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Maine Spring Wild Turkey Hunter's Guide
The Maine Spring Wild Turkey Hunter's Guide was developed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in cooperation with the Maine Chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Its goal is to:
Since 1968, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has used strategic planning to establish population objectives for many of the species it manages, including Wild Turkey. The Department has refined and expanded the process over the years, and public involvement is an integral component.
In 1999, the Department convened a public working group to develop goals and objectives that would guide Wild Turkey management for the period 2000-2015. Members of the working group came from many geographic areas of the state and represented diverse groups and interests, such as sportsmen, landowners, environmentalists, etc. They developed the following goal and 5 objectives for Wild Turkeys in Maine. The goal and objectives have been endorsed by the Department and its Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council and are the Department's "marching orders" through 2015.
Goal: Increase the size and distribution of the Wild Turkey population within all suitable habitats in Maine.
Objective 1: By 2010, increase the size and distribution of the Wild Turkey population within all suitable habitats in Maine via trap and transfer activities and habitat improvements.
Objective 2: By 2010, provide unlimited spring hunting opportunity (everyone who applies for a permit receives a permit) as long as the Wild Turkey population can support it, and 2001 hunt quality is maintained. (The working group defined quality hunting as hearing, seeing, working, and hopefully harvesting a turkey without interference from others.)
Objective 3: By 2002, develop a component to the Department's Nuisance Wildlife Policy that addresses Wild Turkeys.
Objective 4: By 2003, implement a limited fall hunting season in areas where the Wild Turkey population can support it, and without adversely affecting Objective 2.
Objective 5: Develop a cooperative habitat improvement program between landowners, the Maine Chapter National Wild Turkey Federation, and the Department.
Information provided by hunters is an important part of the Department's turkey management program. A sample of turkey permit holders, including those who did not hunt or were unsuccessful, will be asked to complete a survey provided by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife online or by mail.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife strongly recommends that hunters ask permission of the landowner before going onto land to hunt or scout. Since the hunt will be conducted during the spring (a non-traditional hunting period) and in the most densely populated counties of Maine, it is very important to seek consent from the landowner. The hunter who does this will find that landowners who posted their property during the fall are often willing to allow spring turkey hunting. Usually, the landowner only wants to know who you are and when you are going to be on his/her land. If you fail to gain permission on a parcel, respect the landowner's rights and seek hunting privileges elsewhere. The success of this and future hunts depends on you.
Spring Wild Turkey hunting is a specialized sport requiring skill and plenty of patience. The Wild Turkey's keen eyesight, sharp hearing, and extreme wariness make it one of the most elusive of all game species. Wild Turkey hunting is potentially dangerous given its secretive, camouflaged nature and the inexperience of newcomers to the sport. Learning about the behavior of this bird is equally as important as learning the basic techniques to safely hunt it.
To prepare for turkey hunting, these important safety rules should be observed:
Ethics are standards of behavior that are considered to be morally right, even without the benefit of legal sanction.
Ethical behavior varies somewhat from place to place, depending on local traditions and practices. However, an overall standard of conduct must be established and observed by the hunting fraternity. While hunting is considered a respectable activity in Maine, it is frowned upon in many areas by an increasing number of people. The primary reason for this disapproval is the manner in which some irresponsible hunters conduct themselves in the field.
Instead of formulating a specific list of unacceptable behavior for the hunter, it may be of more value to discuss some desirable attitudes and criteria which should be used by the ethical sportsman in determining behavior.
A hunter's conduct is determined by his or her:
Historically in Maine, Wild Turkeys appeared in significant numbers in York, Cumberland, and Oxford Counties, and perhaps in reduced numbers eastward to Hancock County. Reductions in the amount of forest land due to intensive land clearing for farming and unrestricted shooting were probably the two most important factors leading to the extirpation of native Wild Turkeys in Maine in the early 1800's. The reversion of thousands of acres of farmland back to wooded habitat, and present day agricultural practices, have enhanced prospects for reestablishing Wild Turkeys into, and perhaps beyond, their former range.
Attempts to reintroduce turkeys to Maine began in 1942 when the Department of Inland Fisheries and Game released 24 captive-reared birds on Swan Island in Sagadahoc County. These birds were supplementally fed in the winter, and the last bird was reported seen in 1946. In the 1960's, fish and game clubs in Bangor and Windham made similar attempts to reestablish turkeys into their areas using imported birds raised from part wild and part game-farm stocks. Neither of these attempts resulted in a good population of wild birds.
