May is the month to talk turkey

Bill Graves, Special to The County
9 years ago

MAINELY OUTDOORS

    A vast number of Aroostook sportsmen wait anxiously day by day for ice out on regional lakes each May, and the few weeks of terrific trolling that follows. Crown of Maine hunters, however, enjoy far fewer spring options. Up until fairly recently, it has been necessary to travel to southern Maine or another New England state for the popular challenge of turkey hunting.


While turkeys survive well and multiply and spread out steadily in the milder temperatures and reduced snow cover of Maine’s coastline and southern counties, they have a much tougher time in Aroostook. Nonetheless, a transplant program was instituted several years ago and slowly but surely the number of gobblers rose to a huntable level. Although there was supposed to be a season in 2014, severe winter conditions took an unexpected toll and the hunt was cancelled.
May 2nd is Youth Day for any resident or non-resident youngsters who are 10 to 16 years old and have a junior hunting license. Youth hunters must be under adult supervision and may use a shotgun, bow or crossbow to take up to two bearded wild turkeys dependent on the wildlife management district (WMD). Most of the state’s WMDs, 7 through 29 offer a full, continuous season from May 4 to June 6, but zones 1 to 6 use an alternating season to control pressure on the game birds and number of hunters in the woods over the season. Season A runs from May 4-9 and May 18-23, while season B is May 11-16 and May 25-30. Hunters born in odd years will hunt season A this spring, while those born in even years are assigned season B. All turkey hunters can hunt the final week of the season from June 1-6.
A spring/fall wild turkey permit is required in addition to a valid big game license, the cost is $20. Bow hunters also need a current archery license and crossbow shooters require a special permit to accompany their archery and big game license. Resident junior hunting licenses already include a wild turkey permit so no further expense is incurred for the season for kids.
Wild turkeys have become so prevalent in many zones at the lower temperate end of the state that numerous residents and farmers consider them pests. Aroostook gobblers are fewer and more spread out and cover is thicker, so the main ingredient for hunter success will be lots of preseason scouting.
A fair number of experienced spring gunners have been out and about for a couple of weeks pinpointing flocks of birds, feeding plots, travel routes and especially roosting locations. Sneaking up on a leery Tom is almost impossible, so smart hunters set up along often used trails or at the edge of feed fields and then try for a shot at a traveling bird or attempt to call the turkey into range.
Spring is mating season for wild turkeys and the Toms are on the prowl constantly in search of hens. These otherwise wily birds become a bit less cautious, even foolish when chasing females and come to seductive hen calls and fake female decoys set up by hunters. If a sportsman can locate turkeys roosting at dusk, then sneak into a nearby field and set up a portable blind and decoys before dawn, there’s a good chance of coaxing a bird into range.
Most regional outdoorsmen who hunt waterfowl will already own most of the gear needed to hunt turkey. Full camo clothing, especially a face mask and gloves, help a hunter hide in a tree line or brush pile if a blind isn’t available. A 12-gauge, 3-inch scattergun with size six or four pellets in a heavy turkey load is most popular. A few folks carry a 10-gauge or three-and-a half-inch 12 for a bit of extra distance and punch, but a lot of women and youngsters bag gobblers using a 20 gauge. A few truly adventurous sportsmen arm themselves with bows and even crossbows to heighten the challenge.
The only specialty equipment required are calls and decoys. A single hen decoy will work, but most gunners feel a pair of hens or a hen and a jake (a young male turkey) decoys are more realistic. Decoys can be inexpensive blow-up styles or collapsible, folding plastic models that cost $25 or super realistic painted and feathered units that actually move and rotate on special bases. Be prepared to pay dearly for the fancy decoys, but there are dozens of mid-range choices out there too.
Calls may well be the trickiest tools of turkey hunting, not just in selecting the right one but in using it effectively. Perhaps that’s why veteran gobbler gunners have at least half a dozen sizes, shapes, styles and sounds. Basically there are mouth or diaphragm calls, box calls and pot calls, all of which require a fair bit of practice to work effectively. Partial mastery of any one type will improve hunting success greatly, but it takes some time and effort.
While learning the proper use of a pot call, also known as a striker call, I took a shortcut to hunt sooner. It sounds like a real turkey, and it’s a great idea for any other novice callers to buy a digital electronic game call. At the flick of a switch they produce any of a dozen realistic turkey calls, and they don’t hit wrong notes like I’m prone to do every once in awhile. There are several handheld models and even some with remote speakers that may be set out beside the decoys. If you’re new to the sport and really want to hunt this spring, one of these battery-operated gems may be your answer to success.
Aroostook hunters now have a truly worthy quarry for spring outings and don’t have to sit at home while the fishermen have all the fun every May. There’s still plenty of time to gear up and get after a gobbler this season for a great challenge and some tasty tablefare as well.