May 15—Saturday marks the end of the second week of Maine’s spring turkey hunting season, but there’s still plenty of time for you to get out there.
It has been a productive first 10 days for those lying in wait for the sometimes temperamental toms and jakes.
The most recent harvest numbers on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Big Game Harvest Dashboard show that hunters had tagged 4,208 turkeys as of Thursday, May 13.
That’s a high success rate according to state game bird biologist Kelsey Sullivan.
“I compared it to 2019, which was a high harvest year, and we were a couple hundred under what 2019 was on the same Monday at the same time,” he said. “I think that’s a good indicator that it’s a good harvest this year.”
The figures from two years ago represent the most recent reliable data, since hunters were not required in 2020 to tag their harvested turkeys because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sullivan said the relatively mild winter resulted in good survival of the birds coming into this spring. And he explained that hunters should expect to be seeing more immature adult turkeys, known as “jakes,” this year rather than mature males, or “toms.”
Predation is a key factor in the turkey population as well, Sullivan said. Bobcats and coyotes feast on adult birds, while foxes are more likely to go after the smaller, younger turkeys.
Hitting the halfway point of the spring season not having filled a tag can create concern and frustration for some hunters. Often, they might encounter fewer birds because of the timing of the spring mating season.
“There’s a pulse of activity and responsiveness and gobbling, and then that drops sort of midseason after hens have been bred and they’re on nests,” Sullivan said. “It seems like males are taking a break. They’re sick of beating each other up and fighting.”
That helps explain why hunters who had been hearing gobblers and seeing birds in their favorite hunting spots previously might encounter a sudden and unexpected silence in the woods.
Sullivan experienced the phenomenon firsthand this week when he invited a friend out for their first turkey hunt. He had used an owl call on Thursday night to locate birds near his home and received a response gobble.
Early Friday morning, nothing.
Sullivan said while the mating activity can lead to a lull, that doesn’t mean there won’t be many more good opportunities to harvest a turkey during the next three weeks.
“It’s a great one for hunters to realize that there’s a little different flavor to the different weeks of the season,” he said.
Even two weeks from now when the five-week season is winding down, hunters who haven’t filled their tags should keep calling, watching and waiting for toms and jakes.
The spring season ends Saturday, June 5. Prospective resident turkey hunters can purchase a permit from DIF&W — which is good for the spring and fall seasons — for $20.
“They’re a little more lonely, there’s less hunters out and people talk about that being a good time of the season,” Sullivan said. “Don’t lose heart if you’re not maybe seeing a ton of activity right this minute. It’s bound to pick up a little bit at the end of the season.”