Turkey hunting changes coming

Significant changes are coming to increase the number of turkey hunters and the number of turkeys harvested. The legislature’s IFW Committee spent a lot of time yesterday talking about this.

The discussion started with a hearing on LD 1124, An Act To Encourage Turkey Hunting, sponsored by Senator Shenna Bellows, who worked with me on the bill. Shenna did a good job explaining her bill, and said all the towns she represents have problems with wild turkeys.

James Cote presented my testimony, which I will include at the end of this column. The bill would eliminate the turkey hunting fee and permit, eliminate the tagging requirement while requiring hunters to let DIF&W how many turkeys they killed at the end of the season, and expand the bag limit.

DIF&W reported that last year, hunters killed only 6,246 turkeys in the spring and 3,507 in the fall.

While DIF&W opposed the bill, they reported they are considering eliminating the permit and fee for all fall turkey hunters and significantly increasing the fall bag limit in central and southern Maine districts. While some groups spoke in opposition to the bill, including the Guides Association and SAM, they emphasized that they were pleased DIF&W was moving in this direction.

I’m not sure how fast DIF&W will move in this direction, but they seem fully committed to doing this. That is really good news. I agree with Dave Trahan of SAM, who said, “Good progress is being made” by DIF&W.

Testimony on LD 1117, An Act To Encourage Turkey Hunting

George Smith,  www.georgesmithmaine.com

I collaborated with Senator Bellows on this bill and I’m very grateful to her for sponsoring the bill.

Turkeys have become a nuisance all over Maine, and very few people hunt them. I know a number of hunters who quit hunting turkeys because you are hiding in the bushes and getting covered in deer ticks. This bill is designed to recruit more turkey hunters and increase the harvest.

The bill eliminates the turkey hunting permit and the requirement that turkeys be tagged at registration stations. At the end of each season, turkey hunters would be required to let DIFW know how many turkeys they killed. We do this for ducks. This will allow all licensed hunters to shoot turkeys when they show up on their lawn. And there’s no reason to deny them that opportunity.

DIFW’s Commissioner would be directed to increase the spring season bag limit to four male turkeys and the fall season bag limit to eight turkeys of either sex.

DIFW doesn’t know how many wild turkeys we have, but they recognize that we need to reduce the population in central and southern Maine. I know a lot of people who think we have far too many turkeys, and that’s why I worked with Shenna on this bill.

If you don’t hunt turkeys, you probably hate turkeys. One year, a week before Christmas, a friend got a call from a lady asking him to come to her house to kill the turkeys that had eaten all her Christmas decorations on her deck.

Alas, we couldn’t do that, although we did hunt there when the season opened, and shot one turkey, not enough to help with her problem.

Brad Allen, one of DIFW’s best wildlife biologists, wrote an interesting column last year in the Northwoods Sporting Journal, reporting that the agency’s “wild turkey reintroduction program throughout the state” has been “highly successful.” That’s an understatement!

Brad said “there is now a need to improve our management program.” He is working with the University of Maine to improve and refine their turkey population estimates.

Brad’s “second objective is to stabilize wild turkey populations in portions of southern and central Maine (to be identified at the Wildlife Management District level) where nuisance wildlife issues are the greatest….  increases in wild turkey abundance also inherently increase the potential for human-turkey conflicts…. with the results of the population dynamics work the researchers will start addressing…. altering bag limits and season lengths.”

I once proposed legislation that resulted in an increase in the turkey bag limit and reduction in the permit fee, and later tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the fee and increase the bag limit further.

Only 16,000 of us hunt turkeys in the spring and 5000 in the fall. We need more turkey hunters, and we need those hunters to kill more turkeys. In addition to supporting this bill, I hope you’ll get out there later this spring and kill some turkeys!




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, georgesmithmaine.com, 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.