In Maine, we have had the benefit of work done by biologists in other states to reestablish Wild Turkeys into former and new ranges of suitable habitat. Researchers in these states discovered the key to each success was to remove a small number of wild birds from one site and release them, as soon as possible, into suitable, unoccupied habitat.
Responding to requests from fish and game clubs and individual Maine sportsmen, and encouraged by successful reintroduction programs in Vermont and New Hampshire, MDIFW began planning it's own turkey program in the mid-1970s. The goals of this program were twofold: to establish turkeys in the coastal part of the state where they historically occurred, and to establish a big game species for hunters in Maine.
The first step was to locate a source of birds. Vermont biologists, who had great success with their turkey program, were willing to supply Maine with birds from their wild flocks. The next step was to select a release site. York County was chosen as the initial release site because of it's large acreage's of wooded habitat, a good supply of mast-producing trees (beech and oak), and its mild winters with <60 inches of annual snowfall.
In 1977 and 1978, Vermont Fish and Game biologists trapped 41 turkeys, which MDIFW biologists released in the towns of York and Elliot. By the early 1980s, the York County population had become large enough to serve as a source of birds for new release sites in Maine. In the spring of 1982, 33 birds were captured in York County and released in Waldo County in an attempt to establish a turkey population in the mid-coast region. In the winter of 1984, 19 additional birds were captured in York County and released in Hancock County, but poaching was believed to be the demise of these birds. During the winters of 1987 and 1988, MDIFW biologists, with the help of individuals from the Maine Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, trapped 70 Wild Turkeys in Connecticut and released them in Maine to augment Maine's turkey population.
Since 1990, instate trapping and transfer by regional biologists occur each year and has expanded the range of the Wild Turkey in Maine to the east and north. Today, reports of Wild Turkeys well inland of the coast and eastward throughout Hancock County are common.
Wild Turkeys are ground feeders and eat a wide variety of grasses, seeds, fruits, and insects. In the northeast, turkeys reach their highest densities in areas with agricultural activities, particularly dairy farms. These sites enable the birds to get through the tough winter months. Here farms provide abundant food in the form of silage corn and undigested grains in manure, which is either spread on fields or stored where the birds can get to it. Further, hay fields associated with farms also provide hood habitat for young turkeys. MDIFW biologists believe that snow depths may be a limiting factor for turkeys in Maine. For this reason, future turkey releases will be in areas with dairy farms and a large amount of land in hardwoods, particularly mast-producing trees. Ultimately, the department's goal is to have a viable Wild Turkey population wherever suitable Wild Turkey habitat exists.
Wild Turkeys, like white-tailed deer, are polygamous, meaning generally that only the dominant males in the population mate with most of the females. The remaining males can be considered surplus.
The sexes are easily distinguished in Wild Turkeys, as only the males gobble and have spurs. All males have beards of varying lengths, and about one in 25 hens also has a beard. The gobblers have a blacker plumage than the gray or buff-colored hens. As with the males of many bird species, the gobblers have the brighter coloration, and this is readily apparent on the head and neck. During courtship, males display vivid red, white and blue head coloration.
Courtship activities take place in the early morning hours during late April and early May. The spring hunting season dates are chosen to allow most breeding to take place and hens to begin incubation prior to the start of the hunting season. Hens are less vulnerable to shooting after they begin incubating. Further, hens often leave the nest during afternoon hours, hence the noon daily closure in hunting activity. The hunt is limited to bearded turkeys only. After mating, the gobbler's participation is over. The hens are responsible for incubating and rearing the young. In 49 states where spring turkey hunting is allowed, the sport is in no way detrimental to the population growth or range expansion of Wild Turkey flocks. Spring turkey hunting provides a quality big game hunting opportunity, even in states with an ongoing restoration program.
Do not encourage family members or friends to go turkey hunting unless they have observed Wild Turkeys so they can readily distinguish between females (hens) and males (toms, gobblers, or jakes). Remember, older adult hens can develop beards too. It is highly advisable to attend a turkey hunting seminar and watch films or videos about turkeys. Every hen killed during May potentially represents 12 young that won't hatch. If a person doesn't know a hen from a gobbler, he/she should not be turkey hunting.
There is little excuse for shooting a hen as the hunter is playing the part of the hen and making calls to get some toms to come to him/her. In the process of calling and waiting for the tom to come to his/her concealed position, the hunter will most likely hear the males gobble a number of times. Further, there is a high probability of seeing the toms displaying and fanning their tails. Even so, it is not unusual for a hen to be seen feeding alone or accompanied by one or more toms.
