Hunting turkeys is one of Maine’s least favorite hunts. I’ve always enjoyed turkey hunting, but only 16,000 hunters join us on turkey hunts in the spring, and that number plunges to just 5000 for fall turkey hunts. I know quite a few hunters who gave up turkey hunting because every time they hunted, they were covered in deer ticks.
Maine’s wild turkeys were wiped out in the mid-1800s, due to unrestricted hunting and the reduction of forest lands which were converted to farmland.
In the 1960s the Windham Fish and Game Club released turkeys, but their effort failed. In 1977, DIFW got 41 wild turkeys from Vermont and released them in York County, but they didn’t do particularly well, so in 1988 the department obtained 70 more wild turkeys from Connecticut, again releasing them in York County.
Maine’s first turkey hunt occurred in 1986, when 500 permits were issued. But only 9 turkeys were killed that year, including one by my friend Harry Vanderweide. It took Harry a couple years to convince me to try turkey hunting, and Harry, Dad and I enjoyed many turkey hunts after that. Dad was also skeptical about turkey hunting, so I purchased his first hunting permit for him. Almost immediately, Dad was hooked.
As the years progressed, DIFW trapped turkeys and spread them throughout the state. Today we have between 60,000 and 70,000 turkeys, which are found in all Maine counties. I’ve even seen them up in the north woods.
We only kill about 5000 turkeys each year. A few years ago, I successfully proposed legislation that cut the turkey permit fee in half, expanded the bag limit, and expanded the hunt to all day. Two years later, I was unsuccessful with a legislative bill to eliminate the fee and double the bag limit.
Given the damage that turkeys cause in apple orchards and on farms throughout the state, some think DIFW made a mistake in reintroducing them.
At the very least, we need to give existing turkey hunters more opportunities to kill turkeys and find ways to attract more turkey hunters. I think some of my friends might join me some Saturday for a turkey hunt, if they didn’t have to buy a permit.
One of my favorite turkey stories was the time, a week before Christmas, when my friend Ed Pineal got a call from a lay asking if he could come to her house and kill the turkeys that had eaten all the Christmas decorations on her deck!