Sports

Spring turkey hunt at hand in County

When Maine wildlife officials began transplanting wild turkeys in Aroostook County in 2007, I was skeptical. The Canada goose stocking had gone so well that the Crown of Maine now has a burgeoning population and much appreciated early season native goose hunt. But geese can simply fly south when the weather becomes too severe, while turkey, which are predominantly ground scratchers and feeders, are pretty much stuck in their general home habitat.

By 2014, a total of 166 turkeys had been relocated from southern Maine to several Aroostook areas; most had survived, multiplied in numbers and spread out enough for The County to enjoy its premier gobbler hunt. It’s now five years later and despite one of the longest, most horrific winters in years, I’ve spotted half a dozen flocks of turkey and the month-long May hunt is underway. I don’t think our region’s weather conditions will ever induce and sustain the numbers seen down south, but this unique, fairly new and challenging hunting option is now available locally with no further need to travel.

Thanks to a decade of stocking and procreation, wild turkeys are becoming a fairly common sight throughout Aroostook. With hunting season now in progress, sportsmen are hoping to spot a quartet of long-bearded toms like these near their blind.
(Bill Graves)

In past years a surprising number of Aroostook outdoorsmen, including myself, have journeyed to central or southern Maine, even New Hampshire to enjoy gobbler gunning among huge numbers of birds. Many of us have the right clothing and gear to hunt locally on our own, but even first timers won’t have to break the bank gearing up. Most every upland bird hunter and waterfowler owns a scattergun that will work, and many have the necessary camouflage clothing as well.

Youth hunters and small-framed women often use 20 and 16 gauge shotguns to successfully bag a turkey with minimal recoil. A few folks turn to the big 10 gauge for more pellets and greater distance, but the venerable old 12 gauge still tops the list, especially the 3 and 3 ½ inch models. Having the correct choke and ammunition to effectively anchor these large, tough, heavily feathered birds is equally important.

Size 4, 5 and 6 lead pellets are most common, but there are several very effective copper coated, bismuth and other heavy non-toxic loads. A few shell manufacturers have even developed special long distance wads and shot cups as well as mixed pellet size shells specifically for wild turkey.

Most older shotguns have a fixed choke, so select one with a full choke barrel for a tight pattern. If your scattergun uses interchangeable choke tubes, opt for full or extra full, or better yet purchase an aftermarket extended choke tube made for especially dense patterns even at longer yardage in case a smart tom can’t be called and coaxed by a decoy into optimal range.

Abby Stewart of Mars Hill (photo) teamed up with boyfriend Jered Young to bag this 20 pound tom last spring. They both ended up taking big turkeys and seeing several large flocks.
(Bill Graves)

Decoys are an essential part of spring turkey hunting since it’s mating season and the toms are searching for hens. Hundreds of turkey decoys in every imaginable shape, size, material and level of realism are available online, in outdoor catalogs, and at sporting goods stores. Quality, realism, and durability cost  money. Start with a single hen or a hen and jake combo that’s in your current price range.You can always trade up or add on.

A turkey call is the next essential, and there are even more options here than with the decoys. Mouth calls, box calls, and slate and striker calls top the list, but these each require a bit of practice and expertise. One little mistake and the turkey refuses to approach or runs the other way. For rookies to the sport, there are push-button and shake and squeeze calls that are simple to use and realistic as well as fairly inexpensive.

Another very popular option is an electronic call, there are dozens of makes and models, one to fit every price range too. Their effectiveness is top rate because real turkeys have been recorded doing a wide array of sounds that require only the push of a button to recreate. These units are reliable, portable and some have small wireless speakers that can be set right under the decoys out in the fields.

Scouting remains the most essential part of bagging a gobbler; especially throughout Aroostook where the populations aren’t dense. Find a flock, figure out where they are roosting and feeding, then set up a portable blind or hide in natural cover nearby. Use your decoy and calling to coax and cajole a tom into shotgun or bow range.

If your birthday falls on an odd numbered year, in zones 1 through 6 for 2019, you can hunt season A — April 29 to May 4 and May 13 to 18. Hunters born in even numbered years have season B — May 6 to 11 and May 20 to 25. Everyone gets to hunt the final week of May 27 to June 1. Weather conditions being what they are recently, the final three weeks of the season should offer the best opportunities. Get geared up. Get out scouting and then get gobbling. It’s time for turkey.

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