The arrival of a new year means a time to look ahead, perhaps with a modicum of curiosity, a tinge of anxiety, and hopefully a healthy dose of optimism. It’s also a time for reflecting on the past, which can help us steer a truer course into the future. We’ve all been deluged over the past week with the best and worst moments from 2018, but I thought it might be interesting to go back a decade to compare what was with what is and what could be, at least with wild turkeys.

In 2008, demand for turkey hunting opportunity still exceeded the supply of targets. Maine had, only two years earlier, changed from a lottery to over-the-counter turkey permit sales, and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists found themselves again considering major changes to the hunting season framework.

One was elimination of the split season that allowed for approximately half the licensed hunters to participate in the first and fourth weeks, and the other half to hunt in the second and third weeks. Unsuccessful hunters could hunt in the fifth and final week. The primary objectives were to spread out the hunting pressure while also addressing strong concerns about safety, the quality of the hunt and landowner relations.

It took another year, but in 2009 the split season was abandoned and all who wished could participate in the five-week season. The number of permits actually dropped by about 1,000, though the harvest remained relatively stable. Permit numbers then rose by roughly 2,000 to 18,142 in 2010, but the kill again remained around 6,000.

It would appear the folks at IFW got that one right because permit sales and harvest levels haven’t changed significantly since, despite the turkey population’s continued growth and a doubling of the spring bag limit from one to two birds in 2010. Hunters harvested approximately 5,600 adult male birds in the 2017 spring season.

Meanwhile, IFW also was considering changes to the fall turkey season. Biologists typically have been very conservative with the state’s turkey hunting seasons, expanding them only when they felt the population could withstand additional hunting pressure and harvest. They’ve been particularly cautious with fall seasons, starting with an archery-only season in 2002, expanding that in area over several seasons, then adding a one-week shotgun season in some areas in 2007.

Some folks, myself included, were concerned about further liberalization because fall seasons typically allow either-sex hunting, which has a greater impact on productivity by removing hens.

My trepidations were unwarranted. Significant changes were delayed until 2013, when shotgun hunting was permitted for most of October. That was expanded to all of October in 2014, and subsequently through the first week of November. The fall harvest more than doubled from 2012 to 2013 but has since leveled at just over 2,000 birds, and the turkey population continued to grow.

A third proposal from 2008, one near and dear to me, would have allowed all-day hunting rather than a noon cessation. I lobbied tirelessly, and often with little or no support, for all-day hunting in Maine for years, primarily because it would significantly expand turkey hunting opportunities for school-age children.

Under seasons in 2008, kids could only hunt Youth Day and two Saturdays, hardly enough to engender any long-term interest. It would be another four years, 2014, before my pleas were finally answered with a change to all-day spring hunting, and a negative impact on the turkey population has since been negligible.

Restoration of Maine’s wild turkey population has to be among the top wildlife management success stories of the last century. State biologists and volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation should be commended for the careful and responsible approach they took, and consistently maintained in bringing the king of North American game birds back to our state.

But even success is not without its detractors, and there are already those calling for still more effort directed toward increasing both hunting opportunity and harvest.

We need only to look back over the last decade for guidance on how to properly proceed: slowly, responsibly, and according to recommendations of trained wildlife professionals.

That applies to more than just turkeys.

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

[email protected]

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