immediate response, but it was a slow, enticing journey calling the bird in. It probably took over an hour of back-and-forth calling, but finally his last call was right near us, and slowly he strutted within range, in all his glory, putting on a display for our decoy.
As the tom turned and circled back, my son raised his gun, switched off the safety, took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
No boom. No celebration, no turkey dinner. In my own early morning haze, I neglected to tell him that while I had indeed inserted shells into the firearm, I purposedly did not chamber a round prior to our walk. To his credit, my son realized what happened, pumped in a round and fired at the southbound end of a running northbound turkey. Too little, too late.
It won’t be long before we head out turkey hunting again this spring, and again we will be a little wiser for having learned from our past adventures.
Mark Latti is a registered Maine guide and the landowner relations/recreational access coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.