New turkey management plan calls for killing more turkeys

With a turkey population estimated between 50,000 and 60,000, Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is searching for ways to kill more turkeys.

This is the third in my series of columns on Maine’s new big game management plans. Today we’ll talk turkeys.
The plan notes that “Beginning around 2010 and on a nearly annual basis, several legislative bills have been sponsored in response to abundant wild turkey populations. These efforts were designed to both reduce wild turkey conflicts and increase hunting opportunity. As a result of these legislative actions, wild turkey permit fees were reduced, bag limits were liberalized, and fall hunting seasons were extended.”

What they failed to report was that those legislative bills were proposed by me. I recruited legislators to sponsor those bills for me. And DIFW opposed the bills, initially, although I think today they recognize that the changes were all good. I tried to get rid of the permit fee, but was only able to reduce it, and we increased the bag limit and hunting time.

In case you don’t know, various groups are not required to purchase turkey hunting permits, including some landowners, apprentice and junior hunting license holders, and lifetime license holders age 70 and older.

After receiving some complaints about turkeys in gardens, I wrote a column recently letting farmers and home gardeners know that “a person may kill any wild turkey if the turkey is in the act of attacking, harassing, or wounding domestic animals or destroying property. In addition, the owner of an orchard or crop (except grass, clover, or grain) may kill wild turkeys within the orchard or crop when substantial damage is occurring. You can even allow someone else to kill those turkeys, with permission from a game warden. And anyone killing a turkey under these provisions must notify a game warden within 12 hours, and must salvage the meat for consumption.”

DIFW surveyed the public and hunters, and found that hunters who had not hunted turkeys within the past 5 years were either not interested (29%), didn’t have enough time (24%), or were held back by complex regulations and/or permit requirements (14%).

This is important information because DIFW has now decided we need to kill more turkeys. Along with other turkey hunters, I am skeptical that the agency can recruit more turkey hunters. The best solution is to let current turkey hunters shoot more turkeys. Only 16,000 hunt turkeys in the spring and 5000 in the fall This is not a popular hunt. I did note that some hunters said the permit fee is a disincentive to turkey hunting. I do think if we got rid of the permit and fee, some hunters might try turkey hunting for a day or two.

Interestingly, DIFW believes “a significant challenge going forward will be informing the public about the misconceptions of wild turkey impacts and behavior.” A major component of the new plan is to create “more rigorous methods to track population changes over time.”
And here’s something that will drive the agency’s turkey hunting decisions in the future. “The Department feels that the wild turkey population can support additional harvest in both the spring and fall in certain WMDs and would like to increase hunter participation in both seasons… Increasing hunter participation will be required before harvest can be used as a tool to effectively control or reduce the wild turkey population in WMDs where that may be desirable.”

Time to get rid of the permit and fee and increase the bag limit!

Up Next: Turkey management goals and objectives.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.