The regulations read "one bearded turkey" is legal game. The beard is often small and hard to see on young males (jakes). Sometimes it is broken off. Other times, trees or brush obscure the view of the beard. The majority of males in the population do not have long beards (5 to 12 inches), but rather are "jakes" or one-year-old males (2 to 4 inch beards). In this case, the beard is not easy to see and may protrude only an inch from the breast feathers. Approximately 4% of adult hens will have thin beards that can be 6 to 8 inches long. These hens are valuable because they are generally experienced breeders and nesters, and hunters are encouraged not to shoot these bearded hens.
A major characteristic of males is the very pronounced red, white, and blue head coloration of the displaying tom. The white skull cap on the tom is very obvious and the wattles (reddish skin area) on the male's neck are more pronounced than on the hen. The hen has a smaller, bluish-gray head with more small feathers covering it. Males are much larger, darker colored and have spurs on their legs.
The sex of a turkey "in-hand" is readily apparent. Look at a small feather from the chest or upper back. All males have a black band at the tip of the feather. Hens have a black band toward the end of the feather, but also have a narrow 1/8" to 1/4" band of buffy-brown beyond the black band.
Know how to identify a hen from a tom. Pre-season scouting and observing several birds will help.
It is important that the Wild Turkey hunter has the proper equipment. A checklist of the recommended basics is provided below. Other gear can be added as hunting situations require it. Make sure your equipment is not colored red, white, or blue.
Proper calling techniques are crucial to success. An understanding of the use and meaning of hen calls is important because calling the gobbler to the hunter is a reversal of the natural process of the hen moving toward the gobbling male for breeding.
The best way to learn how to imitate the calls of the Wild Turkey is to listen to instructional cassette tapes. The advice of an experienced caller is also valuable.
Variation in the calls of Wild Turkeys is evident, and they are able to produce high notes as well as low notes. Common hen calls include the yelp, the cluck, the purr, the putt, and the cackle.
Pre-season scouting may indicate good areas to hunt during the season. Study the topography of the land to locate as many calling sites as possible. Signs such as tracks, scratchings, and droppings are all good indicators of turkey activity. Scout more than one area so that you will have alternate sites. Look for safety features at each site in order to prevent future accidents.
Because gobblers are in an extremely excited state during the breeding season, loud noises and certain animal calls can stimulate a gobbling response. A turkey hunter can take advantage of this by imitating owl hoots or crow calls and then waiting for a response. This technique can be used to roost or locate a gobbler the night before the hunt or the morning of the hunt.
Determining the exact location of the bird is critical and will help the turkey hunter choose the best possible calling position. The hunter should locate a calling position in open woods, selecting a spot where his/her back is protected. An appropriate calling position would be against a large tree or rock where the outline of the body is concealed.
Use these techniques when hunting to increase your safety:
A decoy should never be visible while being transported. Never carry an uncovered (identifiable) decoy any distance.
Whenever possible, set-up by a "stand" tree that is greater in diameter than the width of your shoulders.
From your seated position, identify the clearest line of vision to your front. Establish a "sight line" that allows you 100 yards visibility. Then set your decoy(s) approximately 20 yards from your position on the line.
Should you see another hunter (especially if he/she is close to your "line of sight") call out to them in a loud, clear voice. Their presence has already compromised your location and a "soft" call may only confuse them, rather than alert them to your presence.
If you are calling over decoys and then elect to move to a new location, check carefully to ensure that no one is stalking your decoy(s). Check before leaving.
Due to the wariness of the Wild Turkey, bowhunters sometimes use decoys and a blind. Decoy(s) divert the tom's attention from the caller, while the blind allows the hunter to draw the bow unseen. It is wise to place the decoy(s) to the side of the blind, well within range of the bird's anticipated approach.
A quiet bow set at a comfortable poundage is essential to your success. Compound bows are preferable because the let-off allows you to hold the bow at full-draw for an extended period. Heavier draw weights often associated with hunting large game are not necessary for turkey hunting and are easier to draw and hold. While you can use the same broadheads as you use for deer hunting, they should be fitted with an arrow stopper to prevent complete pass-thru. String tracks are also very helpful in retrieving a turkey after the shot. Be sure to practice with this set-up as these modifications will affect arrow flight. A stool or seat makes the wait much easier, and it is important to camouflage everything as the turkey is often in your presence for quite some time prior to the shot.
If you are hunting alone, it is best to use a mouth call as it will allow you use of both hands. If you are hunting with a partner, position the caller 10-20 yards behind the shooter.
