The morning started as most do during turkey season, in the inky darkness of predawn, and with high hopes for a successful morning hunt. There were some precautionary words from our guide, Doug Stults: “The winter flocks have broken up so the birds will be in smaller groups.” But that was a relative statement. Smaller groups in Nebraska might hold what most Maine hunters could only hope to see in an entire season.

Following directions to our destination we rode Yamaha ATVs as close as we dared, then disembarked. The moonlight was ideal, barely bright enough to see where we were going without flashlights, but dim enough to conceal our approach. After surveying what little we could make out of the landscape we settled on a small copse of trees several hundred yards from where we were told the turkeys roosted. Now it became a waiting game.

In Maine, we sit in the predawn darkness awaiting the distant gobble of a lovesick tom, who might be answered by another, or even a few jakes. I knew there would be more here, but had no idea just how many more we might encounter. The answer came soon.

The still morning air was broken by the nervous tree yelps of a hen, which were answered first by a single gobble. That elicited a cacophony of gobbling that seemed to roll down the tree line for a hundred yards or more. It was impossible to tell how many individual gobblers were in the roost, dozens, perhaps a hundred or more. Clearly we were in for something special.

Fly-down is always an exciting time but relating anything I’d witnessed back home to this would be like comparing a day at the beach to the Normandy invasion. All along the treeline for several hundred yards hens cackled, toms gobbled and birds pitched out of the trees in a seemingly endless stream.

Soon the mass started to coalesce into smaller groups. To quote Captain Quint from the movie “Jaws,” “They formed into tight groups, kinda like squares in battle, like you see on a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo.” Each group contained a loose aggregation of hens accompanied by a squad of toms. And they did indeed look like soldiers, marching shoulder to shoulder, dressed in sharp, black uniforms, their fanned tails accented with semi-circular buff stripes.

Gradually the groups fanned out. Some went back through the trees to the west. Some went north, others south, the throng slowly dissipating like a cloud of smoke. And several smaller groups seemed to be coming our way, but they took their sweet time doing so.

The hens fed their way along, seemingly oblivious to their suitors. But each time one turned away from the group, several longbeards would follow. By the time they neared our position there were “only” maybe a dozen hens and eight or 10 toms, and as the hens veered north, the toms followed. As incredible as the spectacle was, it seemed even more unbelievable that though we had started our day less than 200 yards from well over 100 birds, we might not even get a shot.

Then it happened. One longbeard hesitated. I could see his head turning indecisively, back and forth from the departing hens to our decoys. And when he puffed into full strut and started toward the decoys, several more toms broke ranks and followed. One even made a quick dash, as if to cut the other off. That caused all of them to sprint into our laps.

There was a moment of hesitation as I waited for my partner, Steve, to fire. “Shoot,” he whispered harshly. “No,” I replied. “You first.” And when his gun went off I wasted little time dropping a second bird. And just like that, it was over.

To witness that many birds in a single, brief morning hunt was a remarkable spectacle that words cannot fully describe. It was testament to a successful management program and represented a remarkable recreational opportunity. Surprisingly, some folks think Maine has too many turkeys already, but until I witness something around home like I saw in Nebraska I say, “Not hardly.”

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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