It’s turkey season

10 years ago

A couple of weeks ago the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department held public meetings, provided newspaper stories, and offered news bites for TV and radio regarding the much anticipated wild turkey hunting season throughout Aroostook County. Last week anxious gobbler gunning enthusiasts had their balloon popped when the season was cancelled.
Concern over a much higher than normal mortality rate on adult birds, especially hens, due to harsh winter conditions led to the decision. In addition there was concern regarding the spring nesting and hatching survivability due to flooding and remaining snow levels in prime nest areas. To help assure numbers for future hunts, this spring’s season in wildlife zones 1 through 6 was eliminated.
On the plus side, gobbler populations remain stable in the southern Aroostook regions and are burgeoning along the coast and throughout the lower half of the state. Since many sportsmen already travel downstate to hunt turkey, there will be no big change in plans. Regional enthusiasm for turkey hunting grows each year as more and more local outdoorsmen return home from a successful outing and spread the word. Some folks become so enthralled they travel to other New England states to enjoy more than one season and put an additional tasty turkey or two in the freezer.
I received bunches of emails, texts, letters and face-to-face questions from men, women and youngsters who want to try this exciting sport, but need advice on guns, gear and geography. Many of these folks already hunt other game animals, and may already own some of the necessary equipment for a turkey hunt, while other neophytes need to start from scratch. It’s not as difficult or expensive as you might think.
After purchasing a hunting license and turkey tag, the prime requests for success is a comfortable, dependable shotgun. While it’s possible to coax a Jake or Tom turkey into range for a 20 or 16 gauge shotgun to do the job, 12s and 10s offer the best options for distance and knockdown power. Small framed women and youngsters need a shorter scattergun that fits their body size and arm length, and is lightweight enough to shoulder and steady, if necessary, for several minutes as a bird approaches. Lead, bismuth, and mixed-metal turkey loads produce heavy recoil, and this too is a factor in selecting a shotgun and shell combination.
My personal preference in a smoothbore is a 12 gauge that handles a 3 and one-half inch shell, they’re less heavy and cumbersome than the big 10 bangers. While No. 4  lead shot works for many shooters, I use bismuth or Hornady nickel plated lead in the No. 5 pellet size. A shotgun choke tube made especially for turkey loads will add 10 yards to any shotgun, I prefer the H.S. Strut Undertaker model.
Camo clothing is a must if you’re going to set up in natural cover such as hedge rows, wood lines or rock and brush islands in fields. Since head and hands move a good deal when spotting birds and preparing to shoot, a facemasks and gloves are crucial. The only circumstance when full head to foot camouflage isn’t essential, is when full enclosure portable blinds are utilized. These can be quickly set up in any location and hide not only motion by the inhabitants, but offering protection from the elements and insects.
When hunting along trails or by entrance or exit spots along feeding fields, it’s possible to experience success without a turkey decoy. In most cases however, especially in large pastures where it’s necessary to coax a big, wary Tom within shotgun range, a hen decoy truly improves odds. Expert turkey guides often set up a hen and a Jake decoy for realism. Often a mature gobbler will throw caution to the wind and hurry in to the field to scare off the young Jake and court and strut for the hen during mating season.
The final piece of equipment, and arguably the most important, is a call. Mouth calls, box calls and slate scrapper calls are the most effective manual style calls, but require a good deal of practice to use successfully. There are squeeze and shaker type calls perfect for novice turkey hunters to use until they master the more complex models. More expensive, but by far the most effective and diverse calling systems are several battery operated, remote electronic calls with digital renditions of real turkeys making dozens of sounds.
There you have it, a very basic tutorial on what a novice turkey hunter needs to get started. For many sportsmen, gobbler gunning gets in the blood as deeply as whitetail deer hunting, and equipment is used and upgraded for years of fun afield. Don’t let this year’s stumbling block over northern Aroostook turkey season put you off.  Get geared up, try your luck downstate and next spring perhaps you can bag a bird in your own backyard.