The hunter should draw only when the turkey's vision is blocked by a tree or when the bird faces away from you. With a broadside shot your point of aim is the wing butt, where it attaches to the bird. When taking a shot head-on (bird facing you), aim for the center of the chest, where the beard comes out on a gobbler. If the bird is facing away from you, aim for the base of the tail. Remember, a turkey's vital organs are about the size of a softball.
A The desired pattern, good shot placement (point of aim is base of turkey's neck).
B This pattern shows that the bird is out of range at this distance.
*C Poor shot placement, good pattern.
*D Poor shot placement, good pattern.
*Poor shot placement is a result of poor aiming by shooter or the shotgun's tendency to shoot high or low; left or right.
The National Wild Turkey Federation's (NWTF) Wild Turkey Records serves as a permanent international archive for preserving standardized information on legally harvested Wild Turkeys at the Federation's Edgefield, South Carolina headquarters.
Any legally taken turkey is eligible for inclusion in this program, and each participating hunter receives a lapel pin and a certificate suitable for framing. All applicants must be current members of the NWTF. The Federation updates these computerized records at least quarterly, and publishes the top entries annually in its Turkey Call magazine.
For more information on this program, contact:
National Wild Turkey Federation
When the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was founded in 1973, there were an estimated 1.3 million turkeys and 1.5 million turkey hunters. Thanks to the efforts of the NWTF, its members, partners, and state, federal, and provincial wildlife agencies, there are now an estimated 5.6 million Wild Turkeys and approximately 2.6 million turkey hunters. Turkey hunting has become the second highest participated type of hunting and is the fastest growing form of hunting.
The National Wild Turkey Federation, headquartered in Edgefield, SC, is a national nonprofit conservation and education organization comprised of more than 450,000 members dedicated to conserving Wild Turkeys and preserving hunting traditions. Together, the NWTF's conservation partners and grassroots members have raised and spent more than $168 million on over 22,000 projects benefiting Wild Turkeys throughout North America.
In 1997, the Maine State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded under the tutelage of the Gorham/Windham Rod and Gun Club and today supports nearly 500 members in nine local chapters throughout the state. Through the efforts of local Chapters and annual Super Fund Membership Banquets, financial assistance and support are provided to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to assist with the restoration of the Wild Turkey population in Maine.
If you are interested in learning more about the National Wild Turkey Federation or becoming a member, logon to their web site at www.nwtf.org. If you wish, you may join by calling the NWTF at National Wild Turkey Federation, PO Box 530, Edgefield, SC 29824 or call (803) 637-3106.
The Maine State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) has established the Longbeard Society, which operates much like Maine's Biggest Bucks Club, to recognize hunters who have taken trophy wild turkeys. To qualify, a turkey must have been legally taken in Maine and have a minimum beard length of 7 inches.
Beard and spur length measurements must be made with a device that is accurate to 1/16 inch. In order to standardize measurements, all length measurements must be recorded in eighths. Each beard must be measured from the center point of the protrusion from the skin to the opposite end of its longest bristle. Each spur must be measured along the centerline of its longest dimension, from the point at which the spur protrudes from the scaled leg skin to its tip.
If you are interested in knowing how your turkey scores under the NWTF scoring system, you can calculate it by this formula: Weight (in pounds) plus ten times the length of each spur plus two times the beard length. For example, a 19-pound gobbler with both spurs one inch long and a 9-inch beard would be scored as follows:
19 pounds + 10 x both 1" spurs + 2 x 9-inch beard
19 + 10 + 10 + 18 = Score of 57
Turkeys weighing 22 pounds or more, or having beards of 10 inches or longer, or having spurs of 1-1/4 inch or longer must be measured by an official Maine State Chapter scorer listed on registration form PDF.
In order to register your trophy and join the Longbeard Society, you must be a current member of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The Maine State Chapter will issue a Longbeard Society patch to each member who registers a qualifying turkey and pays a $5.00 registration fee to help cover the program's expenses. The Society's top entries are listed annually in the Maine Gobbler Grapevine newsletter, which is sent to all NWTF members in Maine.
Maine State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation Longbeard Society Registration Form PDF.
If you are interested in learning more about the National Wild Turkey Federation or becoming a member, logon to their web site at www.nwtf.org.
A sample of turkey permit holders, including those who did not hunt or were unsuccessful, will be asked to complete a survey provided by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and return it to the Department within a period of 10 days after the close of the turkey hunting season. You may find the diary below useful for keeping track of your spring turkey hunting activity. Please do not send this diary to the Department, use it to fill out the survey accurately if you are sent one by the Department.
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