Plan A didn’t pan out so well.

The birds I’d roosted the night before had other ideas about which way they should go when their scaly feet hit the ground at dawn. Discretion being the better part of valor, I opted to let them be and seek greener pastures, and was soon communicating with a randy gobbler who was eager to answer my call – but a bit more reluctant about coming my way.

Cutting the intervening distance by half, I set up and sent another volley of calls his way with similar results. Clearly I wasn’t yet in his comfort zone so another move was in order. Ahead was a dense thicket and if I could make it beyond I might have a chance. Halfway there I ran into something that stopped me cold in my tracks. A line of yellow signs blocked my path and I could go no further. More calling brought the bird to where I would have gone if I could have, but he would come no closer and the morning ended when he finally lost interest and faded away.

Turkeys have become abundant in many parts of Maine, providing a relatively recent source for recreation among Maine hunters. However, their greatest abundance is in that part of the state where accessible land is disappearing at an alarming rate. The recent development boom, fueled by a mass exodus of work-at-home employees from urban centers to suburban and more recently rural locations, is only exacerbating the situation.

Access to quality hunting grounds has long been a primary reason cited in surveys of people who no longer hunt. The situation is less dire in the west, where large tracts of public land sometimes dominate the landscape. In the east, public access is becoming an increasingly rare and valuable commodity.

Federal hunting lands exist, in places like the White Mountains National Forest, divisions of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and the coastal islands, but are few and far between. The state owns land managed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Bureau of Parks and Lands, but most of the larger parcels are in more remote regions, leaving little for folks who live in and around major population centers and want to hunt without traveling. The situation might seem grim, but there is a third leg to the stool that many hunters fail to consider or are unaware of and just might offer some stability to the state of accessible hunting lands in southern and central Maine.

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Local land trusts are continually trying to acquire land through easements or purchase, private land that is open to public recreation and, in many cases, hunting. There is a catch. While state and federal agencies can rely on taxpayer dollars to purchase lands, trusts depend on private donors. Sportsmen are often more receptive to joining national organizations like Ducks Unlimited, The National Wild Turkey Federation and The National Deer Association knowing the cumulative total of their membership will be dedicated to species conservation. Surprisingly, they’re less inclined to support local groups devoted to providing public access in their own communities.

Perhaps it’s because they’re simply not aware those groups exist. Or maybe they’re skeptical that local land trusts are merely buying up more land and making it inaccessible to hunters. A quick visit to your local land trust’s website will show that’s hardly the case. Most parcels are open to hunting where safe and practical. Furthermore, access is free, but someone had to pay for it.

Though voluntary, membership is a small price to pay for access to many, if not most, of the parcels managed by your local land trust. And a nominal fee is not unprecedented. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service charges a fee to hunt on Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. The National Forest Service charges a fee to park in the White Mountain National Forest. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands charges a fee to access those parks or portions thereof that are open to hunting.

State and federal agencies are often limited as to how much and which parcels they can acquire, more often selecting larger parcels in remote areas as they offer a better price per acre. The supply is there but the greater demand lies elsewhere, in more densely populated areas where real estate values are greater. After purchasing a hunting license and all the stamps, permits and authorities required, sportsmen may be a bit resistant to yet another fee. Perhaps they should think of it not as a fee but an investment. Land open to hunting in central and southern Maine is rapidly disappearing and as the old real estate axiom warns us, they’re not making any more of it. Support your local land trust.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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