Every form of hunting has its share of myths and misconceptions. Some are based on limited knowledge and later dismissed as we learn more about the prey we pursue. Others are based on circumstantial evidence and persist because of a lack of effort or an unwillingness to explore alternative possibilities. Below are just a few of the more common misunderstandings about the magnificent bird we call the wild turkey.

Calling to attract a tom is unnatural. You hear this one a lot and until I learned differently, I believed it too. It’s true that a tom gobbles to attract a hen. But hens also call to attract a gobbler. If she doesn’t come to him, he has to go to her.

If that weren’t the case, we’d kill far fewer turkeys. It might boost our egos to think we’ve made a longbeard go against his very nature, but that’s just not the case. When a gobbler comes to your call, he’s just in the right mood and doing what comes quite naturally to him.

Some folks believe there are too many turkeys. Admittedly, I’m a bit biased, but I don’t think there’s any such thing. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation have done an outstanding job of restoring turkeys in this state. We now have sustainable populations throughout the species’ former range and beyond. Why mess with a good thing?

Having an abundance of hens can make spring hunting more challenging, but isn’t that why we’re out there? Each of those hens also represents the future potential of the population. After a winter like the one we just experienced, where many turkeys probably perished, we need that buffer to build the flocks back up.

Some of the more common myths are perpetuated by non-turkey hunters. Among them are farmers who believe turkeys devastate their crops. On behalf of my fellow turkey hunters, I’d like to thank every farmer who allows turkey hunting on his land. But they should be aware of the facts.

Circumstantial evidence makes it easy to understand why some think turkeys are detrimental to their livelihood. You see a flock of turkeys come through your fields every day. One day you walk out and notice that some of the crop is missing. But I’ve seen eagles feeding on a deer carcass. It doesn’t mean they killed the deer.

Lots of critters feed on crops like strawberries and blueberries. Deer, raccoons, possums, skunks and foxes feed mostly at night, when nobody’s looking. Myriad songbirds eat the berries but we pay them little mind because they’re less obvious. Turkeys take the blame when they may actually provide a benefit.

Stomach content analysis of birds collected from agricultural areas show that insects make up a large proportion of their diet, particularly in late summer as berries are ripening. Some of those insects also eat berries. Yes, turkeys do eat berries, but the price of a few berries may actually be a cheaper and more ecologically sound alternative to spraying gallons of pesticide.

Even other hunters sometimes disparage turkeys, primarily deer hunters who believe turkeys compete with deer for food. “They eat all the acorns,” is a common complaint. According to the Maine Natural Areas Program, oak forest communities occur in only about a third of the state and are patchily distributed in that third. Meanwhile, deer occur statewide.

The fact is acorns are a luxury. They are a preferred food source for both turkeys and deer, but both species do just fine without them. Furthermore, the red oaks that dominate Maine produce acorns irregularly, and their relative absence in years of poor mast crops has little effect on overall deer or turkey survival. And deer have the ability to feed 24/7 while turkeys only feed during the day.

Some folks think turkeys are easy to hunt. Because of their abundance and size, they’re quite visible and have a proclivity to hang around bird feeders, making them seem almost tame. Don’t be fooled. They are among the wariest creatures in the wild. Step into their domain and you’ll soon learn the truth about this misconception.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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