Sports

Going for gobblers

Many Aroostook sportsmen look forward to May with great anticipation; ice out and spring trolling are just around the corner and it’s time to prep boats, motors and fishing equipment. Over the last few springs, however, a growing band of outdoorsmen are turning to another option — a spring wild turkey season. 

Spring gunning options have been limited to squirrels, coyote, and groundhog, but gobblers are designated a big-game quarry offering tasty table fare and a challenging hunt, so regional interest is skyrocketing.

Twenty years ago southern Maine was inundated with wild turkey. They were considered pests by many dairy farmers, but not a gobbler could be seen in Aroostook.  A few birds were captured and relocated to Crown of Maine locations in 2007, and by 2014 166 turkeys had been transferred and released. With good survival rates, propagation and expansion, a limited season was allowed.

Fast forward eight more years to now, and local hunters can enjoy not only a spring turkey season in zones 1 through 6 but a fall season in zone 6 as well. Youth day is April 30 and all hunters can try to bag a bearded turkey throughout May and until day’s end on June 4. Shooters can use a shotgun, crossbow or bow and arrow. Shotguns gauges 20, 16, 12, and 10 must use size 4 or 6 pellets or mixed loads with shot sizes 4 through 7. Using a 28 or .410 gauge is also legal when shells are loaded with size 7 to 9 tungsten super shot (TSS).

Hunters need a valid small- or big-game license as well as a turkey permit. Sportsmen who are 70 or older and have paid $8 for a lifetime license need purchase no other tags or permits to participate. Turkeys must be tagged before transportation and registered within 18 hours at a game inspection station. For some landowners and family members, it is legal to hunt your own land without a permit if certain criteria are met. Check a law book for specifics.

Collin McCrum of Mars Hill bagged his first gobbler on youth day last spring. He and his dad Daryl set out decoys and called in this hefty 18-pound turkey. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Most regional outdoorsmen, especially waterfowl hunters, already own much of the gear for pursuing wild turkey, but a few specialty items are needed. Beyond the requisite shotgun, shells, archery gear and camo clothing, the primary hunting aid will be a decoy. Without a realistic fake turkey or two, getting a real bird into shotgun range will be unlikely, and random at best. Usually one or two hen decoys are set out to coax a tom into an amorous approach; it also works setting up a hen decoy and a jake, which is a young male. Often a big tom turkey will come running to scare the jake off and claim the female as a mate.

It’s possible to purchase a turkey decoy for a little as $25, but the more elaborate and realistic models made from the sturdiest, long-lasting materials can cost upwards of $200. There are also multi-bird combo kits available offering different poses of hens, jakes and toms. A little shopping will pinpoint a decoy in your price range that will be effective.

Just as important as a realistic decoy, a turkey call will be needed to attract a real gobbler to come and see the decoy. There are several styles of turkey calls, various prices and a wide range of ease of operation. Diaphragm mouth calls are the most realistic but require a fair amount of practice; slate pad and striker combos are effective and popular and the simple-to-use box call offers great sound and ease of use.

Rookies to turkey hunting might want to consider a handheld shaker, tube or push-button container call operated by simply rotating or moving its position with one hand. The most dependable, more expensive calls are battery-operated electronic devices that contain recorded real hen and tom calls and range in price from $40 to $250.  

Most shooters simply hide in the bushes and brush along a field edge for cover, and perhaps trim a few limbs to open a shooting lane. A piece of camo material to clip to the brush helps break up a hunter’s silhouette and hide slight movements. Archers who need a bit more movement to prepare to shoot, and shotgunners who want full 360-degree sight and shooting lanes often use pop-up blinds set right out in a field. These offer protection from the elements and shield motion from sharp-eyed gobblers.

Although not “must have” gear, for comfort, convenience, and more accurate shooting, an extra-full turkey choke for the shotgun, a multipocket camo vest and a thick seat cushion or folding hunting seat all make long outings more tolerable. A thermos and weatherproof snack box aren’t bad ideas, either.

Scouting is by far the most important aspect of a successful turkey hunt. Locate birds, pinpoint where they feed regularly, their travel trails and most importantly where they roost at night. Once roost trees are found, hunters can set up decoys and a blind in a nearby feed field and begin calling to the turkeys as soon as they fly down in the mornings. With a bit of luck a tom can be coaxed into shooting range.

While overcrowding isn’t a problem yet, thanks to diverse distribution of the turkey flocks, it’s best to have scouted a couple of spots and have a backup site in mind. Also, extra caution must be used to identify live birds from decoys. Some hunters use sneak-and-peek tactics to get a shot, and to mistake a very realistic decoy for a real bird would be bad. Take care and know your target. 

Spring hunting options are scarce, and bagging and tagging a big tom turkey is a real challenge and exciting accomplishment. Weather and hunting conditions will improve as the month progresses, so get your new license and turkey tag and go after the main course for a tasty Sunday dinner.

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